The Swedish Elections: The End of the European Role Model?

By Charlotte Culine

Freshly arrived in Uppsala, my mind filled with the idealized Swedish role model, it is with great surprise that I learn that Sweden is now facing the rise of populism and Euroscepticism. Rumours has been the situation in Sweden was slowly decaying but I had not realized the extent this phenomenon had taken in this country often considered as the peace haven of Europe, until I arrived and witnessed the tensions surrounding the legislative elections. After France and the Front National, the UK and UKIP, Austria and the Freedom party of Austria, Italy and the Five Star Movement, it is now Sweden’s turn to deal with Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats party. Indeed, the Swedish elections that occurred on the September 9 has for the first time seen the everlasting left-wing Social Democrats party’s monopoly on the government endangered by nationalism and anti-immigration ideologies.
The country has gradually seen the rise of populism ever since the beginning of the 2000’s, following the first arrivals of asylum seekers coming from Iraq. From then, the number of asylum seekers has constantly increased up until 2015 when it reached its peak with 162,877 asylum seekers[i] entering the kingdom, before the government changed the immigration procedure, making it tougher. Sweden, almost unharmed by the 2008 economic crisis, remained prosper and did not seem to be the most fertile environment for such a breakthrough from the nationalist factions.

To have a better understanding of the current political landscape and the point of view of a Swede on this situation, I had an interview with our teacher Lars Löfquist, doctor in Theology, director of studies in Uppsala for the Euroculture programme as well as two other programmes concerning Humanitarian Action. Starting from this, I was able to draw some observations that could explain how Sweden got to this point, what is the current situation and what is to expect in the coming weeks.

Malmö’s case, 2013 & the burning cars

According to Lars Löfquist, the Swedes voted for Sweden Democrats for safety reasons. Sweden is famous for being a safe place, a ‘haven’ as stated above. One of the main arguments of SD is that violence would have supposedly started increasing ever since the number of asylum seekers started growing. The situation was already tensed in 2013 when riots broke out in suburbs of the capital city and were the first indicators of inequalities and lack of integration in Sweden. In between, the migrant crisis of 2015 happened, and criminality has been a major subject in Swedish medias.
The case of Malmö testifies well of the current situation. Called the “capital city of rape” by Nigel Farrage, an English populist politician who led the British vote towards Brexit, it seems though that one of the main reasons why sexual offences have increased in the statistics is a progressively stricter legislation from the Swedish authorities[ii]. The actual number of sexual offences are not increasing that much, but more aggressions are considered and punished as such, which would mathematically higher up the numbers[iii]. More recently, in August 2018, many cars were burnt in some suburbs of Gothenburg as well as close to Stockholm[iv]. No specific demands were made but it automatically echoed to what happened in 2013, and the question of safety was again in everybody’s minds just a month before the elections.
Swedish people are afraid to lose their stability. Whether it is related to safety or welfare, the massive immigration wave has shaken the peaceful life of the Nordic kingdom provoking the rebirth of Sweden Democrats.

Identity & Culture

Some intellectuals and journalists might be tempted to rush these results into the debate of European identity. As believed by Lars Löfquist, Swedish identity is not threatened, and except for some minority groups Swedish people do not feel their identity being threatened. There is, though, a conflict between two cultures. On one hand, the culture of Sweden, and on the other, the culture of most of the immigrants. The Swedish population has been atheist for a while now. People are not believers and you would never see a line up in front a church on a Sunday morning. It is thus very difficult for them to accept the idea of an omnipresent religion, that would require calls for prayers and different ways of dressing. The culture of immigrants, which often includes Islam, becomes then much more visible and noticeable, especially when Sweden is the country that welcomed the biggest number of immigrants per capita[v].
This point is significant because it is one of the main reasons why people voted for Sweden Democrats. “Sweden has done its part” is the sentence, pronounced by Lars Löfquist, that translates best the general despondency felt in the country. With approximately 70,000 residence permits granted in 2016, Sweden has proven itself much more united with the migrant cause than most of the other European countries, especially France and Germany, the so-called ‘power couple’ of the EU. The same way than Italy did in March, Sweden is now calling up on the European community to do their part.

Sweden Elections Results graph
Valmyndigheten (Swedish Election Authority) results graphic.

