Sweden and the lethal complacency of the elites

It’s not racist to talk about the crisis of integration – it’s essential.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Identity Politics Politics World

Are we allowed to talk about Sweden yet? Now that the Swedish army is being asked to help cops with a surge in gangland killings, can we ask if perhaps there is something rotten in the state of Sweden? For years the complacent technocracies of America and Europe said Sweden was fine. Only Trumpists and troublemakers would say otherwise. Now, following the PM’s announcement that he’s asking the army to use everything from its knowledge on ‘explosives’ to ‘helicopter logistics’ to help tackle an epidemic of gang crime, maybe these people will be roused from their Scandi-naïveté.

The news from Sweden is alarming. Prime minister Ulf Kristersson is considering changing the law itself to allow greater ‘military involvement’ in crime-fighting. It follows a disturbing spike in street mayhem. In September alone, 11 people were killed in gang violence. On one day – Wednesday 27 September – two men were shot dead in Stockholm and a 25-year-old woman was killed in a bomb attack in Storvreta, 50 miles north of Stockholm. She was a schoolteacher. It’s thought she was a neighbour of the intended target. Young teachers dying in blasts? We’re a long way from when the Guardian would publish gushing pieces about how ‘a visit to Sweden is like time-travel to the future’.

Indeed, even the Guardian, whose writers have long looked at Sweden as a social-democratic heaven in contrast to the gammon hell that is the UK, is now forced to admit that Sweden is being ‘rocked by [a] wave of violence’. September was the worst month for shooting deaths in Sweden since records began in 2016, it reports. It quotes Kristersson’s sad, salutary words: ‘Sweden has never seen anything like it. No country in Europe has seen anything like it.’ So Sweden is still a unique country, then – but for the wrong reasons this time.

It is difficult to overstate how serious Sweden’s disarray has become. Kristersson says it is ‘terrorist-like’. On 30 August the country was rocked by four explosions in the space of one hour. In 2022 there were 90 bombings and 101 attempted bombings. This year, up to 15 August, there had been 109 bombings. Is anyone else wondering why there are any bombings in this once peaceful, happy land? There were 391 shootings in 2022, 62 of them fatal, a rise from 45 fatal shootings in 2021. Guns are everywhere. Social services in the small city of Örebro say guns are now so easy to come by that most of the ‘at-risk’ youths they work with could probably get hold of one in a day.

There are now so many grenade attacks in Sweden that it’s the only country outside of Mexico that keeps a record of them. Things have got so crazy in recent years that even the BBC, which is not always upfront in its reporting on the problems afflicting ‘nice’ EU nations, sounded agog in 2019: ‘Sweden’s 100 explosions this year: What’s going on?’ Alongside the gang violence, there are Islamist uprisings. There were days-long Muslim riots in April last year in response to a right-winger’s burning of a Koran. Sweden’s chief of police said he’d ‘never seen such violent riots’.

And now Sweden’s soldiers might be tasked with quelling the instability. Kristersson has been meeting with the supreme commander of the armed forces to seek assistance with the ‘severe wave of shootings and bombings’. It’s a ‘highly unusual step for the Scandinavian country’, one report says. It would be a highly unusual step in any Western democracy. Imagine if this were happening in Britain. If there were weekly bomb attacks, religious riots, the possibility of army involvement in domestic affairs. We’d be shocked. Well, we should be shocked that it’s happening to a close ally.

What has gone wrong? Kristersson, who leads the centre-right Moderate Party, does not mince his words. This ‘difficult time for Sweden’ is down to ‘political naivety’ and ‘unsuccessful integration’, he says. Most of the recent gang crime, and certainly the new kinds of offences like bombings and shootings, follow Sweden’s massive intake of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa during the migrant crisis of 2015. A failure to integrate these new arrivals, either into the labour market or into Sweden’s social values, has given rise to large populations with not much to do and with little meaningful connection to their host nation.

The former prime minister, Magdalena Andersson of the Social Democratic Party, made similar comments to Kristersson’s. For too long, she said in April last year, we’ve ignored the fact that there are now ‘parallel societies in Sweden’ and that ‘integration has been too poor at the same time as we have had large [amounts of] immigration’. On Sweden’s gang and Islamism problems, she uttered these prophetic words: ‘We live in the same country but in completely different realities.’

It is good that Sweden’s political classes, of both left and right, are reckoning with the crisis of integration. For too long the Euro elites damned as racist anyone who expressed concerns about the ideology of multiculturalism; anyone who wondered out loud if mass immigration alongside moral relativism, the welcoming of unprecedented numbers of migrants at the same time as our nations have given up on the idea of integration, might not be the best idea. Even those of us who favour a liberal immigration policy have felt that the abandonment of integration is a problem. Especially for migrants, who are often left in a kind of ethnic bubble, sometimes under regressive religious values, perhaps unable to speak the native language. The ideology of multiculturalism might flatter the postmodern fake virtue of the largely white elites, but it sells migrants and minorities short.

Kristersson is right to criticise the ‘political naivety’ of European leaders who care little for the tough task of integration. Who elevated their own need to platform their virtue – in this case by posing as pro-migrant – over the needs of their nations. It wasn’t just naivety, though – it was complacency. There was an uncritical, borderline smug attitude to the migrant crisis among Europe’s elites. We’re doing a good thing and anyone who says otherwise is a far-right loon – that was the stance. And then they wonder why, since 2015, Alternative für Deutschland has soared in Germany, Giorgia Meloni has taken Italy, and the right-wing Sweden Democrats have had their best showing in Sweden. It’s not because the good people of these nations have become frothing racists. It’s because they’re sick of out-of-touch establishments putting self-congratulation before social cohesion.

The situation in Sweden, more than any other nation, speaks to how lethal the complacency of the technocrats has become. Who can forget the establishment chuckling at Donald Trump in 2017 when he said Sweden is ‘having problems like they never thought possible’. ‘Sweden is fine’, crowed the right-on. Now Sweden’s own prime minister echoes Trump, saying ‘Sweden has never before seen anything like this’. So things aren’t fine. They lied to us. They dishonestly packaged up their technocratic rule and pseudo-virtue as infallible, and branded their critics as idiots and bigots. The rise of populism gets less mysterious with every passing day.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

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Topics Identity Politics Politics World


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