Sunday, May 26, 2013

Violence in Sweden

This is a small example of the kind of discussions we need to see about political violence, or in this case violence with political significance that needs to be understood on multiple levels. Julia Herrnböck writes about last week's riots in Sweden (Jugendkrawalle in Schweden: Tickende Zeitbomben Der Standard 23.05.2013).

She observes that the violence seen in the Swedish rioting lacks any clear goal, in contrast to a protest over a particular issue. (That would hold for a protest that for whatever reason turns violent, as well; there is some definable goal at stake.) She writes:

Brennende Autos und fliegende Ziegelsteine stehen nicht für klare Ziele. Sie sind ein Akt der Verzweiflung und der blinden Wut. Keine Frage, die Gewalt, die wie ein Buschfeuer von den Vororten in die Städte Schwedens zieht, ist unentschuldbar. Nur: Welche Forderung soll ein junger Mensch auf sein Schild schreiben, der jetzt schon den Verdacht hat, nicht gebraucht zu werden? Der weder Halt noch Anerkennung in der Gesellschaft findet?

[Burning autos and flying pavement stones do not stand for clear goals. They are an act of desperation and blind fury. No question, the violence that rushed like a bush fire in the suburbs in the cities of Sweden, is unforgiveable. Only: What demand can a young man write on his sign, who now already has the suspicion that he isn't needed? Who finds neither a place nor recognition in society?]
But wait, Americans might say. Isn't Sweden one of the richest countries? And don't they have extensive social services?

Well, yes, they are and yes, they do. But they also have 25% youth unemployment. And: "Sweden, known for its strong welfare state and egalitarian society, has had the biggest surge in inequality of any Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country over the past 25 years, according to a recent publication by the global economic watchdog." (Rioters burn vehicles and buildings in Sweden Aljazeera English 24.05.2013) Yes, distribution of income matters. A lot.

And they have a very permissive immigration policy, more so they any other EU nation. (Bernd Parusel, Schweden: Migration für Markt und Menschenrechte Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 5/2013) A policy which for better or worse is likely to become more controvesial after last week.

Aljazeera English reported after the second night of rioting, Riots in Sweden continue after police shooting 05/21/2013:

As Aljazeera's reports note, what touched off the riots was a police shooting of a 69-year-old man. Such incidents were often the trigger for the urban riots in the US of the 1960s, as well.

This BBC video report (sorry, I couldn't see a way to embed it) does a brief and rather cynical analysis of the cause of the riots, a superficial one focusing on immigration, What lies behind Sweden's riots? BBC News 05/24/2013.

And this RT report ('Multiculturalism failing': Violent riots engulf Stockholm suburbs 05/22/2013) also focuses on immigration and "multiculturalism", basically highlighting only the views of the anti-immigrant National Democrats Party, a splitter party that got too few votes in the last election to win representation in the Swedish Parliament, the Riksdag. The anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats won 6% and thereby representation in the Riksdag. The two largest parties, the Social Democrats and the Moderate Party - the latter having a name David Brooks would love - have up until now supported the open immigration and asylum policies.

Sweden has also been affected by the neoliberal plague, as Johan Sennero and Johan Ahlander report for Reuters in Sweden's capital hit by worst riots in years 05/22/2013:

After decades of practicing the "Swedish model" of generous welfare benefits, Sweden has been reducing the role of the state since the 1990s, spurring the fastest growth in inequality of any advanced OECD economy.

While average living standards are still among the highest in Europe, governments have failed to substantially reduce long-term youth unemployment and poverty, which have affected immigrant communities worst.

The left-leaning tabloid Aftonbladet said the riots represented a "gigantic failure" of government policies, which had underpinned the rise of ghettos in the suburbs.

"We have failed to give many of the people in the suburbs a hope for the future," Anna-Margrethe Livh of the opposition Left Party wrote in the daily Svenska Dagbladet.
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