Sunday, May 26, 2013

Fire and Fury In Sweden As Rebellions Spread

Fire and fury in Sweden as riots spread

Youths continue to fight police in Stockholm as unrest spreads to other cities

Tom Peck
Sunday, 26 May 2013

From the moment Henrik Sedin gathered the puck, deep inside his own half, it was destined to be a wild night in Stockholm. It was shortly before 10pm last Sunday when the team's millionaire superstar slapped the puck hard into the empty net: 5-1. For the first time in seven years, and in front of their own fans, Sweden were the ice-hockey champions of the world.

The Ericsson Dome, in the south of the city, went bananas. In the Irish pubs in trendy Södermalm, expensive pints of Guinness flew everywhere. But in Husby, a largely immigrant populated suburb to the far north, an altogether different conflagration was taking hold. A shopping centre had been vandalised, and a garage set on fire, causing the evacuation of an apartment block. When police arrived they were pelted with stones by masked youths, injuring two of them. In a video that has shocked the country, a third policeman was filmed being repeatedly kicked while lying hurt on the floor, his attackers entirely unperturbed by the gun in his belt.

By morning more than a hundred cars had been torched, and by the time the triumphant sportsmen had met King Carl XVI Gustaf in the Kungsträdgården to raise the trophy in front of 20,000 fans, the country had already crossed the tipping point into a week, and counting, of the worst rioting in its modern history.

Hundreds of cars and dozens of buildings have been burnt, and almost 100 people arrested. The pictures of injured officers and burning buildings in rich, peaceful, egalitarian Sweden have surprised a watching world, but many here feel that it shouldn’t have done. For years the country’s social workers, political scientists, rappers and rising number of right wing extremists have been telling the Tale of Two Stockholms, societies existing side by side in a divided, unintegrated city. But never before had it been laid out in such pointed contrast as on that first night of fire and ice-hockey.

For anyone in London two years ago in particular, the events that led up to it are eerily familiar. Two weeks ago, news emerged of the death of a 68 year old Portuguese immigrant man, who had been shot in his Husby apartment by police, then taken to hospital, where he died. He had taken a woman hostage, so the story went, and had been waving a machete at police. But Megafonen, a group that campaigns for social change in the suburbs, published pictures of a body bag being removed from the man’s apartment, and driven away in a car. Not an ambulance, a car. It would later emerge that the so-called hostage was in fact the dead man’s wife of 30 years, and according to his brother-in-law, he had been waving a kitchen knife, not a machete, to ward off a gang of youths who had been harassing him and his wife. When the police knocked on the door, the wife told the brother-in-law, the elderly man mistook the knocks for further harassment, shouted at them, probably a little threateningly, and was shot dead.

The left wing activists who police are now actively pursuing for their role in the rioting, say that when that version of events hit the streets it summoned forth years of resentment against police brutality - an all too consistent complaint in the suburbs where not many white Swedish people live anymore - and against high unemployment, growing inequality, dwindling opportunities. But now the unrest has spread to the western and the southern suburbs, and to other cities - Malmö, Gothenburg, Örebro - where schools, restaurants, and police stations have been set on fire, it is decidedly dubious whether any of the original motivations remain, having been overtaken by the simple criminality of deindividuated men in masks, who enjoy it and think they can get away with it.

So is there something rotten in the state of Sweden? The scale of the riots cannot be compared to Paris in 2005 or to London two years ago, which eventually took hold far outside the capital. No one has been killed, and almost no one injured. The little suburb of Husby is a pretty place, built for rich white Swedes who have almost all left. It is incomparable to Tottenham’s Broadwater Farm estate, the ground zero of the London riots.

But even so, 80 per cent of the population are immigrants, who have for the most part fled from the troubled corners of the world - Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Kurdistan and more recently Syria - lured by Sweden’s traditionally welcoming attitude towards asylum seekers. But youth unemployment is high, at least by Swedish standards - 6 per cent.

“People are saying it’s because of that man that was killed,” said Sadiya, a 13 year old Somali girl at an arts and crafts lesson in central Husby. “I think they want attention from police. The kids that are doing it, they are barely any older than me. Why do they care about unemployment? They’re kids.” Outside the centre where the lesson is taking place, during the daytime lull at the peak of the rioting, the florists in the tranquil precinct is open for business, rows of pretty pot plants lined up outside. The nearby low rise apartment buildings are all set round peaceful, tended gardens. But the windows of the subway station are all smashed. A public phone box is completely destroyed, to the point that it has no exterior structure left, just a phone on a pole, poking out from a mound of broken glass. In the street, an articulated lorry has exploded and burned out, leaving debris everywhere. The cars have been diligently taken away by the authorities, but this thing is too big. Sadiya’s friend, Sagal, says she hasn’t slept for three nights.

All the children in the class, around 25, were born in Sweden, but only one has Swedish parents. The others are all east African or middle eastern.

“It’s difficult for us,” says Ann-Sofie Ericson, who is head of the City of Stockholm’s School of Arts that oversees the area. “19 per cent of our children leave every year. I live a quarter of an hour drive from here. My neighbours are Iraqi. When people come, they will come to somewhere like Husby. Some will get jobs, get education, and then they move out. Some cannot get out.”

Absolute poverty is almost non-existent, but it is not absolute poverty that drives city riots. Sweden’s famously egalitarian society, with exceptional welfare provision, was built by forty years of social democratic government from the 1930s to the 1970s, but an economic crash in the early 90s, and centre-right government in power since 2006 has placed restrictions on it, despite relatively benign economic conditions. A recent OECD report that revealed the country to have the fastest growing rate of inequality of any of the 34 countries in the group caused much surprise, and has been regularly cited over the last week. As was widely pointed out at the time, London’s riots came at the end of thirty years of Thatcherite trickle-down economics, and New Labour’s Third Way, where wild financial deregulation was justified by the idea that it shouldn’t matter if a society’s income gap was widening, as long as the absolute conditions at the bottom were improving. In fact it is the widening disparity itself that engenders rage.

When darkness arrives in Husby - which in late May lasts scarcely four hours - the young people congregate again in the centre, wearing hoodies and tracksuit bottoms. “So maybe I am lucky to be in Europe,” says Baraar Mohamed, a 15 year old with Somali parents who maintains he hasn’t been throwing rocks or starting fires. “Compared to people in Somalia, maybe I am lucky. But I have hardly ever even met them, and this is where I live, and I have to live with police brutality, and I don’t have the same chance as the Swedish kids. I am Swedish. I am Swedish.”

Ken Ring, a Swedish rapper of Kenyan origin, who grew up and still lives in the western suburb of Valingby, where youths pelted passing subway trains with rocks and set fire to cars on Thursday night, agrees.

“I’ve never gone to a place in the world where people know what’s going on in Sweden,” he says. “When they see pictures of our neighbourhoods they say, ‘No, this is not stockholm. this is London, this is Marseilles.’ Stockholm is a crazy place nowadays.”

34 year old Ring achieved more than a little notoriety in the late 90s, when he was arrested after releasing a song in which he rapped about rushing the Royal Castle and raping Princess Madeleine, the third in line to the throne, whose wedding is in two weeks time, for which extra police provision has already been put in place, but he has since rehabilitated his reputation. “Where I live I see kids of 14 and 15 taking heroin. My son is twelve years old. He had his first gun in his head when he was 10. Another kid put it in my son’s head and said, ‘Look. You’re not so tough now.’ This is Sweden. It is not supposed to be like this .”

It certainly isn’t. The hero to emerge from it all is a firefighter called Mattias Lassen, who was hit by rocks while he tried to douse fires near Husby, and wrote an open letter to his attackers on Facebook.

“I'm here if your dad needs help if he crashes his car; I'll help your sister if a fire starts in her kitchen. I'll swim through icy waters to help your little brother if he falls from a boat,” he wrote. “I'll help your grandmother if she has a heart attack and I'll even help YOU if you fall through the ice on a sunny day in March.”

The tide of dissatisfaction flows both ways. In the general election in 2010, the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats party, regularly described as far right, crossed the four per cent voting threshold for the first time, and returned 20 MPs to the 349 seat parliament.

