FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Difficult Truths in Sweden

by RITT GOLDSTEIN

Dalarna, Sweden.

At the end of August, Swedish representatives were questioned by the ‘UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’ as to what actions had been taken to diminish intolerance.  Prior to the UN committee meeting, Social Democrat Aleksander Gabelic (head of Sweden’s UN Association) was reported as charging that the last decade had seen little progress, a late-August report the UN Association was party to finding that Sweden’s “indigenous, ethnic and religious minorities continue to suffer discrimination in all areas of life.”  And on 23 September, this nation was rocked by a scandal whose nature brought comparisons to the Nazi era.

Police in Southern Sweden were found to have compiled and kept a registry of Roma, a registry even containing the names of over 1000 young children (as young as two), a registry which reportedly runs contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights (among other laws), and a registry for which Sweden’s Justice Minister has now apologized to the Roma community.  Meanwhile, The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, commented on his Facebook page: “With this file on Roma people, the Swedish State contributes to alienating from society both its Romani communities and other minority groups. The past has taught us that this is a very dangerous path which risks fuelling racist movements. The police should preserve a democratic State, not endanger it.”

Fear, attitudes, and actions

The Swedish ‘paper of record’, Dagens Nyheter (DN – The Day’s News), broke the story, and in a 28 September article addressing events, The Local’s (Sweden’s major English-language news site) first paragraph began with a translated DN quote: “Many are scared and worried. Many think of Hitler, which I have noted that a great deal of opinion-makers consider to be tasteless. But the Roma were a part of the Nazi genocide, just like the Jews, although this is less well-known”.

The major directory in question contains over 4000 names, broken down by relationships and family-trees, and includes over 1000 young children.  Questions of ‘ethnic-profiling’ and discrimination exploded with the ‘Roma Registry’s’ revelation, the registering of very young children sparking particular concern.

Sweden is a country which consistently scores well when its residents are surveyed as to their attitudes regarding pluralism and tolerance, yet, it has been argued that there exists a ‘disconnect’ between Swedish attitudes and actions.  The ‘Roma Registry Scandal’ might be seen as highlighting what this can mean, and an August article in The Local, “Structural racism ‘still a problem’ in Sweden”, provides further facts upon the reality those not of Sweden’s ‘majority community’ face.  Providing harsher comment, a 2011 CounterPunch article, ‘The Dark Side of Sweden’, observes of the Roma that earlier, in some areas of the country, “Roma were sterilized simply for being Roma”.

This journalist knows members of the Roma community here, but was unable to contact them since the scandal broke.  They have blond hair, blue eyes, and shared the fact of their Roma heritage only after quite some time.  My impression is that their heritage was something that they felt needed to be hidden from most, to my eyes highlighting the effects of discrimination.  Notably, earlier requests to discuss Roma issues had been politely rebuffed, my interpretation of this being that the subject was ‘too difficult’ for them to address.

Of course, not all Swedish Roma are blond and blue-eyed, and on 27 September a Stockholm Roma registry, a registry discontinued in 1996, surfaced.  The Local’s summary of the article they did, ‘Stockholm city kept Roma registry until 1996’, reads: ‘Stockholm city council had its own Roma registry as recently as 1996 which profiled people based on their intelligence and cleanliness, with records kept in a so-called “gypsy inventory” (zigenarinventeringen), the Dagens Nyheter newspaper revealed on Friday.’  The Local cited one of the ‘registry’ entries describing a woman, an entry which observed, “She’s as black as the night.”  The article also quotes Swedish Integration Ministrer Erik Ullenhag as noting he was ”ashamed” by the revelations.

Reality and Denial

On 13 September, two of the big national papers, Expressen and Aftonbladet, ran an op-ed article, ‘Sverige räcker till för oss alla’ (Sweden is enough for all of us).  It was an initiative against what was termed ‘a dangerous xenophobic wind blowing across Sweden’, a promise by a substantive number of ‘celebrity Swedes’ that they would speak out against xenophobia, that they would no longer remain silent.  The last time I checked, over eighteen thousand had pledged to support the initiative (there are about 9.6 million Swedes).  Not all the news from here is bad.  And, this journalist was both surprised and gratified when the Roma registry story actually broke – it was reported that police had initially denied the Registry’s existence.  But, perhaps the problem here isn’t based upon the kind of ‘denial’ that police reportedly initially exercised, but upon the kind that allows many to dismiss anything sufficiently unpleasant before them.

In 2012 a CounterPunch article, Living as a “Sub-Human” in Sweden’ , observed of some, that were pursuing arguably ‘inappropriate’ beliefs, that “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.”  In March of this year, in an interview with a senior Swedish civil servant who had run the Government’s 2005 inquiry into ‘structural discrimination’, Paul Lappalainen, it was emphasized to this journalist that the “problem here is the big disconnect between actions and attitudes”.  Elaborating further, Lappalainen explained that “denial, for me, is the key issue”, observing that too many Swedes ”haven’t really dealt with racism that’s part of their structure”.

Ritt Goldstein is an American investigative political journalist living in Sweden.

 

 

Ritt Goldstein is an American investigative political journalist living in Sweden.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Phillip Kim et al.
Open Letter to Bernie Sanders from Former Campaign Staffers
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Convention Con
Lewis Evans
Executing Children Won’t Save the Tiger or the Rhino
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
David Rovics
The Republicans and Democrats Have Now Switched Places
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Artistic Representation of War and Peace, Politics and the Global Crisis
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Kathleen Wallace
Feel the About Turn
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
Charles R. Larson
Review: B. George’s “The Death of Rex Ndongo”
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail