This article was written for Proletarian by a Swedish communist.
During the night of 13-14 August, some 90 cars were set on fire in different cities in Sweden. In Frölunda, a southwestern suburb of Sweden’s second city, Gothenburg, residents filmed a group of eight persons dressed in black and going from car to car, smashing windows and setting fire to them with petrol.
Organised vandalism on this scale is new in Sweden, and the event is thought to have been organised online. Burning cars were almost never seen in the country before Sweden joined the European Union (EU), but in the last 20 years, the number has risen from 380 a year to 1,457 in 2017.
Violence is a growing problem in several cities in Sweden. On 15 June, six people were shot in the centre of Malmö, a city in the south, three of whom died on the spot. This is just one of the many shootings and killings that have taken place in recent years. In the 16 days from 6 June, ten other shootings took place in Malmö, leaving two people dead and eight wounded.
The news of rising violence in Sweden has astonished many, since it is in marked contrast with the picture generally portrayed of a country living in peace with its neighbours and with the world, with good social security and welfare provision, decent hospitals and schools, low unemployment, good pensions and a generally pleasant life for all.
The prevailing image of life in Sweden is that of peace and general civility: that there are no problems in taking an evening walk, for example, and that the general population is inculcated in the spirit of solidarity and understanding with their brothers and sisters around the world. But that was in the ‘good old days’. Now? Forget it; that country no longer exists.
Today’s Sweden is the opposite. Peace is gone, and we have fighting both inside and outside the country. Sweden began on this path by sending its soldiers to help with the US’s war in Afghanistan, and now the government does whatever else the US asks of it, collaborating in every war or provocation with money, soldiers and propaganda.
Swedish aircraft aided in the destruction of Libya, for example, by reconnoitring the country and telling the Americans exactly where to bomb. Sweden today has opened its northern regions, close to the Russian border, to Nato forces, and participates actively in all Nato’s wargames and exercises across Europe.
As a firm Nato ally, Sweden helped to install the fascist coup government in Ukraine, to whom the (social-democratic) government has sent around £300m. Money that Sweden used to spend on welfare goes now to pay for war and Nato.
Inside the country, the situation for ordinary people is getting very difficult; burning cars and shootings are a result of reactionary politics. After joining the EU, a new train of liberal economic thought was introduced into Sweden. Parliament made new laws that completely transformed the country, so that these days the rich may do as they please with money that is needed for welfare, employment and development.
Two of these very important new laws were made after the dismantling of the Soviet Union in 1991 and 1992 – laws on tax and pensions. The first of these cut taxes for the rich, leaving a hole of about 100bn Swedish crowns (then about £9bn) in the state budget. Meaning, of course, less money for jobs, schools, hospitals, houses, and everything else that is necessary for working people’s lives.
Then the second law cut pensions from 80 percent of salary to 60 percent, reduced now even further to 56-58 percent. As a result, Sweden now has some 300,000 pensioners living in poverty, and this number is set to rise fast in the next ten years, creating a social timebomb where hundreds of thousands of pensioners will need help if they are to buy food or pay the rent.
The EU has dictated this situation in Sweden. Free movement of capital has had big consequences for Swedish jobs, and has emboldened Sweden’s capitalists, who feel free to do as they want – exporting many jobs to countries where the pay is very low such as Portugal or Poland, which has led in turn to a large increase in unemployment.
At the same time, Sweden has received many new immigrants from inside and outside the EU – people looking for jobs and a better life. This can only exacerbate a situation where the government has made drastic cuts to public services, leaving more than 100,000 workers jobless.
In the years 1991-92, unemployment in Sweden was around 2 or 3 percent. Since then, it has officially increased to around 7 or 8 percent. In fact, the real figure now stands at about 10 percent, with many people in badly-paid or unpaid internships always hoping for an opportunity for a ‘real’ job.
Across Sweden, this situation has created a situation where many workers experience difficulty in finding work and this is even more the case for migrants. The number of unemployed immigrants in Sweden is increasing steadily.
This means that most migrants are forced to live in areas with cheap flats, often very overcrowded with big families in small flats, face difficulty in finding work and have to rely on their own economy and on social help. The situation only gets worse for these families when their children grow up. Many young people living in this situation have difficulties performing well at school and in getting normal work.
This is the background of the situation in the country.
Leave lots of young men with nothing to and you are bound to get trouble, and that’s what has happened. Car burnings began to take place in the areas with high immigrant populations. Undoubtedly, these began as boyish pranks, but more and more they were a kind of ‘revenge’ for the indignities suffered by immigrant youth.
In my hometown of Uppsala, in eastern Sweden, ten cars were set on fire as revenge for a raid by police looking for drugs on some flats in the town. The police did not show enough ‘respect’ for those living in the flats and a group of boys set fire to the cars. They were instigated to do so by the drug dealers, and the cars’ owners were their neighbours, immigrants themselves – it was an act of stupidity to set the cars on fire. But also, a reality.
The real name for the problems these young people are facing is capitalism. Many young people are growing up to find that they have great difficulty getting a proper job that that can provide them with a secure working life. Such normal everyday aims of owning a car, having one’s own flat, being able to bring up a family are out of reach to them.
These young people have no hope for the future. We would like them to revolt – that should be the norm for people in such a situation. But without leadership and organisation, it is not so straightforward.
Unfortunately, a few of these young men graduate from burning cars to real criminality. Groups of young boys join the drug dealers and use guns to defend themselves from rivals. These gangs kill each other in a war without end, resulting in the shootings that are now seen on TV as news from Sweden.
In my hometown, two young boys went into a pizzeria and shot a man from another group, injuring another. who had nothing to do with their business, for life. The 19-year-old assailant wanted revenge for the murder of his relative by the rival gang.
In the ‘good old days’ before Sweden joined the EU and embraced unfettered neoliberal capitalist imperialism, only old criminals had guns; today, many young men are walking around with guns in their pockets.
Research carried out by the newspaper Dagens Juridik about fatal gun violence among men aged 15-29 in 13 European countries shows that the likelihood of being shot dead in Sweden is ten times higher than in Germany.
These car burnings and shootings have for several decades been used to move Swedish politics further and further to the right, with the bourgeois media fraudulently and endlessly blaming immigrants for the ills of capitalism, helping to explain the parliamentary election result of 9 September this year.
The Sweden Democrats, a party with racist and fascist roots, which entered the Swedish parliament in 2010 with 5.7 percent of the vote, has now increased its share to 17.6 percent, giving it 63 places in parliament. The party was formed in 1998 on a vicious anti-immigrant platform, drumming up hatred for foreigners, especially refugees, and blaming them for all the ills of society, from unemployment to crime and pensioner poverty.
Thanks to this result, the Sweden Democrats has found itself in a pivotal position in parliament, where the reigning ‘red-green block’ has only 144 seats and the right-wing Alliance has 142.
The leaders of the Sweden Democrats have stated that they will only accept a government that is prepared to accept some of their politics. In 2010, nobody would talk to them, but now some of the parties on the right are opening up for a discussion.
This will be the first time that open racists are able to dictate politics in Sweden. It now falls to the communists to redouble their efforts to convince disillusioned workers that capitalism, not immigrants, is the enemy they should be fighting.