May 31, 2013 7:40 pm
Far-right party seeks to capitalise on riots in Sweden
By Richard Milne, Nordic Correspondent
Sweden is trying desperately to put last week’s riots in Stockholm behind it, and in the past week the capital has remained relatively quiet. But the questions raised by the unrest in the wealthy Nordic country have refused to go away.
A parliamentary debate on Friday, called at the instigation of the far-right, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats (SD) party, provided a taster of an issue likely to feature in the next year leading to a general election in September 2014.
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“What we have seen in the past few weeks and is still going on is not only horrible and appalling but also the clearest sign of a gigantic political failure,” said Jimmie Akesson, head of the SD, now the third-largest political party in the country.
The answer, he declared, was for child benefits to be withdrawn from the parents of any rioters.
Political analysts say that the SD – currently polling about 10 per cent, behind only the ruling Moderate party and opposition Social Democrats – has already benefited from a political establishment largely unwilling to discuss multiculturalism or the integration of Sweden’s growing immigrant population.
But Mr Akesson is aiming to use the unrest, which took place in suburbs with a heavy immigrant population such as Husby, Rinkeby and Tensta, to boost the popularity of his party, which has roots in the neo-Nazi movement.
“I see an unwillingness to approach the problem. It is deplorable and disrespectful to the victims and also to the Swedish people,” said the SD leader.
The response to the unrest has underscored some big differences between the centre-right coalition and centre-left opposition, which have often been hard to discern in recent months in this consensus-driven society. “I find it very hard to see any big policies where they [Moderates and Social Democrats] disagree fundamentally,” said one Swedish chief executive before the riots.
The government has been keen to portray the riots as the work of a few hundred “hooligans”, and underlined its belief that it was a law-and-order problem by sending the justice minister to the debate. Mr Akesson had wanted the integration minister.
But the Social Democrats have been keen to stress what the centre left sees as the root causes of the unrest: higher-than-average unemployment among the young in the suburbs and the need for better training or education for the largely immigrant population.
Morgan Johansson of the Social Democrats told the debate that the image of the Swedish welfare state had been damaged abroad. He insisted: “This is not a question of immigration; it is a question of class.”
The troubles have stirred debate elsewhere in Scandinavia.
Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that sparked controversy by printing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2005, wrote in an editorial entitled “The Swedish Lie”: “The problem is not [the government needing to spend money], but cultural. It stems from an abysmal difference between the mentality that created the rich and well-functioning Sweden, and the foreign mentality exhibited by the aggressive section of young immigrants.”
Lars Ostby, a senior research fellow at Statistics Norway, is another who suggests, gently, that Sweden might have been ignoring its problems by, for instance, not publishing statistics on immigrants broken down by individual countries.
“The Swedes have a different attitude to data than us,” he said. “What’s happening now is perhaps a result of their not wanting to see what is going on. In the unstable suburbs of Stockholm [and Malmo and Gothenburg] I think poverty and unemployment, marginalisation and integration, resembles the situation in Marseille and Paris more than that in Oslo.”