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INTERVIEW: ‘Immigrants and Swedes need the same things’

In the third of The Local's party leader interviews, Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar argues that her tough negotiating stance is all about principle, not politics.

INTERVIEW: 'Immigrants and Swedes need the same things'
Nooshi Dadgostar speaks at a Left Party event in Malmö on 9th June 2021. Photo: Becky Waterton/The Local

The sun is blazing down on the “Nooshi Festival” at Jesusparken in Malmö’s Möllevången district, and a small crowd has formed around Nooshi Dadgostar, the Left Party’s leader, who has just finished a Q&A session and is mingling with the public to take selfies and answer questions.

The location for the event is no coincidence. This is one of the party’s main strongholds, with 45 percent of the constituency voting for the Left Party in 2018, and a further 29.5 percent voting for either the Social Democrats or the Green Party.

Since becoming the party’s leader, Dadgostar has proven herself to be a tough negotiator, toppling Sweden’s then-Prime Minister Stefan Löfven in a no-confidence vote just seven months after she was appointed, following a disagreement over proposals to change Sweden’s rental laws.

Löfven was re-elected, but not before the proposal in question was scrapped, giving the Left Party a jump in the polls.

She employed the same tactic in 2021, when Magdalena Andersson was on the cusp of becoming Sweden’s first female prime minister, with the Left Party refusing to back Andersson’s candidacy until she agreed to more generous pensions.

Her tactic paid off again – the Left Party backed Andersson, but only after it had secured the pension reform it wanted.

“It’s about democracy,” Dadgostar tells The Local in the third of our pre-election party leader interviews. “Half a million Swedes have voted for us, and my job is to stand up for those voters and represent them in the best way I can.” 

“Immigrants and Swedes need the same things”

Although born in Sweden, Dadgostar’s parents fled to the country from Iran in the early 1980s due to political persecution. When Dadgostar was born in 1985, her family were living in an asylum centre in Perstorp, in the southern region of Skåne.

The Left Party are popular among immigrants, and they have the highest percentage of foreign-born MPs of any party in Sweden – 32 percent. However, Dadgostar is quick to underline the fact that her party work not just for immigrants, but for everyone in Sweden.

“Everyone born outside Sweden is different, obviously. We work for them and we work for those born in Sweden, because they need the same things,” she says.

She underlined the importance of creating jobs – which is not a surprise considering the Left Party’s roots in the socialist workers’ movement – adding that the workplace also provides an ideal situation for immigrants to practice Swedish.

“We’re going to create more jobs, we’re going to make bigger investments, we’re going to tackle climate issues, we’ve just presented a package which will create 80,000 new jobs,” she says.

“Then, we’re going to tie education to them, so you can quickly get on to a course tied to a job. And then you need to practice the language as well, doing that in the workplace is almost the easiest way to do that. So the most important thing for us is to create new jobs, and then the Public Employment Service needs to be better, so that door is open, so to say.”

“We want to increase equality,” she adds. “We think there’s too much xenophobia in Sweden and we want to tackle that.”

The crowd in Malmö is a mix of left-wing ethnic Swedes and first and second generation immigrants like Dadgostar, although most, the immigrants included, seem drawn from the university-educated radical left rather than the left of unions and industrial workers. 

Children wait impatiently to get their faces painted while their parents browse stalls selling books, pins and T-shirts with left-wing, anti-capitalist slogans. On the other side of the park, non-profit worker’s cooperative Rönnebygatans Ekolivs sells organic, locally produced refreshments.

The Left Party received just over 518,000 votes across Sweden in the 2018 election, winning eight percent of the vote. This makes them Sweden’s fifth-largest party, after the Social Democrats, the Moderates, the Sweden Democrats and the Centre Party. 

Under Dadgostar, the party has sought to appeal to working class Social Democrats unhappy with the compromises the party has made to win the support of the economically liberal Centre Party. 

In the park, activists hand out copies of a party newspaper – Vänstern på jobbet (“The Left at work”) – featuring Dadgostar in a hi-vis jacket and a hard hat. A headline reads “a party for workers”.

Copy of the Left Party newspaper “The Left at Work”. Photo: Becky Waterton/The Local

Climate criticism

Doing this has meant some sacrifices on environmental policy. Despite wanting to tackle climate issues, the Left Party’s environmental initiatives have been criticised for not going far enough in an independent study carried out by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, who said that “during the latter part of the [2018-2022] mandate period, the environmental profile of the party has weakened”.

“For example, the Left Party has made environmentally harmful proposals to lower tax on petrol and diesel,” the report states, adding that “during the last year, the party has wavered in its environmental policy, the tone has shifted and in some cases the party has even acted in the exact opposite direction.”

This hasn’t gone unnoticed amongst Left Party voters either. One self-proclaimed former Left Party voter stormed the stage following Dadgostar’s Q&A in Malmö, demanding that emissions be reduced by 20 percent in the coming year.

“It has to happen now, not at some far-off point years in the future,” she shouted, before lying across the front of the stage and refusing to move.

“That’s right!” was the reply from somewhere in the audience, followed by a brief smattering of applause.

Work permit reform

The second issue on which the party has been seeking to appeal to the industrial, union-dominated left has been on work permit reform.

The Left Party is one of the three parties in favour of reintroducing arbetsmarknadsprövning: a system in which work permits would only be offered to those applying for jobs where there is a national shortage of applicants. 

The ruling Social Democrats, who are also in favour of arbetsmarknadsprövning, announced plans to introduce a salary limit for work permit applicants a couple of days prior to this interview. They join the Moderates, the Christian Democrats and the Sweden Democrats in pushing for a salary limit, something which the Left Party are against.