 

The Swedish Exception

Sweden has once again proven itself to be reasonable in troubled waters. As Lars Löfquist puts it, “the left is not dead”. Compared to other European countries where all other parties have fallen in front of populism, like Italy or Austria, or even France, where all the traditional parties have shattered during the last presidential elections, Sweden’s left- and right-wing parties have remained strong and have only conceded the third place to Sweden Democrats. The Centre Party (Centerpartiet) has also reached a historical score, providing them with eight more seats than they had before.
In the end, 82% of the voters have chosen to give their voice to parties that are not for the reinforcement of anti-immigration policies. The results of these elections are not linked to a depoliticization or lack of interest of the population either. With 87.18% of turn out, Sweden does better than most of the European country, and 1.38 point more than for their last parliamentary elections[vi].
Nevertheless, none of the parties managed to secure the majority and they will now have to find a solution altogether to build the new government. Even though all parties have already rejected the idea of working with SD, the Social democrats have already changed their politics on immigration before the elections to face Jimmie Åkesson’s threat of overthrow, reducing the number of refugees that Sweden will take from now on. It seems that even if Sweden Democrats have not reached the expected number of voters (less than 18% against 20 to 25% expected in the polls), they still earned their voice to maintain pressure on the political decisions in the coming era of Swedish policy making.


[i] Sweden and migration, Official website of Sweden, https://sweden.se/migration/#2015
[ii] Reality Check: Is Malmo the ‘rape capital’ of Europe?, BBC news’ website, February 2017, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-39056786
[iii] Crime and statistics report, Brå, https://www.bra.se/bra-in-english/home/crime-and-statistics.html
[iv] Sweden cars: 80 set on fire by gangs in several cities, BBC news’ website, August 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45181321
[v] Sweden and migration, Official website of Sweden, https://sweden.se/migration/#2015
[vi] Valmyndigheten (Election Authority) https://data.val.se/val/val2018/slutresultat/R/rike/index.html


Featured picture: Stefan Löfven, current Prime Minister of Sweden (Socialdemokraterna, 2015).

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Interpreting the Polish “Holocaust Law”

By Katharina Geiselmann

The Polish Sejm has passed a Law at the beginning of this year, which makes it illegal to blame Poles for any crime committed during the Nazi occupation. Even though it also covers crimes committed during the Communist era (and war crimes by Ukrainian nationalists), it came to be known as “The Holocaust Law” in the debate that it sparked all around the world. This shows not only the sensitivity of the topic of the Holocaust, but also that 73 years after the victory over the Nazis, it seems the different Holocaust narratives are rather dividing than uniting Europe. Can, and should a consensus be reached when it comes to Holocaust memory? Or is the motto united in diversity a legitimate solution for the European memory? Especially the latest EU-enlargement challenges the concept of a common European memory, as the Western countries have agreed on their memory more or less, while new members have not been included yet, and bring other, fresher memories to the table: the communist past. Considering that the Holocaust, however, is said to be part of the European memory as negative founding myth[1], in cooperating Eastern narratives and agreeing on what and how the Holocaust is to be remembered is an integral part of the integration process. Continue reading “Interpreting the Polish “Holocaust Law””

Patriotic Europeans United in Fortress Europe

Sabine Volk

On February 6, 2016, people demonstrated all over Europe. In cities as diverse as Dresden, Prague, Warsaw, Bratislava, Krakow, Copenhagen, Dublin, Graz, Tartu, Amsterdam, Birmingham, Montpellier, and Bordeaux, up to 9,000 people held banners in the air declaring ‘Nein zur Einwanderung – Stoppt die Merkelisierung,’ or ‘Non au grand remplacement, Non au changement de peuple, Nous sommes le peuple.’ On April 9, 300 people participated in a blockade of a part of the Czech-German border. On May 16, 2,500 people gathered in Dresden with a similar message. All three events were organized by a recent political movement, the so-called Fortress Europe. The movement’s spokesperson advocated the demos on her webpage with the following words:

“[It’s] about identity, appreciation and mutual forgiveness for everything that ever separated us, the European peoples. This event shall be the starting point for real cohesion, for a European sense of community and a strong, European esprit de corps – to fight together as united Europeans for the preservation of our continent.”

Reading this statement, a student of Euroculture gets alerted. Fortress Europe apparently seeks to strengthen a collective European identity; a concept that is usually considered a possible solution to the current challenges in the process of European integration. Yet, Fortress Europe is an openly xenophobic and EU-skeptic movement. EU-skeptics that aim at the creation of European identity? It’s definitely time to have a closer look at Fortress Europe. Continue reading “Patriotic Europeans United in Fortress Europe”

The Question of Constructing Our Personal Europe

 Viktória Pál viktoria.pal@hotmail.com

My views on Europe and the widely-discussed concept of “Europeanness” depend very much on how I perceive and process the world surrounding me. Building up our own Europe comes with a responsibility, as it influences not only our personal but the global perception of Europe as a whole.

The variety in creating one’s own Europe, I believe, is very much connected to a personal, intercultural and emotional development. The concept of ‘the Other’ or ‘Us’ plays a crucial role in this development, which is very much related to the types of schooling and change of residencies throughout one’s life.

