You’ve read the stories about Sweden’s excellent health care system, innovative gender-neutral day care centers, and generous parental leave policies. But here’s a story that those who would like to portray Sweden as a socialist paradise are less eager to tell: For three consecutive nights, the residents of several largely immigrant suburbs have rioted, torching cars, clashing with police, and setting buildings ablaze.
The rioting — the worst social unrest to strike the country in many years — was sparked by the lethal police shooting of a 69-year-old, knife-wielding man last week in the suburb of Husby, the epicenter of the riots. Roaming gangs of angry youths have since clashed with police and Husby residents have complained of racist treatment by police officers, who they say have used epithets such as “monkey.”
What’s happening in Husby is clearly a symptom of Sweden’s failed effort to integrate its massive immigrant population. Housing segregation is rampant in the country, and Husby is a case study in how immigrant populations have come to dominate Stockholm’s outer suburbs. The graph below (from this paper on housing segregation) illustrates the phenomenon. Depending on your political perspective, native-born Swedes have either fled Husby or been pushed out by immigrants:
Husby also suffers from rampant unemployment — a problem that is particularly acute for its youth. Nearly 30 percent of the city’s young people are neither employed nor actively enrolled in school, a number that mirrors a broader trend of immigrant underemployment relative to the native-born population.
The riots have been captured in YouTube videos, which paint a picture of an aggressive, somewhat ham-handed response by police. When confronted by angry residents, law enforcement officials have used dogs and drawn pistols to intimidate the crowds. In the clip below, they can be seen charging residents — then retreating and charging once more.
Police have also used dogs to disperse the crowds. Here, the officer tells a resident to back up or risk being bitten. The female voice at the end of the video repeatedly asks police, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves?!”
Here’s what things looked like from one of the apartment buildings in the area. As you can see in the video, Husby has massive housing structures, part of the so-called Million Program to vastly expand the country’s residential properties.
And here’s a panicked Swedish reporter covering a car fire in Husby. He excitedly relates how a piece of metal came flying at “high speed” toward the “exact spot” where he had been filming. When he tries to pick it up to show the camera, he declares it far too hot. The headline on the video translates as “Expressen‘s reporter forced to seek cover.”
The reaction of Sweden’s political class to the riots has been mixed. The nativist Sweden Democrats have called on the police to deploy water cannons to disperse the rioters. Meanwhile, the head of the largest opposition party, the Social Democrats, made a covert nighttime visit to Husby to talk to residents. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has said neither he nor any members of his government are likely to pay a visit to the suburb, and declared that “Sweden cannot be ruled by violence” (his critics might point out that police violence sparked the rioting).
In short, no one has any real idea what to do about the unrest in the country — besides praying that Molotov cocktails don’t reappear on the streets of Husby tonight.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a senior editor at The National Interest. Prior to Fletcher, he taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Drezner has received fellowships from the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Harvard University. He has previously held positions with Civic Education Project, the RAND Corporation, and the Treasury Department.| Daniel W. Drezner |