OPINION: Yes Kristersson, new Swedes will stand up for Sweden

James Savage
James Savage - [email protected]
OPINION: Yes Kristersson, new Swedes will stand up for Sweden
New conscripts arrive at the barracks of the Dalarna Regiment in Falun at the beginning of thier national service in August 2022. Photo: Ulf Palm/TT

Ulf Kristersson has cast doubt on the willingness of naturalised Swedes to defend the country. But new Swedish citizens are not less patriotic, and making Swedish citizenship rules less generous won’t make Sweden safer, argues James Savage.


Sweden naturalises more people than any other country in Europe – 861 people per 100,000 inhabitants in 2021, more than four times the EU average.

Perhaps this isn’t surprising. Not only has Sweden had high migration for many years, but the process is almost as easy as sending in your SMS tax return.

To become French you have to pass four language tests, then submit to a face-to-face grilling, in French, by a local official. After nine years living in Denmark you can apply to become a Dane, but first you’ll need to have been in work for three-and-half of the past four years, pass tests on language and knowledge of Danish society and have your application approved by a parliamentary majority.

Contrast that with Sweden, which doesn’t currently ask new citizens to speak the language, prove that they know which dish to take first on the smörgåsbord (it’s the fish) or name any of the works of Strindberg. It certainly doesn’t ask you to swear to take up arms to defend the country.

All you have to do in most cases is live legally in Sweden for five years, or three if you’re in a relationship with a Swede, send in your application and wait for it to be processed.


So it’s maybe fair for existing Swedes to ask whether their over 50,000 new compatriots in 2023 have bought into the system. Which brings me to Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, who is currently trying to make it harder to become a Swedish citizen, among other things by introducing language tests and increasing from five to seven years the time new citizens will have to have spent in Sweden. 

In a speech at the Folk & Försvar defence conference last week – where attendees were bombarded with warnings about the risk of war – Kristersson took this one step further, by seeming to imply that naturalised Swedes were less likely to be willing to defend Sweden militarily. 

For all the reasons above it is a perfectly understandable assumption. There’s also scant evidence for it. Of course some naturalised Swedes are terrible citizens (as are many native Swedes), but overall they’re not less willing to defend Sweden’s democracy.

On the contrary, what little evidence there is suggests that Swedes born abroad are actually more willing to fight than people born in Sweden. A study from 2021 from FOI, the Swedish defence research institute, using 2018 data, showed 60 percent of foreign born Swedes were willing to fight for Sweden’s defence, compared to 50 percent of native-born Swedes. 

This also tallies with what a lot of The Local’s readers told us. For any normal person the prospect, however remote, of putting yourself in harm’s way to defend your society is chilling. For my own part as someone who naturalised in 2010, during a period when Sweden was dismantling its armed forces, the idea I’d ever have to fight for my new country would have seemed absurd. 

READ ALSO: Are immigrants in Sweden less willing to defend the country?


But we immigrants, no less than Swedes, have witnessed the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. We also have a big stake in Sweden’s future as a free and democratic European country. No serious person becomes a citizen of a new country, contrary to what Kristersson implied, just for the passport. 

New citizens invariably already have the right to remain in Sweden; becoming a citizen is for many people a statement of belonging, of civic engagement and of commitment. There’s research that shows that in fact becoming a citizen itself makes people more committed to their new country.

Not everything about Sweden's new citizenship rules is unfair. But overall Sweden’s generous approach to citizenship has served the country well. Most ordinary immigrants already take citizenship seriously, perhaps more seriously than their native-born would-be compatriots. Stopping more people from becoming citizens won’t help Sweden defend itself – quite the opposite.


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Lexicon R 2024/01/16 06:38
I think the society as a whole is resorting into a tribal/ caveman like mindset. The in-group out-group dynamic is clearly evident and even embraced widely in Europe and elsewhere. The constant push to prove your worthiness of being a citizen is more of a tool to assure the natives of a sense entitlement to a piece of land.. Nation states are created for administrative purposes and politicians should engage in diplomacy to prevent wars. The solution is not in prepping the population to sacrifice their lives for any piece of land, that's 17th century. The current right-wing coalition is akin to an early 20th century European off the boat political party which is only engaging in ethno linguistic nationalism. In the age of globalism, AI and advanced medical care, if one this is clear, it is that the human brain is still wired to be largely tribal/pagan like our ancestors, one trait that seem to be evolutionarily preserved and less prone to adaptation.

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