On Friday night, with extra police having been called in to Stockholm where events were comparatively quiet, the worst of the trouble broke out in Örebro, 100 miles to the east, and Tumba to the south. For the first time, right wing vigilante groups took to the streets, posting pictures of themselves in masks on Facebook beforehand. In Tumba, police arrested 18 of them. They are also looking for ”a small clique of professional, left wing activists”, who they believe are travelling from place to place, by car, using tactics familiar to them, like breaking up paving stones, and stirring up trouble.

The vast majority of those arrested in the early days of the rioting have since been released. The first to appear in court was a quiveringly apologetic 18 year old, who said, “I should never have joined in”, and that he had wanted to be a fireman, “but I doubt that will be possible now.”

In Åkersberga, 40 miles north of central Stockholm, cars were still being set on fire in broad daylight yesterday morning, with police pursuing the protagonists by helicopter. Ken Ring, while steadfastly condemning the illegality of it all, still hopes, “The attention that this thing has got, the media exposure, will backfire, and will have an impact in government.” When the fires are out, eventually, and left wing activists, right wing extremists, and angry immigrants are all before the courts, it will certainly have revealed to the world what most Swedes in fact already knew - that things have long not been as they seem.

UK media remain silent on Sweden protests: Carol Gould

Interview with Carol Gould

Sun May 26, 2013 6:56AM GMT

Press TV has conducted an interview with Carol Gould, author and political analyst from London.

Press TV: Well let’s look at this. Has this anger been simmering below the surface for a while and what would you say are the main reasons for the riots?

Gould: Well first of all let me say one really interesting aspect of this discussion is that I’m a very very dedicated journalist and broadcaster and I pay attention to what is happening in the world in all my waking hours and in the past week, a week and a half, I can tell you that there has been virtually no coverage whatsoever in Great Britain on any of the networks of what’s going on in Sweden.

I will tell you this because I think it will be of interest to your viewers. I found out about it because a friend in Spain texted me a week ago and said what’s going on in Sweden, can you explain it?

Well of course I’ve been doing research trying to find out what is happening.

I do believe that what’s happening in Sweden is very similar to what has been happening in Britain. We have a very high immigrant population, a very high Muslim population, but Sweden has taken in more refugees from Syria, Iraq and Somalia than any other country in Europe and I think that is a very important point because Sweden has welcomed hundreds of thousands of people as refugees, as asylum seekers, but the problem is that the people who have come in the past five to ten years - because the Iraq war started over ten years ago - are not fitting in with Swedish society. They are just not integrating.

There was a comment made in today’s Guardian in the UK. It’s the first article about Sweden saying that a huge majority, 95 percent of immigrant families even whose children are born in Sweden and speak Swedish have no Swedish friends. All of their friends, their social circle, is within their own community.

I could also say that one could blame the Swedish community because perhaps I don’t live there so I don’t know how unwelcoming they are, but there does seem to be a very strong social divide.

This situation’s not helped by reports that the police have been calling the young people, who have been rioting because they are unhappy about their situation; calling them monkeys and Negros.

So that inflames the situation and there seems to be a tremendous divide between what I would call the indigenous Swedish population and the more recent arrivals and even amongst the young people who are born there, who are Swedish by birth, but just who are not integrating with the whole Swedish population added to the fact there is high youth unemployment.

Press TV: You said that you are a journalist and you followed the news, but this is not something that is being talked about in the UK. Why is that the case, why do you think it hasn’t been mentioned in your country?

Gould: There are several reasons. In the past 10 days there have been several huge international stories. The British media have been covering the tornado in Oklahoma - absolutely non-stop coverage of the disaster in Oklahoma. And then in the past week we have had the first ever murder of a British soldier on British soil by a Muslim - allegedly. I have to say allegedly by a Muslim because the footage shows two young men who are praising Allah and saying Allah-o Akbar and saying that they wanted to kill this soldier because he represents the murder of their Muslim brothers in Afghanistan and Iraq.

That has been a huge story in the UK. It’s the first time ever that this has happened. Soldiers were killed by the IRA, the Irish Republican Army, but nothing like this has ever happened. But I’m not making excuses for the British media.

To me it is puzzling that the British media have not been covering the events in Sweden. I haven’t even seen anything on CNN, which is broadcast in the UK, but comes from America.

