Opinion: ‘This is not the Sweden I’m proud of’

In recent years Sweden has allowed racists to stretch the boundaries of what is considered acceptable. This is no longer a country I'm proud of when travelling the world, musician Petter Askergren writes.

Opinion: 'This is not the Sweden I'm proud of'
Rapper Petter Alexis Askergren, better known as Petter. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

Recently I've thought a lot about my mother and everything that we went through together, but above all, the things she taught me. I want to note that my mum taught me history, some kind of morals, to be able to show feelings, fears, and the most important of all: to show empathy.

She was obsessed with the Second World War and often spoke about the persecution of Jews, dissidents, and minorities. She often spoke about courage, and those who stood up for the vulnerable. That there were many Swedish heroes who made every effort with their lives to help people who were fleeing. I felt really bad sometimes when I heard about the horrors these people were exposed to.

The question that always came up then, but is equally recurrent and relevant today, is why? Why do we do what we do to one another?

I can't understand how someone can wish other people so much ill that, with unfounded self-created convictions, they could go into a school with a sword and cut down adults and children.

Or apply their energy and time to systematically try, and unfortunately succeed, in burning down refugee centres. Enough!

Unfortunately it's not only the odd idiot or lone individual acting on their own accord. This is systematic terror against people who are different for one reason: they often happen not to be born in Sweden and live with a trauma that these “proud Swedes” have likely never been close to.

Sweden has in recent years allowed racists to move and stretch the boundaries of what is considered acceptable. One party with noticeable power and influence in our Riksdag pushes and whips up the sentiment that we're standing before some kind of downfall if all of these refugees arrive. If all of these people continue to come everything will go to hell, according to the Sweden Democrats.

I know it's the opposite. It's exactly these kind of inhumane, egotistical and racist politicians given a place now that are bloody un-Swedish. This is not Sweden. This is not the country I'm so proud of when I'm out travelling around the world. Travelling has been important for me and my own view of humanity.

I wish that everyone in Sweden, in particular those who worry about Midsummer's Eve and surströmming, were given an honest chance to travel and see the world (I'm not talking about Crete or Thailand). Perhaps for a second just try to imagine how it would have been if it was them who had to flee with their family, because there was no other option. That's where the word empathy comes into the picture.

Sweden is a country that stands for empathy, humanity, and solidarity. Right now the opposite signal is being sent at Sweden's expense. In a world that is growing and where we constantly face new challenges, conflicts, poverty, epidemics and the climate threat, we should be a country other countries listen to and respect. Despite us being 10 million people. But who is going to respect a country that behaves the way some of us do right now?

My mother once asked me, worried, with a broken voice from the hospital: “Petter, what is happening in our country really?”. I didn't know the answer, but at the same time wanted to convince her that there isn't some kind of danger. “We will fight this,” was the only thing I could say.

Of course, it can sound naive, but the love and warmth that many of us show daily is always going to be stronger than the hate and malice. Do you know why? Because love and warmth is part of how we survive, and no one can take that from us. Because of that we'll always fight and spread love. Whether it’s striking with your pen, donating money at Globen, or helping refugees with food and clothing.

For us, people are just people. It doesn't matter which god you pray to, what your origins are or how you look. This is a fight we'll never relinquish.

This is a translation of an opinion piece by Petter Alexis Askergren originally written in Swedish and published by Expressen in 2015.

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OPINION: How I learned that Sweden is a nation of secret queue-jumpers

Swedes have a reputation as a nation of orderly queuers. But it doesn't take long living here before you realise that for things that matter - housing, schools, health treatment - there are ways of jumping the line.

OPINION: How I learned that Sweden is a nation of secret queue-jumpers

Soon after my daughter was born, I emailed Malmö’s sought after daycare cooperatives to get on their waiting lists. 

I didn’t get an answer from any of them, so a year later, I began dropping her off at the daycare allotted to us by the municipality. 

It was housed in a concrete structure so grim-looking that it was used as the gritty backdrop to the police station in The Bridge, the Scandinavian Noir crime drama based in Malmö. Getting there involved taking a lift that frequently smelled of urine. The rooftop playground was (after we had left) used by local dealers to stash drugs.

But to be fair, it was close to our house and in other ways, perfectly adequate. 

A year later, though, I got a call from one of the cooperatives I had emailed. My daughter Eira was next in line. Did I want to come to meet the staff and existing parents?

When I arrived, I discovered I wasn’t alone. My friend, a Swede looking to establish herself in Malmö after a decade in London, was there, as were several others.

Listen to a discussion about queue-jumping on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

I soon had a distinct feeling of being outmanoeuvered, as I watched her identify the parents in charge of new intakes and get to work on them, asking intelligent questions, demonstrating her engagement, and generally turning on the charm. 

A few days later I discovered that, even though I’d been told Eira was top of the list, my friend’s son had got the place. 

This was my first lesson in Swedish queuing, and it is a pattern I’ve seen time and time again.

Swedes, I’ve learned, generally respect a queue if it’s visible, physical, and not about anything particularly important. But when it comes to waiting lists for things such as housing, schools, and healthcare, many people, perhaps even most, will work their contacts, pull strings, find loopholes, if it helps them jump the line. 

When it was time for the children of the parents I knew to go to school, several of them — all otherwise upstanding law-abiding people — temporarily registered themselves at the addresses of friends who lived near the desirable municipal options, and then, after their children got places, moved back.

When I protested weakly that by doing this were depriving someone else’s child of their rightful place, they simply shrugged. 

When Eira joined Malmöflickorna, a dance gymnastics troupe that is a kind of Malmö institution, the other parents whispered to me that joining the troupe helped you get your child into Bladins, Malmö’s most exclusive free school, as the troupe had longstanding links. 

When it comes to accessing health treatment, I’ve learned, it doesn’t pay to stoically wait in line. When I was recently sent for a scan, I immediately rang up the clinic my primary health care centre had chosen for me. The receptionist spotted a time that had just become free the next day, and slotted me in, saving what could have been months of waiting. 

If you’re looking to buy a house, I’m told it pays to develop good relationships with estate agents, as sometimes they will sell a house without even listing it. And there are all sorts of ways to jump the long rental queues in Swedish cities, some involving paying money, some simply exploiting contacts. 

I’m not, myself, much of an operator, but I’ve also learned to take advantage of any opportunities that crop up. 

A year after we had lost our battle for the daycare place, the same Swedish friend got in touch. She had managed to upgrade to an even more sought-after cooperative. (This one has had world-famous novelists and Oscar-contending film directors as present and former parents.)

There was a place free, and she was in charge of the queue. Did we want it for Eira? The queue at this daycare, I soon discovered, was pure fiction. The municipality has since cracked down, but at the time, places went to the friends and contacts of whichever parents happened to be on the board, or failing that, to people in the queue who seemed the right kind of person. 

It didn’t seem right, but of course, we took the place.