Saturday, June 1, 2013

Stockholm riots reflect European immigration policy failures.

Last weekend marked the beginning of a rather surprising event, the riots by immigrants in a Stockholm suburb, Husby. The riots lasted for almost a week and they erupted after the death of an elderly man in the immigrant suburb shot by police, for allegedly having a machete inside his house. 

The riots took by surprise not just the Swede's themselves, but the rest of the world too. It was not long ago that the Economist magazine suggested that the Scandinavian, especially the Swedish model should be a role model for the rest of Europe. If immigrants do not feel happy in a role model society, then what hope do the rest of us have in achieving a successful immigration policy that will successfully result in a multicultural society?

A few years back it was the turn of Paris and many other cities in France, but also later in Britain. Even in my home town of Thessaloniki we witnessed smaller scale riots by Nigerian immigrants. Obviously the immediate conclusion in those cases, was that the riots started by the inequality and discrimination the immigrants in these countries receive.

But in the Swedish case there was no such thing. Husby was built in the 1970s as part of the "Million Programme" that aimed to give affordable housing for all Swedes, the estate is one of dozens on Stockholm's outskirts that now house mainly immigrant populations, including large numbers from Somalia, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, comparisons to the Paris "banlieus", or indeed riot-hit Tottenham or Salford, are limited. Between the rows of clean-looking housing blocks are well-tended flowerbeds and neatly- kept public gardens, and in the shopping precinct, where an ornamental fountain still bubbles away, there are bars, shops, and a smart cafe-bakery that would not look too out of place in an IKEA catalogue. At eight per cent, Husby's joblessness rate is three times the Swedish average, but only slightly higher than that in the UK.(From the Telegraph.)

Some answers can be given from the immigrant community in Stockholm itself. Mohammed Abdu, 27, whose family came to Sweden from Eritrea when he was aged three, and who now works as a security guard. While he condemned the violence as "hooliganism", he claimed that many Husby residents still suffered from discrimination from the police and employers.

Besides, he added, living in such a prosperous, advanced country offered no real satisfaction for those so conspicuously at the bottom of the heap. "It's true that the welfare system here is an example to the rest of the world, so if you fall here you do not fall all the way to the bottom," he said. "But people don't like being dependent on social welfare, and there is hidden racism."(From the Telegraph.)

In other words even in a very successful society like Sweden, we haven't managed to beat racism and discrimination or even integrate totally our immigrant communities. The far Right is gaining ground in Sweden and is challenging the policies of tolerance that the country held so dear for decades. They now amount up to 10% of the vote and this may increase in the coming years until the elections.

The riots by the immigrants certainly won't help in restoring the public's confidence in multiculturalism. Besides it was in Sweden's neighbor Norway that the far right enthusiast Anders Breivik, committed his atrocities. And in Finland the rise of the True Finns political party, does not exclude Scandinavia from the regions of Europe that see an increase in nationalism. 

These events bring up once again the question of the future of Europe's policies on immigration. Is multiculturalism a failed idea and model of society? Perhaps we are naive to expect that totally different people, from different backgrounds and religion can just get along and live side by side.

And if so how can we at least stop the violent outbursts that occur, either as riots by immigrants in Sweden or the violence against immigrants themselves that happen in Greece?

Is it the background of the immigrants that spark the race based clashes, their religion, race or simply the social inequality? Perhaps the events are linked to a wider clash of civilizations that take place in our world, making Europe and the West in general the immediate hate figure of certain immigrant communities. Because of our involvement in military campaigns in Muslim countries, our immigrants get radicalized not by the inequality that exists in our countries but because of our involvement in these campaigns.

Or maybe they are linked to a greater social inequality and injustice upheaval, that affects immigrants the most. Do we always treat them fairly and are all of our policies meant to help them?Perhaps we created second class citizens in our countries, by exploiting and taking for granted our immigrants.

But also do they really want to be integrated in our communities, or they are forced to seek a better future in our countries because the situation back in their own? But they have no real plans to integrate themselves in their new home and accept our culture as theirs. So why do we keep allowing them in our countries?

Should we reconsider some of our policies and have a debate on what do Europeans want, how do they see their countries in the future? Perhaps the Swedish past governments took for granted that the model was successful and never bothered to do a health check on how the two communities got along.

These clashes come as Godsend to those who always opposed multiculturalism and they are going to use them as an argument. In times of financial crisis and a general political, economic and ideological upheaval, it is very dangerous to allow certain groups to use such incidents to promote their agenda. Or perhaps such incidents are incited by such groups to achieve their goal and change the political culture of Europe, that encouraged multiculturalism until now.

We mustn't ignore such incidents, or bypass them as irrelevant. If we can not integrate immigrants from certain ethnic groups, then perhaps we should focus in attracting immigrants from regions with a culture closer to ours. Like Latin America for example. Understanding and acceptance goes both ways, but they are gained only through dialogue. A dialogue both between the communities and between the state and its citizens.

And none of the above has ever happened successfully in Europe, in fear of being branded racists, xenophobes and backward countries.  There are certain human rights groups, who with great narrow mindedness block any real debate on the issue. They are not helping.

Being a progressive country is not "in" or the new "must." It happens gradually and with a lot of effort. Sweden had years of political stability and peace, since it was lucky not to get involved in the two wars that ripped the rest of the continent apart. So they were able to create the social model that most of the rest of Europe envies.

But perhaps its leaders were naive or optimistic enough to think that their country can be unaffected of what is going on in the rest of the continent or the world. If there is a general dissatisfaction with multiculturalism, or certain political and economic norms in Europe, Sweden is influenced by them as part of Europe. Either they actively participate in them or not. And perhaps the real cause of these riots has nothing to do with a Swedish "failure,"rather is an echo of a broader European and global transformation.

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