“The variety in creating one’s own Europe is very much connected to a personal, intercultural and emotional development…”

How does all this add up to create a personalised perspective of Europe and how can these perspectives be explained? How are the latter being formed and why? The place where we live, regardless of our family’s views on politics, religion or sexuality, already provides us with a sense of belonging, be it positive or negative, which becomes part of our self-definition and a basis for differentiation. To decide what to do with this ‘default setting’ is our own choice, and throughout time, as our lives outgrow local or national borders, locality becomes a fluid conception we can easily control. Continue reading “The Question of Constructing Our Personal Europe”

Belarus: Past, Present and Future centre of Europe

Nadezhda_Belarus in her 20s again

Nadezhda Fomenok │nadezhda@fomenok.net

I land in the centre of Europe. A small airport welcomes me back home.

When I think of my country, I always picture a charming lady. She has an entangled past to share with travellers.

Long ago Belarus used to be part of a huge powerful country, which comprised of Poland, Belarus and Lithuania. The state was the second one in the world that adopted a Constitution in 1791, and  was recognised as a cultural and military centre of Europe for many centuries. A huge part of that culture remained forgotten and silent for a long time, but now it is slowly waking up from the period of integration with the other 14 soviet states, which affected several generations of the state’s culture.

A small shuttle brings me to the closest metro station. Just a while ago, all the station names were dubbed in English to make it more convenient for travellers. The other two main languages you will find are Russian and Belarusian. They both are equivalent, according to our Constitution, but people are using Russian more these days.  When parents have the option to choose education for their children in one of the languages, Russian becomes more prevalent due to the Customs Union and the economic relations between Russia and Belarus.

“Belarusian definitely shares more roots with the western languages than Russian.”

Belarusian, in fact, is markedly different from Russian. I remember one time when I stayed in Warsaw, to my surprise after several days I started to understand the language and could say simple sentences like “No, I am not getting off the bus now”. Compare the words “paper” in English and “papera” in Belarusian with “bumaga” in Russian. Belarusian definitely shares more roots with the western languages, and proper Belarusian speech is very hard to comprehend for Russian speakers.

I get off  the metro in the middle of Minsk, at its only ancient part – Nemiga. The Second World War destroyed the city and it was all rebuilt from scratch in 1944, modelled in line with the best Soviet architectural traditions. My great-grandfather used to tell me that when standing on one edge of the city he could see quite far – there were no roads or high buildings to block the view at all. Walking along the Svislach River, I look at the row of ancient remains of Troitskoye Predmestye (Trinity Suburb), where the families of famous Belarusian writers like Kupala and Bogdanovich once lived; these days the sight attracts brides and girls who crave for a new Facebook profile picture.

“The Second World War is a huge part of the history of the country…”

The Second World War is a huge part of the history of the country. From 1941 – to 1944 the country was occupied and people kept fighting as they could: in cities and in forests. There are many remarkable monuments from that period. Visit Brest Fortress, for instance, where you can read the words written by a dying soldier “I’m dying but I won’t surrender. Farewell, Motherland. 20.VII.41” , which really makes the blood in your veins freeze.  Another breath-taking place is Khatyn, which until 1943 was a typical Belarusian village to the northeast of Minsk. On 22nd  March 1943 it was burnt to the ground killing  all of its inhabitants. There were many villages that, just like Khatyn, were never rebuilt after the war.

The post-war Soviet period was a very controversial and difficult time for the culture of the country. Nevertheless, even with all the Soviet drawbacks, the government managed to save the country that was destroyed by the war. Many famous factories and plants, schools and universities opened  during that period.

“The Soviet Union disappeared from the map. The predictability of life disappeared together with it.”

The state has changed a lot in the past 20 years. The Soviet Union disappeared from the map. The predictability of life disappeared together with it. Borders fell down. There were many possible ways of development for the country to choose from, a huge variety of things to do and to believe in.

As I walk along the river to my apartment, I see many people on bicycles. Belarusian people are slowly letting their identity show. There are many festivals and sport events which are held in the city, and I am very happy to be part of the huge Erasmus Mundus community of Belarus.

Two German guys ask me for directions, and I am glad to show them around. Many tourists come to the country to see the main lakes: the lake Narach, which is the largest lake in Belarus, and the Braslau Lakes,  a unique lake system that attracts fishermen from all over the country.

“Foreigners sometimes get scared of our ‘strong’ currency, but…”

From a local grocery shop, close to my apartment, a loaf of bread costs 8,000 Belarusian Roubles; 1 Euro amounts to 11,500 Roubles. Foreigners sometimes get scared of our ‘strong’ currency, yet after getting a breakfast for less than a Euro, it is funny to realise that all the Belarusians are millionaires!

