OPEN LETTER: Why is no one talking to foreigners in Sweden’s election?

The Local has teamed up with the Arabic-language Swedish news site Alkompis to publish a letter in the Aftonbladet newspaper protesting politicians' treatment of foreigners in this election. Here is the English language version.

OPEN LETTER: Why is no one talking to foreigners in Sweden's election?

You can read the Swedish text in Aftonbladet here, while Arabic readers can find Alkompis’ version of the text here

For the two million of us born abroad, this election has felt like being invited to someone’s house only for them to forget you are there and then start arguing over your terrible manners and how to get rid of you.

When The Local and Alkompis surveyed our readers about the election campaign, many were appalled by the xenophobic rhetoric, which they complained was now coming from both left and right.

All the parties agree that Sweden is segregated and that this must be changed, but the debate has almost exclusively been about criminality. Party leaders have been photographed with police visiting areas where immigrants live, talking to local politicians and social workers, but very rarely spending much time with the people who actually live there. There has been a lot of talk about immigrants, but not so much conversation with immigrants.

We hear about people who burn cars or carry out gang shootings, those who have not learned Swedish and who live on benefits.
We do not hear so much about people who contribute everyday to Swedish society. Those who drive taxis, write code, wash sheets in hospitals, teach in universities, or change the nappies on your 93-year-old grandmother.

Have we already forgotten about the foreigners who were in the front line during the very worst periods of the Coronavirus pandemic? Those who worked in healthcare and took care of our sick, who drove buses full of snotty, coughing and potentially infectious people. Those who died. Health statistics show that mortality from Covid-19 was disproportionately high among those born in Turkey, Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Greece and Chile.

From the Walloons who started the mining and iron industry to the British merchants and industrialists who founded companies in the 19th century, immigrants built Sweden’s economy. Since the Second World War, huge swathes of Swedish industry were developed with the labour of people from Italy and the former Yugoslavia, and many public services today are reliant on the skills of more recent immigrants from all parts of the world.

But it is getting harder and harder to come here, with long waits to get a work permit, and renewals still frequently refused due to small mistakes by employers. These issues are making life hard for individuals, but also for many Swedish employers who find it hard to recruit the staff they need.

This issue is almost entirely absent from the campaign. Instead, parties on both sides want to make coming to Sweden more difficult still, competing over who can have the higher salary threshold for work permits, and with the Social Democrats wanting to bring back the system where unions and bureaucrats get to decide what professions are needed.

Other policy proposals focus on criminality. The Moderates will bring in stop-and-search zones in ‘specially vulnerable areas’. They want to deport foreigners who are suspected of involvement in organised crime, whether they are found guilty by a court or not. The Sweden Democrats want whole families to be deported just because one family members commits a crime, and to bring in ‘humiliating’ community service punishments for nine year-olds.

The Liberals are proposing language tests for two year olds, while the Christian Democrats want to stress problems based on non-Swedish values.
Proposals like this threaten to make immigrants second-class citizens under the law. When the Social Democrats campaign on “turning over every stone to break segregating and stop gangs”, it’s the first time they’ve connected segregation, immigration and crime.

It stings a little to make the connection between immigration and crime so black and white.

Segregated areas have higher poverty, worse schools, worse healthcare, worse housing and, yes, more foreign-born people. Criminality is a result of segregation, it is not caused by foreign born people themselves.

The World Values Survey shows that Sweden, culturally, is exceptional. It is out there on its own when it comes to the level of individuality and secularism. But Swedes seem to forget that and just expect people to adapt as soon as they arrive. Magdalena Andersson talks every day about “turning over every stone” to fight segregation, but no one on any side ever suggests that Swedes, themselves, bear any responsibility for the problems.

Asking Swedish nationals to take the time and effort to become friends with their non-Swedish neighbours doesn’t seem to be a “stone” anyone is willing to consider turning over. It might take a long time before you invite your new colleague from a foreign country to your Midsummer celebrations, but you could at least get to know them.

Some parties – the Left Party, the Green Party, the Centre Party – at least recognise the contribution immigrants make, but even they tend to tell us what they think we need, rather than ask us what we want.

We’re here. We want to learn Swedish. We want to work, pay taxes, and be part of the wonderful society you have built. Let’s talk.

Member comments

  1. Immigrants now turned into a scapegoat for all the underlying problem within this country.
    They always say, when you point a finger to someone you have other four fingers pointing back to yourself.

  2. I admire the naivety of this article.
    Integration may be a 2 way street, but someone has to be the first to walk it.
    Being allowed into Sweden is already a privilege and I would say, show how motivated you are to be part of this community.
    I am French and can tell how pathetic the French system of integration is compared to Sweden.
    Integration starts with language, without it, no way one will fit in and in that department Sweden offer far more than a hoodle of countries, starting with France where criminality is in a very large part, linked to migrants. It takes one bad apple to spoil the barrel unfortunately.
    Just to remind you that Sweden has the largest ratio local population/ migrants…….20 % in such a small country.
    Like any issue that is not tackled in time, it blows up into your face……and this is not specific to Sweden.
    Settling in a new country has never been easy……still, although not living here but coming very often, I constantly come across well integrated migrants from every corners of the world.
    Finally, have a look at the ranking of where people are the happiest on the globe.
    All Scandinavian countries come on top of the pile.
    Your article lacks in perspective really.

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Why is Sweden’s parliamentary speaker election so important?

Sweden's parliamentary speaker is second only to the King in terms of formal rank. The prospect of a Sweden Democrat speaker taking over the role from popular Moderate Andreas Norlén has sparked debate. Here's why.

