Sweden has a reputation for equality that has suffered this week after 6 nights of rioting has exposed a fault-line between a well-off majority and a minority, often young people with immigrant backgrounds, who cannot find work, lack education and feel marginalized. Sweden also has a reputation as a very safe destination-- although that has also suffered in the past couple of years. This week, the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm has warned American citizens to stay away from areas where there is rioting-- areas that are growing in size from ghettoized Stockholm suburbs, like Husby, Hagsätra, Rågsved and Skogås, to Uppsala, Södertälje, Linköping and Örebro. What happened?
The gap between rich and poor in Sweden is growing faster than in any other major nation and some people in the affected areas "say the riots are a response to discrimination and relatively high unemployment."
Sweden, once a by-word for equality, has seen a widening gap between rich and poor, our correspondent says.Police, who have arrested 30 rioters, estimate that around 300 have participated in the immigrant suburbs of Stockholm. There are been 200 cars set on fire-- as well as schools, police stations and restaurants. About a dozen police officers have been injured.
Others argue that the unrest is a simple matter of criminality, where parents failed to exert enough influence on their offspring, he adds.
Gulan Avci, a Swedish MP of Kurdish origin who represents the Stockholm suburb of Bredang, said the rioting was down to a mixture of criminality and disillusioned young people in areas of high unemployment and poor school results.
She told BBC radio that the country's integration policies had not been successful.
"But you can never ever accept violence as a way to show your disappointment with society. These teenagers don't understand they're destroying for themselves their own future, for other people that live in these areas."
"In the short run, the acute thing is to ensure that these neighbourhoods get back to normal everyday life," Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag told the Reuters news agency. "In the long run we need to create positive spirals in these neighbourhoods."
There's some sense of backlash against the country's generous asylum and immigration policies brewing on the right, of course, although it's not as intolerant as what you would expect in the U.S. "These people, they should integrate in this society and just try a little bit more to be like Swedish citizens," is a typical response. Sweden, which has a population of only 9.5 million has 1.8 million first and second generation immigrants. They took in 100,000 Iraqis after the U.S. invaded that country, accepted 40,000 Somalis and took in more Syrians this year and last than any other European country per capita (over 11,000)
What set the riots off-- the trigger rather than the cause-- was when police killed a 69 year old unruly Portuguese man. Teens, who sometimes tend to resent police authority, weren't ameliorated when cops started calling them "monkeys" and "negroes." And soon enough the rioting took on a dynamic of its own. Many of these immigrants have no Swedish friends and only come into contact with Swedes who are policemen or social workers. A real ghetto attitude has been evolving in the last few years-- especially after tax cuts for the wealthy and middle class kicked in at the expense of social programs for the poor.
The only State Department warnings for American tourists issued in May were for habitually dangerous countries: Iran, Mauritania, Cote d'Ivoire, Eritrea, Central African Republic and Libya. "Travel Warnings, the State Department website explains, "are issued when long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable lead the State Department to recommend that Americans avoid or consider the risk of travel to that country." So Sweden doesn't have a full-blown warning yet, just an alert from areas where there is rioting. Always good to stay away from them any way. Sweden is generally considered one of the safest countries in the world for travelers. Still, the British Foreign Service warns tourists to take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance, watch out for terrorism and stay away from immgrant-heavy Stockholm suburbs, Husby, Hagsätra, Rågsved, Skogås. The Swedes have changed a lot since they were plundering Europe.