So I think it is possible that because there is a lot of simmering unrest in Britain, because of the events of the past week, whoever puts pressure on the media here, whether it’s Downing Street or whomever, they don’t want to generate even more unrest amongst an already unhappy immigrant population in the UK.

There are parallels to be drawn. Your guest just now mentioned that Sweden has lowered taxes for the rich, but also lowered welfare benefits. When you think that Sweden still has the highest tax rate - 48 percent - of any country in the world, that is incredibly high but it has come down.

So, there are a lot of economic inequities in Sweden that are getting bigger and bigger, wider and wider. If you look at graphs you will see that they go upwards in terms of youth unemployment, in terms of immigrants not wanting to vote anymore in Sweden.

A couple of years ago immigrants were very happy that they were given the vote.

So I think that it’s because of the possibility that this could generate unrest in Britain at a time when there have been 135 alleged attacks on Muslim targets in Britain in the past 48 hours because of the British soldier being killed in London. He was allegedly beheaded and he was chopped up.

Press TV: Do you think what we are seeing there we are also seeing across Europe. Okay, high immigrant numbers as far as people migrating from other countries, but how much do they really become part of the society?

Gould: Yes, that is an important point because I think the reason why in Britain we haven’t had anything really like this emanating from the Muslim or the African community in recent years. There were riots in the year 2001 and two years ago there were riots in London, but this was a general population of very angry young people.

I think the difference between Sweden and the UK is that in the UK we have a huge number of African, West Indian and Muslim television presenters, television hosts and outstanding people in public life. Yasmin Alibhai Brown is on several nights a week. She is a very distinguished Muslim commentator and we have many outstanding politicians and members of the House of Lords, who originate from immigrant communities, they may have been born here, but they are from Iran, they are from Iraq. Their parents were. They didn’t come here from those countries, from Pakistan and from all over Africa and the West Indies.

So I think that the youth here at least have some role models, whereas I don’t perceive this in Sweden.

The other thing as your other guest said - that is important - is that Prime Minister Reinfeldt in Sweden, the prime minister has refused to visit these communities. He won’t go to Husby, which is a big immigrant community.

That was the location of the original Swedish one million home program in the 60’s and 70’s, so it’s a very nice community, but they have a lot of problems. But, he won’t visit them. He calls them angry young men.

I think it would do the country good if some of their ministers, including the prime minister, would go visit these people. Even President Nixon went out onto the steps of the Lincoln memorial in the middle of the night and visited the very angry anti-war protesters and talked to them one to one. And I think that is a very important step that needs to be taken in Sweden.

Press TV: What do you make of our viewer’s comment (as follows: “Racist police, police brutality, poverty in the poorest suburbs where the most exploited and under-class people reside. I hope the trade unions join the protests against police brutality and the right wing that drive down society, and show sympathy for the youth against a failing capitalist system and brutal police even in Social Democratic Scandinavia. The Racist Ultra-nationalists and Christian fundamentalists are on the rise even in tolerant capitalist Scandinavia, observe the Christian-Extremist white supremacist attack in Norway by Anders Behring Breivik”)?

Gould: I’ll play devil’s advocate here. It’s an expression that means I’ll defend the extreme right, even though I am not extreme right. That there’s a whole… of the population of Sweden, you can read about it in the press, who are angry. They say look we have given these people everything. We have given them nice homes, they are living better in Sweden then they have lived anywhere else in Europe as immigrants. We have given them refuge, we have given them all sorts of benefits, why are they sitting around smoking and throwing rocks at police and starting fires, how dare they. We have been so kind and generous to them.

And there is a good percentage of the Swedish population and the European population and here in Britain that feels that many young people who are from immigrant backgrounds, who are on the dole (unemployment benefits), who are given housing benefit, are behaving badly and ought to get their act together and they ought to behave responsibly and think outside the box and find themselves jobs or train to do something.

And that is how many people in Britain feel too. I should tell your viewers that here in Britain in the past few months, the UKIP (UK Independent Party), which is a very right-wing party - it’s not far-right but it’s to the right of the conservative party - has gained thousands of votes. It’s got many new council seats.

In recent elections they did extremely well because many British people, like I would rather suspect Swedish people feel, ‘oh enough is enough we are tired of hearing all of these immigrant groups complaining they don’t have jobs, why don’t they just get out there and do something, start a business’.

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