I finally reach my flat and sit comfortably on the bed with my laptop. I look at the smiling faces of my European friends on Facebook. Many of them keep saying that visiting Belarus is very hard due to the strict visa policy between the European Union and Belarus. I would respond that this paperwork is possible to do if you want; and it can never keep friends apart.

“Belarus, a young country with blue lakes for eyes in her early twenties again.”

Belarus is now in a beautiful transition period from its post-Soviet state: a young country with blue lakes for eyes in her early twenties again, looking for her identity and trying all of the new opportunities she has ahead. So if you are open to breaking stereotypes, you want to see some very atypical architecture and to explore a new culture – you are more than welcome to Belarus. We will meet you, show you around, and definitely have the craziest nights after eventful days.

Nadezhda profileNadezhda Fomenok, Contributing Writer

Nadezhda is a senior year private international law student, living in Minsk, Belarus. From 2011 to 2012, she studied in Bilbao as an Erasmus Mundus exchange student. This experience helped her develop new interests, among which are the culture of the European Union in the view of integration and how Belarus could be a part this process. Nadezhda dreams of successfully graduating from her course in 2014 and finding her own way in the big world. In her spare time she reads Paulo Coelho and sketches her greatest ideas.

Feel Truely European in Beautiful Kraków

Miriam Beschoten | miriam.beschoten@gmx.de

Kraków, Poland. What is the first thing that comes into your mind when hearing this? Well for me, as a German, it definitely painted a different picture from what I actually experienced while spending my second semester of the MA Euroculture programme there. Starting with the architecture, I expected to see heavy influence from the Communist era that dominated Poland for over 40 years. But instead I found myself surrounded by numerous old and beautiful buildings that reminded me more of being in Italy or Belgium rather than Ukraine or Russia. This is due to a unique fact that makes up a huge part of Kraków’s identity until now: Kraków is the city of culture in Poland and its architecture symbolizes a highly rich cultural life with all the influences that shaped the country for decades. My point here is that despite of all my expectations, Kraków is one of the most beautiful European cities that I have ever been able to see.

Now every time you go abroad, it is my opinion that the people you meet there are of immense significance. People can turn the ugliest place (which, as was just explained, Kraków is not) into the most delightful experience if you get along with them and have fun. For example: the Euroculture staff in Kraków. Not just the professors but, more importantly, all of the Euroculture coordinators are very much engaged in their work and are 100% there to help you find your way around academically and in Kraków itself. I have hardly met anyone at any university I studied at in the past so committed and so open to your ideas and comments. They have a high degree of expertise in what they do so you can definitely learn from them and yet you can go out and have a drink with them or a coffee in our beloved “Karma” café (the first thing they introduced us to). Sometimes they even offer the notorious ‘Vodka lecture’ that no-one can ever leave sober even if you try really hard!

Encounters with local Polish students, however, were unfortunately limited to the annual students’ week where you can attend free concerts or the final march through the town trying to keep a drink in your hand without the police noticing (public drinking is forbidden in Poland). The lack of encounters may be due to the amount of work you have to do in Kraków, resulting from living in a ‘Euroculture bubble’, or it may be also partly due to the Polish students not all seeming to want to get involved with foreign students in the first place. This leads me to my quite honest but general impression of Polish people. Polish people, I have to admit, are still a little bit of a mystery to me. Not being able to speak Polish fluently (despite taking a Polish for Beginners course) is obviously a main factor in this. My experiences ranged from the cashier in the supermarket not even answering your long and painfully practiced “Dzień dobry” or no smile in some people’s faces, not even the slightest hint, to a total stranger walking through downtown Kraków with you for 20 minutes (therefore missing his bus home) just to try to help you find a newly-opened bar. It seems to be a matter of age and former experiences with foreigners that makes the Polish either seem dismissive or warmly welcoming to you.

Whatever it is, however, it should not stop you from visiting such an interesting and exciting European city that has so much to offer on a lifestyle level, both historically and culturally. Choosing Kraków as my Euroculture host university has truly been a great contribution to my understanding of European history, culture, and what makes Europeans feel European. Poland, to me, is one of the countries where you can see how such a feeling is evolving first hand and how entering the European Union changes people’s lives and perspectives, and it would not take me a blink of an eye to decide to go back there again.

Mimi BeschotenKraków Correspondent

Mimi is from Germany and studied BA Translation. She spent her first semester of MA Euroculture at the University of Göttingen, her second semester at Jagiellonian University, Kraków, and is currently doing her internship at a cultural foundation. She is interested in the role of culture and how it can be used to further integrate Europe. Mimi’s real name is Miriam (which she kind of dislikes) and she loves to watch His Dudeness in the film The Big Lebowski.