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Sweden's parties fight for immigrant vote at 'Malmedalen' festival

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Sweden's parties fight for immigrant vote at 'Malmedalen' festival
The Sweden Democrats tent at Malmedalen has been one of the busiest. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
13:45 CEST+02:00
Saturday saw the launch of 'Malmedalen', a new political festival where Sweden's parties can reach out to people in one of Malmö's most segregated districts. We went along to see if it can work.
Outside the Social Democrat tent at the Malmedalen political festival, city councillor Sedat Arif is fighting for the votes of four young locals. 
 
"When we came to Sweden we had all these advantages," he says. "And we want our children to have them too. Should they have good schools or not? Or should schools be run by people who cheat and send all their money to tax havens?" 
 
Hussein Abdulzahra, 22, nods appreciatively, and explains to Arif about how his "very good" local school in the area got him into the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, one of Sweden's top universities. 
 
Abdulzahra who grew up in the tower block which overlooks the park where the event is being held,
says he's impressed at the attempt to reach voters in Rosengård, one of Malmö's most troubled districts. 
 
"It's quite positive, because there's not a lot of people around here who would have the courage to go somewhere else to find out about the political parties," Abdulzahra says.  
 
He's been visiting the stands of the Social Democrats and the centre-right Moderate party, and ignoring the others, "because whatever they do, the others are going to say the same". 
 
Malmedalen is the creation of Christian Glasnovic, a Malmö social entrepreneur who grew so frustrated with Almedalen, Sweden's giant political jamboree on the island of Gotland, that he decided to set up a rival in this heavily segregated area. 
 
"Almedalen is not for us, not for ordinary people," Glasnovic complains. "I think this will bring people knowledge about democracy and the election, about what every participating party talks about. Right now I don't think they have much knowledge. That's why we're starting this project."
 
 

Organizer Christian Glasnovic giving instructions to festival workers. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
 
On the festival's second day, it's a partial success. The seven parliamentary political parties have all set up tents, as has the Feminist Initiative. 
 
On stage, Malmö's orthodox Rabbi Moshe David HaCohen and Salahuddin Barakat, a local imam, are being interviewed about their project to fight anti-Semitism in the city. 
 
The festival has also drawn some major figures: Foreign Minister Margot Wallström is coming for the Social Democrats, as is Gustav Fridolin, Education Minister and Green Party spokesman, and Mattias Karlsson, group leader of the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats. 
 
"I think we've reached people that we normally haven't been able to reach," says the Social Democrats' Arif. "Not to as big an extent as I would've wanted, but this the first year that this has been around and it will take time for those that are running this to think about what people need."  
 
 

'Welcome to Malmedalen,' says the sign. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
 
On Sunday, the day given over to the Centre Party, the Rosengård locals are probably outnumbered by those representing the political parties. Glasnovic estimates that 500-600 people have come a day so far, with more expected on days when the high-profile speakers visit.
 
Charlotte Bossen, second on the Centre Party's candidate list for Malmö City Council, is upbeat. 
 
"I think it's a start, because it's the first time ever that they've had Malmedalen," she says. As for the Centre Party's sparsely attended talks, she shrugs. "I think it's about democracy. I think it's important that the party goes out to the people." 
 
The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats' tent by the entrance is, perhaps surprisingly, one of the busiest.
 
Some local youth come to try and out-debate a party they see as an enemy, but other older immigrants listen approvingly as the party's representatives outlines their strict policies on law and order and education. 
 
"What sort of punishment do you think is best for families who do not keep their children under control?" one Arab man asks city councillor Jörgen Grubb, after listening to him explain the party's ideas to combat a lack of discipline in schools. 
 
Abdulzahra says that after hearing the Moderates' arguments, he's been convinced to stick with the Social Democrats. 
 
"If they lower taxes, it won't make any difference to me, because these tax changes aren't for low-income civilians," he says. "And if they lower tax, it's going to be more expensive for me to go to hospital and things." 
 
Malmedalen ends on August 26th.
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