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Sweden: When a Progressive icon becomes the darling
of the Right
by Ritt Goldstein
Copyright June 2012
FALUN, Sweden – When most people think of Sweden, it’s of a country that once virtually defined the meanings of both integrity and social justice, a place that for many was once more an ideal than a nation. But unrealized by most, that place we knew was slowly dying, victim of the same neoliberal toxins that have poisoned so much, with another Sweden, a ‘Brave New Sweden’, rising in its place.
Today’s Sweden is one that’s troubled, one whose official ‘Tweets’ are even disturbing, with the leader of Sweden’s Jewish communities just asking for the removal of the current ‘Tweeter’ because of troubling comments upon Jews. But it seems such conduct is simply a part of the ‘Brave New’ state now emerging, a state whose changes have led it to be increasingly defined as the new icon of the Right.
The conservative Kansas City Star headlined in May, “Time to take a cue from Sweden, of all places”; Bloomberg News just ran “Booming Sweden’s Free-Market Solution”; and, as early as September, the unabashedly right-wing American Spectator published its own love letter, “Free Market Sweden, Social Democratic America”. Make no mistake, the Sweden we once knew is gone, harsh neoliberal transformation leaving cold the beauty that had been. Ever more increasingly, the effects of this transformation make themselves evident.
Far-right and xenophobia surge
In 2010 a far-right party with neo-Nazi roots, the Sweden Democrats (SD) was elected to Sweden’s parliament. Since April, polls reveal their support jumped 85% — 40% in April/May, 35% in May/June — the May/June poll numbers highlighting that the increase from the level of support they had in March totaled 85%. Notably, famed Swedish novelist Stieg Larsson was known to fear such changes would occur, and an article I earlier penned for Intrepid Report indeed addressed Sweden’s turn to its ‘dark side’ – “‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ . . . the reality of Sweden’s dark side”. And, the evident changes are far more than political.
Just days ago, Sweden’s Twitter account — Sweden’s official Twitter where a different citizen takes over the account every week — began ‘Tweeting’ what the New York Times termed “odd questions about Jews”, and even the Wall Street Journal reported troubling comments upon both Jews and Gays. The culprit, a 27 year old single mother of two, genuinely failed to perceive the implications of what she was saying, and that’s a real problem here.
To quote from a just published EBook of mine, ‘Living as a Sub-Human in Sweden’ (without charge at http://www.coldtype.net/Assets.12/PDFs/0609.RittBook.pdf )…
During a conversation with a young man here that seemed quite intelligent, decent, he began expressing his admiration for Hitler’s SS, trying to explain it for me. Perhaps helping to explain such logic, a recent poll found that over 25% of Swedes between 18 and 29 admired the idea of a dictatorship, and I was more than surprised when a well known figure that was considerably older recently argued dictatorship’s benefits as well. Among those that are older, a fellow I know recently tried to explain how a book he read revealed ‘Jewish control’ of the 1930s financial system, actually believing such antisemitic idiocy. But, the most disturbing aspect of these incidents – each occurring quite separately from the others – was the complete lack of malice among those embracing such absurdities. These ‘otherwise good people’ completely failed to recognize the wholly inappropriate nature of what they were saying.
For many Swedes, prejudice and the injustices that come of it have simply become a way of life – there appears to be no feeling of guilt or shame. A video of a recent scandal involving Sweden’s Minister of Culture emphasizes the point, the disturbing YouTube piece titled: “Swedish Racism: The Venus Hottentot Cake Vs. Swedish Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth”.
Further accentuating the current milieu, a global conference of far-right groups, the so-called ‘Worldwide Counter-Jihad Alliance’, has scheduled its kick-off rally in Stockholm on 4 August.
The toxic effects of Sweden’s ‘reforms’
In all fairness to Sweden, there do yet remain some Swedes where one cannot find any people better, but economic reforms of the last years have hit many in this nation hard…very, very hard. According to Eurostat, Sweden currently has more people at risk of poverty than any nation except Bulgaria, and separately the OECD found the gap between the rich and poor is expanding at four times the pace of the US.
The reality in Sweden today is a simple and scary one, with inheritance taxes and other taxes for the elite either abolished or vastly diminished, publicly owned industry and services increasingly privatized (including eldercare, healthcare, and education), and the once great network of social services a shadow of its former self, and yet diminishing. Homelessness has risen 25% since 2005, and assorted social service scandals regularly make news, ie, ambulances that are called for but don’t come. For obvious reasons, many everyday Swedes are angry, but for equally obvious reasons the political leaders responsible for these changes avoid accepting blame.
As for the nation’s elite, they are enjoying a wealth increase unparalleled in this nation’s recent history.
With the far-right surging on scapegoating Sweden’s immigrants and promising a return to the social-welfare state — plus the exclusion of those of foreign origins — societal focus has been effectively shifted from the ‘economic reforms’ that caused societal pain, the political leaders that are actually to blame for it. As the massive and ongoing redistribution of Sweden’s societal assets continues, it is small wonder the US Right admires it so much, nor that the poison fruit of this phenomenon resembles the kind of politics, xenophobia and hate that once dominated the 1930s.
According to Swedish Radio (SR), Julian Assange’s Swedish attorney, Per E. Samuelsson, just some days ago told SR that “Sweden is not a state of laws one can depend on” (my own translation from: “Sverige ingen rättsstat att lita på.”). Significantly, given that I personally endure housing documented as badly contaminated, housing which has increasingly and devastatingly sickened me, and do so because of the sanction of Swedish authorities and courts — despite laws which arguably seem that they should indeed offer protection — I tend to agree with Mr. Assange’s attorney. Of course, I too am both of foreign origins and a journalist, plus being a minority, Jewish.
Fortunately, one can also sometimes still encounter the virtues that made Sweden great. And on Monday 18 June, a prosecutor that I had been sending material upon the ongoing housing circumstances wrote, “it is my opinion that at this stage there is reason to believe that a miljöbrott (environmental crime) has been committed”. On Monday an investigation headed by this prosecutor was officially opened.
As to what’s ahead, the title of my EBook already speaks to the reality I’ve discovered, both personally and for those others that are part of a minority or of foreign origins here, those ‘Living as a Sub-Human in Sweden’. Clearly, I really don’t think Sweden’s current circumstances are something America needs to emulate, but rather that Swedes badly need to address. But on the brighter side, it does seem there may be hope that addressing some nightmares has finally made it to the agenda.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ritt Goldstein is a courageous American investigative political journalist living in Sweden. His work has appeared fairly widely, including in America’s Christian Science Monitor, Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald, Spain’s El Mundo, Sweden’s Aftonbladet, Austria’s Wiener Zeitung, Hong Kong’s Asia Times, and a number of other global media outlets. He has lived in Sweden since July 1997, officially acquiring permanent residency there in 2006. At present he is about to begin work on a book, one titled “Brave New Sweden”.
Follow me on Twitter @RittGoldstein
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