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'We don't want to be an island. We are all Swedish people'

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'We don't want to be an island. We are all Swedish people'
Attendees are pictured playing basketball and talking with Left Party politician Jonas Sjöstedt. Photo: Fredrik Persson/TT
11:27 CEST+02:00
Järvaveckan, a political festival held in the suburbs of Stockholm, attracts people from across the country but still maintains its local roots.

Järvaveckan aims to bring people from the Swedish community together with their elected officials in order to spur political engagement and bring down barriers in the community. 

"It was all about how can we make sure people can get to know their leaders, the ones they elected who are responsible for bettering their lives," founder Ahmed Abdirahman told The Local when we visited on the festival's second day. "And how do we defend our democracy in an area where the voting turnout is so low."

Järvaveckan originated in 2013 as a much smaller film festival, with only 600 people, meant for the community in which Abdirahman lived. After it began to gain traction, he decided to begin inviting political party leaders to speak. Six years later it is one of the largest events of its kind, drawing 30,000 visitors in 2018.

Now, representatives from every major party attend, including Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. There are booths offering jobs and performances from young artists as well as other cultural events and panels. 

The festival's founder, Abdirahman, is a worthy representative of his community because he is a reflection of it. Originally from Somalia, he came to Sweden 20 years ago as a refugee escaping a civil war.

READ ALSO: Learn more about Swedish politics with The Local


Ahmed Abdirahman helms the festival which has gained worldwide attention. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

After settling down he decided to travel the world, living in both the United States and Switzerland. Eight years later, he returned to what he now considers his home.

"If you come from a war-torn country you want to save the world, and you want to go back to your country to save it, but it took me many years to understand that Sweden is my home, and I have a responsibility here," he said.

Around two thirds of the Spånga-Tensta district's population were born abroad or born in Sweden with two parents born abroad, compared to for example Södermalm in central Stockholm where only 20.4 percent of its residents come from outside of Sweden, according to Stockholm City Council's official statistics.

Consequently, the festival seeks to bring people from every background together.

READ ALSO: How is Sweden tackling its integration challenge?

This mission has been met with success as there are over 150 nationalities represented and 42 percent of the attendees are under 26 years old. Abdirahman attributes that in part to the marketing which is in Swedish, English, Arabic and Somali.

Harris, an immigrant from Afghanistan, told The Local he appreciates the festival's community.

"Stockholm is very diverse and as an immigrant myself sometimes I feel different but then I come to activities like this, and I get to meet new people," he said. "They are very welcoming, and I feel more at peace here."


Prime Minister Stefan Löfven gave a speech at last year's festival. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Every aspect of the festival has a meaning behind it, even the placement. Abdirahman specifically holds Järvaveckan on the site which marks the invisible line that separates the Spånga-Tensta community. One side is home to mainly immigrants and people of low socioeconomic status while the other houses people on the other end of that spectrum.

The hope is that by hosting the event geographically between the two communities, both will feel welcome to come.

"We need to bring everyone here. We don't want to be an island. We are all Swedish people," he said. "It is our responsibility to bridge the gaps between 'us' and 'them'."

READ ALSO: What lessons can Sweden learn from its Yugoslavian refugees?

Another objective of the festival is to bring more of the community into the workforce. In an area where unemployment is a significant problem, Abdirahman wants to give his community opportunities. So, this year there are around 2,000 jobs being offered by various companies.


The Local visited Järvaveckan on the second day of the festival. Photo: Adam Rosenfeld

There have already been a record number of visitors to the festival this year with attendees enduring rainy weather to come to the first two days. This continuous, yearly growth is imperative for Abdirahman to accomplish what he sees as the festival's purpose.

"Our goal is to build bridges and break the segregation because the potential for growth in Sweden is in this generation of the immigrant community. They need our help, and it has to come from us as the immigrant community," he said.

Järvaveckan is currently under way at Spånga Sports Center, and it will continue through this Sunday, June 16th. It is free to attend.

 
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