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CRIME

Swedish Green leader: ‘Easter riots nothing to do with religion or ethnicity’

The riots that rocked Swedish cities over the Easter holidays were nothing to do with religion or ethnicity, but instead come down to class, the joint leader of Sweden's Green Party has told The Local in an interview.

Swedish Green leader: 'Easter riots nothing to do with religion or ethnicity'
Police block off rioters in Rosengård, Malmö, on Saturday night. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Ahead of a visit to the school in Rosengård that was damaged in the rioting, Märta Stenevi said that neither the Danish extremist Rasmus Paludan, who provoked the riots by burning copies of the Koran, nor those who rioted, injuring 104 policemen, were ultimately motivated by religion. 

“His demonstration had nothing to do with religion or with Islam. It has everything to do with being a right extremist and trying to to raise a lot of conflict between groups in Sweden,” she said of Paludan’s protests. 

“On the other side, the police have now stated that there were a lot of connections to organised crime and gangs, who see this as an opportunity to raise hell within their communities.”

Riots broke out in the Swedish cities of Malmö, Stockholm, Norrköping, Linköping and Landskrona over the Easter holidays as a result of Paludan’s tour of the cities, which saw him burn multiple copies of the Koran, the holy book of Islam. 

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More than 100 police officers were injured in the riots, sparking debates about hate-crime legislation and about law and order. 

According to Stenevi, the real cause of the disorder is the way inequality has increased in Sweden in recent decades. 

“If you have big chasms between the rich people and poor people in a country, you will also have a social upheaval and social disturbance. This is well-documented all across the world,” she says. 
 
“What we have done for the past three decades in Sweden is to create a wider and wider gap between those who have a lot and those who have nothing.” 

 
The worst way of reacting to the riots, she argues, is that of Sweden’s right-wing parties. 
 
“You cannot do it by punishment, by adding to the sense of outsider status, you have to start working on actually including people, and that happens through old-fashioned things such as education, and a proper minimum income, to lift people out of their poverty, not to keep them there.”

This, she says, is “ridiculous”, when the long-term solution lies in doing what Sweden did to end extreme inequality at the start of the 20th century, when it created the socialist folkhem, or “people’s home”. 

“It’s easy to forget that 100 to 150 years ago, Sweden was a developing country, with a huge class of poor people with no education whatsoever. And we did this huge lift of a whole nation. And we can do this again,” she says. “But it needs resources, it needs political will.” 
 
 

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NATO

INTERVIEW: ‘We, as Moderates, should be good winners on Nato’

Hans Wallmark, foreign policy spokesperson for the opposition Moderate Party, tells The Local that the Social Democrats' imminent decision to support Nato membership for Sweden should be celebrated.

INTERVIEW: 'We, as Moderates, should be good winners on Nato'

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th, Sweden’s opposition Moderate Party moved quickly to turn their longstanding support for Nato into a campaigning issue in the run-up this September’s election. With the Social Democrats due on Sunday to shift their position and back Nato, this will no longer be possible. But this does not worry Hans Wallmark, the Moderate Party’s foreign policy spokesperson. 

“I think we, as Moderates, should behave as good winners, not bad winners,” he told The Local on Wednesday night. “The national interest is always bigger and more important than the party interest. So if this current government takes Sweden into Nato, we are going to hail it, and then hopefully, in four or five months from now, we’re going to continue the work as the new government.” 

Wallmark has over the past month been closely involved in the Nato process, as the Moderate Party’s appointee on the Swedish government’s security policy analysis group, which is due to publish its report on Sweden’s security options on Friday. 

“It is a good and comprehensive report,” he says of the result of the group’s six meetings, adding that, in his view, it is not a serious problem if the Left and the Green parties, which are both opposed to Nato membership, dissent from its conclusions. 

He said that his party had been calling for the establishment of such a group since December 2020, when parliament voted for Sweden to have a so-called ‘Nato option’ as part of its security policy. 

“But the government refused that, and then suddenly, some weeks before Easter, they invited us to this analysis group,” he remembers. 

When the government launched the group before Easter, the Social Democrats still did not know which way they were going to swing, he believes. 

“We could all then see that Finland was quite rapidly on its way to a Nato membership, so I think when the government invited the other parties, they, for that moment, didn’t really know what way they should take. But after a while, it was more and more clear that the Social Democratic Party was changing its mind due to the harsh reality of pressure from Finland.” 
 
Even previous sceptics of Nato membership within the Social Democrats found it hard to justify staying out of the alliance if Finland joined. “Because if Finland joins Nato, then it would have been absurd, and I would say, defence strategically, totally impossible to stay outside.”
 
Wallmark argues that if Finland joined Nato and Sweden didn’t, the two countries would no longer be able to work together in the same way with common defence planning, severely weakening Sweden’s security. 
“With Finland inside Nato, it would be quite impossible for Finland to have this openness in defence planning with Sweden, in the same way as it is with Norway and Denmark today. They can’t do the same defence planning with us as we do with Finland, because they are Nato members, and we are not.” 
 
The purpose of the group then shifted from a stalling tactic, to a way of convincing the Social Democrat rank and file of a need to shift policy. “After a while, it turned out to be a tool for the Social Democratic Party to use to explain why they are changing position.” 
 
Wallmark believes that pressure from Finland and the threat from Russia had both played a part in the Social Democrats’ decision, but he said electoral calculations had also come into play. 
 
“I truly believe that the war since February 24th is one part of the equation, but also, I think that the risk of having Nato defence and security as election issues is absolutely also part of the equation that made the party change its mind,” he says. 
 
As a result, he says, he fears that the Social Democrats might be joining the Nato security alliance for the wrong reasons, seeing it simply as protection for Sweden, rather than an organisation through which Sweden can take positive action to improve the security climate in Europe and the world. 
 
“I think that we shouldn’t join Nato because we are afraid for our own skin. I think that we should join Nato for its own logic and reasons, and that is Article 5, and the common defence planning. So, therefore, I’m a little afraid that the Social Democrats are walking into Nato with the back in the front.”
 
“I think that the main reason for joining NATO is that Sweden can contribute to the common security in our part of the world. And Article 5 and the common defence planning have been good reasons for 20 years,” he adds. “And now we see how the Social Democrats are changing their mind in well, 20 hours or 20 days.” 
 
Wallmark says that the Political Declaration of Solidarity the UK signed with Sweden on Wednesday should not be seen primarily as security for Sweden during the gap between applying to join Nato and becoming a member. It is, he argues, an expression of support Sweden has been pushing for ever since the UK left the European Union. 
 
“It goes back much longer, and is much deeper, and of greater importance [than the Nato process], especially as a political signal that we really want to deepen the cooperation with the United Kingdom, even if the UK is outside and we are inside the EU,” he said. “The centre-right parties with the Moderates in the front have really worked for the government to establish this kind of arrangement.” 
 
With Sweden’s Nato application likely to be announced within days, Wallmark believes that Sweden should be ready for a reaction from Russia. But he expects that Russia will end up accepting the new reality.
 
“I think it’s absolutely necessary to be prepared. But we can also see the pattern. Nato has extended, it is now 30 countries… and Russia has barked and showed publicly how disappointed it is, but they have, in the end, accepted the reality.”
 
“So I think that we absolutely can see things happening in cyber attacks or fake news. But in the end, I think that they are going to accept it.”
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