OPINION. Today is one of the most exciting days in Swedish politics: we are going to polls to elect our new (or the same) government. But the biggest buzz has not been about which party or which block will collect the most votes, but whether Sweden Democrats (SD), an extreme right-wing party with controversial views on immigration, will make it to the national parliament*. Surprisingly, I have recently discovered that I might have a lot in common with one of their key representatives.
*Sweden Democrats secured 5,7 percent of the vote and 20 of the seats in the Parliament.
I made this chocking discovery about a month ago. The election frenzy had just started when I read an interview with Mikael Jansson, one of SD’s representatives running for the city council. Here he presented the SD party action plan: limit the number of immigrants, assimilate those who are already here and all that familiar stuff we all know and some love them for. He also made it clear that we need to defend “Swedish values” which according to the party will be extinct if we so frivolously keep allowing for the influx of immigrants, especially non-European, to continue.
Well, this is how they talk. It is all about drama and “we need to take over the government that wants to dismantle our nation” and “we are taking our country back”. Paradoxically, I can’t help but feel that there is something very “un-Swedish” in this message, but more on that later. Now I would like to share with you my epiphany which came at the end of the page (not featured online), cleverly hidden in an innocent standard questionnaire given to all politicians interviewed by the newspaper. There it was, black on white, the indisputable proof that me and him are… well, dare I say soulmates?
I will walk you through it. Question one: Do you commute/bike to work? Jansson answers yes. Bingo! So do I. Question two: Do you own an environmentally friendly car? Jansson answers no. Well I’ll be damned, me neither. Do you own your own apartment? No. Right again. Do you subscribe to daily newspapers. Yes and yes. When asked if he works out, he answers both yes and no. Funny. Well, I too would subscribe to that ambivalent attitude towards workout.
And it goes on like this. Had this been a questionnaire for an internet dating site, a computer would have immediately matched us together giving us a 100 percent chance of finding true love.
Becoming a Swede
Ofcourse, there is another, less romantic, explanation for the similarities of our lifestyles. Maybe we are just typical Swedes? However, I am not sure that Mikael Jansson would agree with that. His party represents the view that I, as an immigrant, am fundamentally different from him, as a born and raised Swede. Actually, SD would probably resent me even referring to myself as a Swede, and especially not a typical one. According to the party program it is not enough to speak the language, hold the Swedish citizenship and feel like a Swede to enjoy that epithet. On top of that, one has to be “by other Swedes perceived as a Swede”.
Naturally, I got curious. Do I pass for a Swede? Well, maybe a survey in the city centre would settle that question for me? My imagination ran a bit wild with this piece of information and I started picturing an audition, similar to those on the American Idol, with a serious jury of experts and at least one Simon-look-alike who would laugh at me when I mess up the lyrics to the national anthem or “Små grodorna”, a song sung at Midsommar (a Swedish holyday in the beginning of summer). In the end the “Simon”-figure would speak to me in a fatherly tone saying: “I am sorry, you have some potential but you do not pass for a Swede just yet, you are not going to the next round. Try again next year.”
I am sure that the idea would make for a great TV – Sweden Democrats might not be my cup of tea but they sure know how to work the public. For example, according to the party’s ideology, the only way for an immigrant to become a Swede is to completely and fully adopt the “Swedish values”. Mr Jansson even gives some clues as to what those values are. First up is a high working moral. Then we have helpfulness and orderliness. Well, we all know that immigrants like to sit at home and exploit the Swedish welfare system and that they are generally rude and chaotic. I am just curious to know if this works in both directions. Can a native Swede be excluded from the inner circle, should he or she not comply with these values?
Zlatan Ibrahimovic – not Swedish
There are other telling signs of “lacking Swedishness” to look for. For example, a year ago, the party’s press secretary Mattias Karlsson stated that Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the famous football player, is not Swedish. This was because of his “attitude” and “body language”. Well, if a guy wearing the national team’s blue-yellow jersey is not “perceived as a Swede by others”, what hope is there for the rest of us?
In the beginning, I hinted that I feel that there is something very “un-Swedish” about Sweden Democrats’ message. Maybe it is because they are so politically incorrent. Nothing rings as “un-Swedish” in my ears as the lyrics of one of their songs (see the clip above) where they talk about taking “our country back”. When I meet people abroad I often hear Sweden described as some sort of fairytale land of justice and equality. In those situations, I have to admit that I feel a sense of pride. At the risk of sounding very politically correct, I would like to believe that these are some of the values that are typically Swedish. I feel, however, obliged to serve up some uncomfortable facts that might tarnish this sunny image.
– Swedes with immigrant background need to apply for two to six times as many jobs as native Swedes in order to get ahead into the selection process (ILO). Suddenly my American Idol idea does not seem so farfetched.
– A person looking for an apartment under the name of “Erik” gets four times as many offers as a “Muhammed” (a study by Växsjö University). Several similar studies have shown that dark-heared, dark-skinned Swedes sometimes are not allowed to get into some nightclubs and restaurants.
– 85 percent of people, regardless of their cultural and ethnical background, said that there is wide spread discrimination in Sweden (Europabarometer survey).
So, no, all Swedes are not too hyped on immigrants. As much as it pains me, I have to admit that the multicultural society is not always the colourful paradise with exotic food and music – the image often promoted by politicians. It can also be messy, dirty, scary and terribly unfair to all involved. And maybe it is not so strange that some native Swedes are clinging to their national identity which they feel is slipping away, not only because of immigration but also as a result of globalization, membership in the EU and what not. It is just sad that the one party that chose to address these fears is also the party with the saddest and the most narrow minded view on the Swedish society.
As Sweden goes to polls today, I am curious to see which will prevail, those “defending” Swedish values or those most prominent of the Swedish values – tolerance and solidarity.
* 5,7 percent. 20 seats in the parliament. And four years to affect immigration and integration – or do we now have to start calling it assimilation – policies. Sweden Democrats are in the parliament.