Why is Sweden's parliamentary speaker election so important?

On Monday, Sweden’s newly-elected parliament will elect a new speaker – talman in Swedish, but it’s still not clear who is likely to take over the post from Moderate Andreas Norlén, who has held the position since 2018.

How is a speaker candidate usually chosen?

There is no formal rule on how a speaker candidate is nominated, with the Social Democrats usually insisting the largest party supplies the speaker, and the Moderates arguing that the largest party in their bloc should provide the speaker.

Until now, that has meant that the Social Democrats believe the speaker should be a Social Democrat, and the Moderates believe the speaker should be a Moderate.

However, with the Sweden Democrats now the second-largest party in Sweden’s parliament, they have made claims on the speaker post, as they are now the largest party in their bloc, meaning under the Moderates’ rules, they should supply the speaker.

This has made the question of who should take over as the new speaker unusually charged.

Often – but not always, the speaker has been from the same party or bloc as the government. However, there are examples, such as in the case of Norlén, who has held the post despite there being a Social Democrat government for the last eight years, as there was a majority supporting him in parliament.

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson sits down for a talk with Andreas Norlén, speaker of the Swedish parliament. Photo: Anders Wiklund / TT

How is the speaker elected?

The first time parliament meets after an election, members of parliament (MPs) decide which MP will become the parliamentary speaker and which three MPs will become the deputy speakers. These four speakers are elected in separate ballots, first the speaker, then the first deputy speaker, the second deputy speaker and the third deputy speaker.

The candidates are nominated by parliamentary party groups, after which a secret ballot is held where each MP votes anonymously. To be successful, a speaker candidate must secure a majority of votes – 175.

If no candidate secures a majority, another vote is held, where a candidate must still gain 175 or more votes to win.

If no candidate is successful, a third vote is held, where the candidate with the most votes is elected – they do not need a majority.

If the third vote ends in a tie between two candidates, lots are drawn to determine which candidate is elected speaker.

A speaker is elected for an entire election period – they cannot be removed by parliament during this period, and the role can only change hands after a new parliamentary election, which usually means that a speaker sits for four years at a time.

What does the speaker do?

The speaker – aside from being the second-highest ranking official in the country after the King – holds a prestigious position.

They do not have political influence and, if elected, must resign from their role as a member of parliament. But they have an important role to play in building a government, nominating Sweden’s new prime minister after an election and dismissing the prime minister if they lose a no-confidence vote.

Although there are checks on these powers – a new prime minister must be approved by parliament before they take power – a speaker could, theoretically, nominate four prime ministerial candidates to parliament in succession, knowing that each would lose a parliamentary vote, and thereby trigger a general election.

The speaker, currently Andreas Norlén (left) regularly welcomes foreign dignitaries alongside Sweden’s King Carl Gustaf. Here seen with King Carl Gustaf (left) and Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö (centre).
Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

The speaker could also theoretically refuse to nominate a prime ministerial candidate despite them being the leader of the largest bloc, although this has never happened in practice.

It is also impossible for parliament to remove a speaker once they are elected, unless a new parliamentary election is held and an entire new parliament is elected, meaning that if a speaker were to misuse their powers, it would be difficult for parliament to replace them.

The speaker is the main representative of parliament, leading and planning parliamentary activities. The speaker is chairman of meetings in the parliamentary chamber and is an official representative for Sweden at home and abroad.

Why would it be controversial if the Sweden Democrats supplied the speaker?

Electing a Sweden Democrat speaker would be a win for the far-right party, as a confirmation that the party has finally been accepted into the corridors of power.

According to a source at newspaper Aftonbladet, the four parties backing Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson to become Sweden’s next prime minister have already agreed on stricter migration and crime policies, as well as who should be voted in as speaker of the country’s parliament when the role goes up for a vote on Monday. 

Multiple parties in the left-wing bloc have objected to a Sweden Democrat supplying the speaker, with outgoing Social Democrat Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson stating that her party is willing to collaborate with the Moderates and reelect Andreas Norlén as Sweden’s speaker instead in order to avoid a Sweden Democrat taking on the role.

Andersson said her party would be willing to “make an exception” to its principle. “We think there are arguments at this time, to have a speaker who can be appointed with very broad support in the parliament. What’s important is that it’s someone who can bring people together, either a Social Democrat or a Moderate”.

“I can state that Andreas Norlén enjoys great respect, both in the parliament, and among the Swedish people,” she said. “He has handled his duties creditably and during a turbulent time, and a problematic parliamentary situation.”

She said she was offering to discuss the issue with Kristersson to avoid the risk of a Sweden Democrat speaker, something she said would be “problematic”.

“This is a party whose whole rationale is to split rather than unite. This is also about the picture of Sweden overseas.”

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson has not responded to Andersson’s comments.

Sweden Democrat former deputy speaker Björn Söder (left) and party leader Jimmie Åkesson (right). Photo: Jessica Gow//TT

There are also some MPs in the Liberal Party – who have agreed to support a Moderate-led government alongside the Sweden Democrats – who have stated they will not approve a government with Sweden Democrat ministers, and may also vote against letting them have the role of speaker.

Sweden Democrat Björn Söder, who held the role of deputy speaker between 2014-18, is a possible candidate for the far-right party. Söder is a controversial figure, having previously stated that Jewish people and Sami are “not Swedes”, leading to calls that he is not suitable for a role as a representative for all of Sweden.

Söder has also previously likened homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality, stating in an article on the Sweden Democrats’ official online news site that “these sexual aversions are not normal and will never be normal”.

A public petition against electing Björn Söder as parliament’s new speaker had over 65,000 signatures as of September 23rd.