“We think it would be best to introduce arbetsmarknadsprövning,” Dadgostar says. “The unions should be more involved – they can also assess whether there’s a labour shortage.”

The Left Party has received criticism for this from those arguing that it would make it more difficult for immigrants to move to Sweden for work, but Dadgostar believes that this policy would protect immigrants from poor working conditions.

“The reason for this is that we don’t want people to be exploited,” she explains. “It’s very important for us that you, as an immigrant, get the salary you’re entitled to. No one should be deceiving you. The problem for lots of people is that they get a certain salary, but then have to pay it back, and we don’t accept that.”

“Working with Erdogan won’t improve Sweden’s security”

In the run up to Sweden’s election in September, one of the issues in which Dadgostar’s party is an outlier is in their stance on Nato. Along with the Green Party, the party is opposed to Sweden joining the alliance.

However, Dadgostar dismisses the suggestion that this is designed to attract anti-Nato Social Democrat voters in the election.

“No,” she says, “It’s because Sweden is much more secure as a country where we can decide on our own defence policy. We don’t view working with Erdogan as improving Sweden’s security.”

Dadgostar has been critical of Sweden’s Nato application on a number of occasions, describing it on SVT’s Aktuellt as putting Sweden in a “dependent relationship with an authoritarian regime”.

“Erdogan is persecuting his own people, imprisoning opposition figures and waging war on neighbouring countries,” she told SVT. “He has ended up in a position where he can blackmail us – it’s very serious.”

Dadgostar’s aides begin to circle as our interview nears its end. The crowd of people waiting to take selfies with her is growing, and in typical Swedish fashion, they want to make sure that everyone gets their turn and that no-one is jumping the queue.

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For members


Sweden Elects: New finance minister under fire after first long interview

In our weekly Sweden Elects newsletter, The Local's editor Emma Löfgren explains the key events to keep an eye on in Swedish politics this week.

Sweden Elects: New finance minister under fire after first long interview


Elisabeth Svantesson has given her first long interview as finance minister, speaking to the Svenska Dagbladet daily just days after she presented her first budget on behalf of Sweden’s new, right-wing government.

The government has already faced accusations of deprioritising the climate crisis, and Svantesson conceded in the interview that its planned investment in nuclear power (which is a low-emission source of energy, but takes time to develop, so it pays off only in the long run) would also make it difficult to reach Sweden’s climate targets within the next decade.

Asked what will happen if Sweden does not meet its Agenda 2030 target, the sustainable development targets agreed by the United Nations, by that year, she said: “It would mean that we don’t meet the targets. If we don’t we don’t, but our ambition is to steer towards that goal.”

That quote, which was perceived as far more laissez-faire than the situation warrants, was met with criticism from the opposition.

“I’m astounded at how you sign agreements and vote for legislation in parliament only to ignore it when you feel like it,” said Green Party leader Per Bolund.

The Social Democrats’ former finance minister Mikael Damberg gave a diplomatic-or-patronising answer (a school of conflict avoidance that can be perfected only by a party that’s more used to being in power than not being in power) and guessed that Svantesson had perhaps not meant it like that. “Svantesson has had a lot to do this week, maybe she’s tired.”

Speaking of interviews, one Swedish newsroom has not yet been getting them, at least not with senior ministers. One of public broadcaster SVT’s top political interviewers, Anders Holmberg, points out that all four right-wing party leaders and several ministers have declined to appear on his “30 minuter”, a show famous for putting hard-hitting questions to politicians and senior decision-makers. It’s of course not mandatory to say yes to all interviews even as a politician, but it’s an unusual move.

It’s interesting that Bolund tried to attack Svantesson specifically on not following through on commitments. This has been a recurring piece of criticism since the new government was elected two months ago.

The budget was more conservative (in this particular case I mean conservative as in cautious rather than as in right-wing) than you might have expected based on the government’s election pledges, and it’s not the only campaign promise that they’ve been forced to backtrack on.

“The central thing is that they’re breaking most of their major election promises at the same time as as they’re not really managing to take care of the big social problems Sweden faces today,” Damberg told SVT.

To be fair, you would kind of expect him to say this (when has a political opposition party ever praised the government’s budget?), but significantly, the criticism hasn’t only come from the left-wing opposition.

Moderate Party politicians in the powerful Skåne region earlier this month slammed their party for failing to deliver the promised support to those suffering sky high power bills in the southern Swedish county.

“There are effectively no reforms, and they’re not putting in place the policies they campaigned for in the election,” the head of the liberal think tank Timbro told the Aftonbladet newspaper about the budget.

It will be interesting to see whether the label as “promise breakers” sticks, and whether that will affect the right-wing parties in the next election.

Did you know?

Parties make more and more pledges during election campaigns. Ahead of the 2014 election, a whopping 1,848 vallöften (election promises) were made, according to research by Gothenburg University, up from 326 in 1994.

You may not believe this, because the stereotypical image of the dishonest politician perhaps unfairly endures, but research shows that most politicians keep most of their election promises most of the time.

Swedish parties in a single-party government and coalition governments with a joint manifesto tend to deliver on between 80 and 90 percent of their vallöften, according to political scientist Elin Naurin. For coalition governments without a joint manifesto, it ranges from 50 to 70 percent.

In other news

the deputy mayor of the town of Norrtälje, who got 15 seconds – technically 26 seconds – of fame after he was left speechless when a reporter asked him to defend hefty pay rises for top councillors has resigned, saying he wants to take responsibility for what happened.

He also told SVT about his long and very awkward silence on camera that his brain had simply blacked out after having worked for 13 hours straight and gone nine hours without food in the post-election frenzy.

Sweden Elects is a weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues after the Swedish election. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.