Once upon a time, when someone asked about my accent and where I came from, I was always proud to answer ‘I’m Swedish’. But today, the country that by many was seen as a beacon of light and social innovation, an example on how to solve and deal with societal problems in a fair way, is not something to be proud of, quite the contrary.
When I moved out of Sweden in 1992 (then just for a few years, or so I thought), it never happened that ambulance personnel firefighters were too afraid to enter or work in certain areas of the country. It never happened that women, who had fled muslim countries to avoid persecution, felt victimized in Sweden. But neither did it happen, like it did when I visited Sweden a couple of month ago, that panhandlers were attacked with acid, or like it did Christmas Day, when five people were injured after a petrol bomb was thrown trough a window in a mosque in the city of Eskilstuna.
So what has changed? Too much immigration. Although countries such as France and Germany in absolute terms receive more asylum seekers, Sweden has the largest number of asylum applications per capita in the European Union, and it has had a both cultural and economic impact on the country populated by 9.64 million people. In 2014 for example, Sweden’s center-right coalition lost the election despite the fact that a solid economic performance had kept Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in power for eight years. The rising support for the anti- immigrant Sverige Demokraterna (Sweden Democrats), that for the first time in 2010 was elected into the parliament with 5,7 percent, was the major reason. The party, founded in the 1980s, reached 13% in 2014 giving the centre-left block 43,7 % to the center-right coalition’s 39.3%.
And though opinion polls show that Swedes still largely support the idea of living in a country that is open to asylum seekers, it is no doubt that the Sweden Democrat leader, Jimmie Åkesson, has tapped into a massive anger over the country’s hight youth unemployment, deteriorating quality of healthcare, elderly care and public education, plus the mainstream political parties unwillingness to address the problem.
” I neither trust the politicians, nor the media”, says my friend Sven-Olof Larsson, a retired dentist.
The sentiment is not unique. A day after the brutal knife attack at an IKEA in the the country’s fifth largest city of Västerås, where two refugees allegedly killed a 55-year old mother and her 27-year old son on the same day they had been denied asylum, one of Sweden’s largest newspapers, Aftonbladet in an article, denied rampant social media rumors that they had censured or misrepresented information concerning the case.
The defensive statement is troubling and points to one of Sweden’s biggest problem — the media. Historically tied to the political parties and state-run until the early 1990s when satellite technology paved the way for privatization, they are not in a habit of scrutinizing politicians or public policies, except when it comes to the Sweden Democrats, making the party – 1 of 8 parties represented in the Swedish parliament – the only de-facto opposition party in the country.