Fox News on May 23, 2013, published an AP report on immigrant Swedish youth in sleepy suburban communities running amok, hurling rocks at police and torching cars, restaurants and culture centers. It isn’t France or Britain, but Sweden – a Scandinavian bastion of generous social welfare and egalitarian political culture. Though this week’s rioting outside Stockholm was triggered by perceived police brutality, observers say that there has been a surge of angst in society as inequality rises on a backdrop of burgeoning immigrant numbers. Excerpts below:
Sweden has long been a bastion of generous social welfare and an egalitarian political culture. So many people were shocked when scores of youths hurled rocks at police and set cars ablaze during rioting in several largely immigrant areas near Stockholm this week.
Few dispute that the violence was probably touched off by the fatal police shooting of an elderly man who had locked himself in an apartment wielding a knife. But some residents in the area accused police who responded to the violence of racism.
For some, the real reason for the unrest is the high unemployment and isolation of youths in the southern and western Stockholm suburbs where the violence occurred — ones who see little future for themselves or access to Sweden’s prosperity.
“The segregation in Stockholm increases all the time, and it’s happening fast,” said Nina Edstrom, a social anthropologist who promotes integration at a center for multiculturalism in Fittja, where some of the violence occurred.
“There are very large social differences. There are many unemployed, frustrated young people. I’m not surprised something like this happens,” she said.
Overall, about 15 percent of Sweden’s 9.5 million people were born abroad, compared to 10 percent 10 years ago. The influx has mostly come from war-torn countries such as Iraq, Somalia, former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Syria.
In 2012 alone, Sweden accepted 44,000 asylum seekers, up by nearly 50 percent from a year earlier.
During the rioting, 15-year-old Sebastian Horniak said he saw police firing warning shots in the air and calling a woman a “monkey.”
The unrest in Fittja and the Husby area is a challenge for the center-right government of Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, which after seven years in power is trailing in polls and has come under fire for failing to address social problems.
The rioting also has added fuel to arguments from the far-right Sweden Democrats party, which polls now show as Sweden’s fourth biggest party.
Some say that one reason such immigrant areas can feel isolating is the growing disparity between the haves and have nots in Sweden, as in many other Western countries.
The difference is striking between native Swedes and the fast-growing immigrant population.
In Husby, the neighborhood west of Stockholm where the violence started Sunday, around 80 percent of the 11,000 residents are either first or second generation immigrants.
…youth unemployment is high in Husby and that nearly 50 percent of the kids in Husby finish junior high school with grades too low to get into high school.
Prime Minister Reinfeldt has acknowledged that Sweden’s income disparities increased, but said it primarily occurred before he came to power in 2006, and that he remains proud of his country’s liberal immigration policies.
Reinfeldt said the transition can be trying, but he added: “We are more open than other countries. Long term, as a society, we win on this. It will lead to more people getting jobs. It will contribute to a more exciting and open society.”
Note: Sweden’s Security Service on May 24 confirmed that three type of groups were involved in the Stockholm suburb riots: local youth, criminal gangs and violent left wing activists according to newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, Stockholm, on May 25, 2013.