The new face of Sweden
By Matthew Engel
Published: January 18 2008 21:55 | Last updated: January 18 2008 21:55
If the left is starting to think that way, it is inevitably far more true on the right. Though Malmö is still Social Democrat, the country made one of its rare political shifts in 2006 and elected a centre-right coalition led by Fredrik Reinfeldt.
But the biggest recent change came from a court, not government policy. In 2006 immigration appeal judges said the situation in Iraq constituted “difficult circumstances” rather than an “internal armed conflict”. The Swedes do like understatement.
Refugees from Iraq now have to jump higher hurdles to gain admission. Yet in 2006 Sweden still took in nearly half the 22,000 Iraqis who made it to the west. One small town near Stockholm, SOdertalje, welcomed 1,000 – more than the US had done in total since it launched the war. (Other Swedish towns are less hospitable – and Malmö officials are especially bitter about their neighbours in Vellinge, who refuse to help at all.)
A new anti-migrant party, the Swedish Democrats, wants to emulate the success of rightwing groups in other countries in northern Europe, including neighbouring Denmark. But even the far right are fairly understated. The Swedish Democrats are expected to pass the 4 per cent threshold for parliamentary representation in 2010, and in Malmö one poll put them over 11 per cent. Yet their local leader, Sten Andersson, insists that he does not want to prevent admission of genuine refugees or families of existing migrants. “You could not say stop,” he says. “But we cannot give jobs to this big number, and we cannot find flats for them.”
There are success stories, of course: Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Inter Milan grew up in Rosengård; the father of another Swedish footballer, Henrik Larsson, came from the Cape Verde Islands. Nyamko Sabuni is an uncompromising Burundi-born woman who is now minister for integration (“The firmest handshake in the government,” a journalist told me). But one senses the journey here has been so wearying that many first-generation migrants have exhausted their sense of adventure just by travelling. None of the newcomers speaks Swedish. The government provides the classes, but that in itself is a traumatic process. Only then can they even contemplate the possibility of finding a job. And that’s not easy.
I was told of a Kosovar electrician – much in demand, theoretically – who took seven years to get work because his qualifications were not accepted and retraining him to Swedish standards was so grindingly bureaucratic. Kent Andersson, Malmö’s Social Democrat deputy mayor (no relation to the Swedish Democrat Sten) accepted that the story was probably true but insisted they were working hard to streamline procedures.
For some, it is too late. Mohammad Jabbar, 52, fled Iraq five years ago. At home he was an architect and engineer; in Malmö he has a little gift shop. “It is better here,” he says. “Not for me, but for my babies.”
Sweden, you could argue, has not really helped the world, its incomers or itself. When I met him, Kent Andersson was just back from the International Metropolis conference in Melbourne, where he had been startled to hear the mayors of both Toronto and Melbourne complain that they weren’t getting enough migrants.
The difference is that Canada and Australia – countries which have been built on immigration – generally make sure they get the newcomers they want. Sweden gets those it gets. The main criterion for admission has simply been the fact of making it to Sweden. Many have endured terrible journeys to get there, but for them travelling hopefully has often been better than arriving. They have found no American-style melting pot, and Swedishness has proved an elusive prize.
This is not the only European country with humane impulses that has got itself into a mess over immigration. For too many years, mainstream politicians regarded discussion of the subject as illegitimate, dangerous and inherently racist. But in Sweden the altruism is more profound, and the sense of failure more acute.
Swedish politicians, as wary as the British of Brussels initiatives, now think the “blue card” system for potential migrants with marketable skills proposed by the European Union may offer them an honourable way out of their dilemma. But taking the best-qualified and most skilled people out of the under-developed world is not an act of kindness: it will severely damage the third world’s chances of improving itself.
At least the debate is now happening in Sweden and elsewhere. I asked Kent Andersson if he thought Sweden had damaged itself by being too liberal towards migrants. “No,” he said. But he admitted that “we can’t give them the life we want to give them.” And there was a very long, very Swedish, pause before the “No.”
‘Interculturalism’ in Leicester
By William MacNamara
At the end of their safari, 50 women from the Leicestershire Women’s Institute gathered for lunch and raised toasts to the marvellous sights they had seen. They had journeyed by bus to the heart of their county seat, Britain’s most ethnically diverse city, and visited a mosque, a Hindu temple and a Jain temple.
“I didn’t know they believed in God,” said one woman after hearing a Leicester imam speak. “I suppose I never thought about it.”
Leading the women was Asaf Hussain, an interfaith leader and scholar at the University of Leicester. He calls his tours “safaris” in recognition of the exotic sights to be seen by mostly white, middle-class audiences. For Hussain, the trips demonstrate the power of “interculturalism”, a philosophy that he has spent 30 years refining and teaching.
“The multicultural state is not an end in itself,” he told students during one of his lectures. The statement is his central critique of Britain’s immigration policies, which he believes foster a culture of suspicious tolerance without meaningful integration. Ultimately, he asserts, the limits of multiculturalism show themselves through terrorism, when British-born Muslims express their alienation by bombing their homeland.
“We live together, we coexist,” he said. “But deeper down there are problems. We want real relationships with each other.”
With charm, connections and boisterous humour, he nudges Leicester toward his vision of interculturalism. One year he organised a Lord Nelson festival that introduced the city’s south Asian population to the “great hero”. The next year he organised a Lord Ganesh festival.
Leicester, he acknowledges, has a record of racial harmony that improves matters. The first wave of immigrants, Asians expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin, arrived in the 1970s. Since then, the city has taken in Africans, eastern Europeans, Mongolians and many other groups.
While the population fell after a 1960s peak of 290,000, new immigrant groups have pushed the figure past that level in the past three years, according to census projections. By 2011, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights estimates, whites will be a minority, making Leicester Britain’s first “pluralist” city, where no race is in a majority.
The city’s multicultural status quo, Hussain said, hides frictions. As whites have moved further into the suburbs, they understand their city’s racial dynamics less and less. To reach a point where whites welcome an immigrant neighbour, he said, they must understand that neighbour’s religion. That is why he started his “intercultural safaris”.
The visit to the mosque seemed to be the Women’s Institute group’s favourite part of the trip. “I went in to the mosque and came out with a heart full of love at what the imam was saying about tolerance,” said one woman.
Such encounters need to be multiplied, Hussain believes, if the city is to handle its largest immigrant wave to date. In the past four years, an estimated 20,000 Somalis have arrived in Leicester from the Netherlands, where many allege discrimination.
New groups often strain the city’s existing race relations, said Freda Hussain, a head teacher and former High Sheriff of Leicestershire, as well as the other half of Leicester’s race-relations “power couple”. In some cases, she said, children of eastern European immigrants refuse to sit next to black students and disrupt classes by calling them pejorative names.
“This is a totally dynamic, fluid situation,” her husband said. City agencies are doing much of the work of keeping Leicester harmonious.
For now, however, he teaches oversubscribed classes in “intercultural understanding”, and fields more requests for safaris than he can meet.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008