Knowing Sweden, beyond the ads

In about 50 days of my stay here in Sweden, I have been exposed to very little politics of the country. In India you would have had one or two political demonstrations to witness it yourself, or at least some gossip about politics over coffee in this duration. This aspect has been a bit tough to crack here in Sweden.

As an outsider, who does not yet know the language, with no scope for reading local newspapers, one starts building an opinionated view based on scattered, outsiders’ view. I did not want to be a prejudiced outsider, and have been trying to understand the political climate better.

I have attempted conversations with some of my Swedish friends, and had a little more than the global media version of what Sweden might be. I have been reading some ancient Swedish history, and for contemporary analysis I chose to read “Fishing in Utopia”. I am still not contended, of course. I believe that, to be able to appreciate or criticise the Swedish model that is so visibly effective, yet so obscurely hidden, understanding the socio-economic conditions that is indispensable with the politics is important.

The visible anomalies, if I may dare call so were immensely contradicting. One Swedish friend who works at a car making company said although Sweden has high tax rates, she does not mind paying those high taxes, for she would not like to see people begging on the streets (hinting at the strong social welfare programs in Sweden). Another younger colleague in class, he had a contrasting view – he thinks that even joining the EU has been a deterrent, as the load sharing of Europe’s financial crisis is hurting Sweden too, and he had an unwelcoming view about immigrants (again hinting at the welfare programs). These, although are just two views, I did understand that the opinion terrain as it had to be was not as flat as one might expect it to be in Sweden.

Equality for all

“Social progress can be measured by the social position of the female sex” said Karl Marx, and I think the closest manifestation of that is in Sweden. With this example of equality, I was trying to observe how race equality was being treated in Sweden. The one word that you hear when you are outside Sweden about Sweden is “multiculturalism”.

As sensitive a topic this might be, ignoring it will handicap one’s understanding of a society. I was trying to learn, and at this point, the Swedish Institute’s Kick Off party happened.

Two speakers Göran Rosenberg and Milad Mohammadi, based on their experiences and dedicated work gave an insight into this hard to see picture in Sweden. Multiculturalism does come at a cost is what I learned during the conference.

The two speakers were positive about the Swedish model relative to the global context, but both seemed unhappy when compared to Sweden’s self image. Sweden as a peace loving, social welfare state, promising equality to all its people is a simple statement that is hard to be in today’s globalised world, even if it is Sweden.

When Sweden opens up itself to immigrants, beginning with the World War 2 antisemitic victims, to people from troubled states like Iran, Iraq, most recently Syria it is a brave, but tough decision. I have pondered as to how would these people fit into the Swedish society. And as I am discovering, it is not a flawless integration and the politics of Sweden today seems to be riding primarily on its reception of immigrants.

Multiculturalism is giving rise to what Milad and Rosenberg attributed to as “exclusion”. A problem that Sweden has already started seeing repurcussions with protests and heterogenity in opinions that span the spectrum.

As a concluding note, I was surprised to see the blunt honesty of Swedish Institute (again that’s part of Swedishness) in showing the problems Sweden is faced with, instead of maybe marketing Sweden as a land of prospects and opportunities. I am all the more thrilled to be in Sweden, and hopefullly will contribute something tangible through my work here.