Second day of Husby riots, three burning cars
c Telefonkiosk / Wikimedia

Sweden: Failing integration policies sets Stockholm suburbs in flames

Whilst the rioting and violence in Stockholm may have subsided in recent days, burnt out cars on the city streets suggest there is a deep issue behind the unrest.

But the cause of such scenes, which mirror those of London in 2011, stems from social exclusion, which has become a state of everyday life for the people living in segregated and less resourceful areas such as Husby. The situation came to a point where people felt no hesitation turning to violence in order to make their voices heard. But what were the underlying factors to the disturbance witnessed in many deprived areas around Sweden?

Anger and frustration: the two elements that have played a leading role in last week’s civil unrest and disturbance in the suburbs of Sweden’s capital, Stockholm. That anger and frustration culminated one week prior to the unrest began.

On the 13th of May, a 69-year-old man was shot dead by police in connection to a search warrant. The man had supposedly threatened several people with a machete, before the task force arrived at the scene. As the man refused to co-operate, and was behaving threateningly, the police felt compelled to shoot him dead.

However, many have questioned the official story of what happened that night in Husby, and the incident is currently being investigated by the National Police Unit of Internal Affairs.

Intentions of protesting against the police’s behaviour that night quickly degenerated into cars being set on fire and people throwing stones at the police. However, the reason for the violent turn may go deeper than just the death of the man in Husby.

Two key factors to civil unrest
A recent report reviewing income equality and relative poverty among OECD states, found a fast escalating income gap between Sweden’s richest and poorest. According to the report, widening income equality is a global trend due to the financial crisis, however, Sweden stands out in comparison to other countries in the survey. The increasing gap between rich and poor is both remarkable and distressing. Maybe even inconvenient, one could argue.

In an international context, Sweden has previously been a role model for other states, and never been late to emphasise triumphs when it comes to equality, justice and social security and welfare. Of the 34 OECD states participated in the survey, Sweden is the country that has experienced the largest increase in the poverty rate in recent decades.

”In Sweden, the poverty rate in 2010 (9%) was more than twice what it was in 1995 (4%).”

[table style=”2″]
Unemployment Rate 2011 2012
Sweden 23% 24%
Denmark 14% 14%
Finland 20% 19%
Norway 9% 8%

In addition to the increase in income inequality, Sweden is experience alarming unemployment rates. Those worst affected are the youth, people within the labour force between 15-24 years old.

According to Statistics Sweden (SCB), youth unemployment was 24% last year, slightly higher than the average within the EU (23%). But in comparison to, for example, the Netherlands (9%), Austria (9%), or any of the other Nordic countries, Sweden’s unemployment rates among the young people is high.

An improved housing policy
For some time now, Sweden has shown poor results when it comes to income inequality and youth unemployment rates. In turn, this has led to social contradictions faced by the less resourceful, the minority, the outcast, the economically weaker and ultimately those living in deprived areas such as Husby.

The contrast has inevitably grown greatest in the major cities, in particular in Stockholm. Although anger and frustration has been long bubbling under the surface, unrest is certainly not a new phenomenon to the Swedes.

In 2008, Malmö experienced a similar disturbance as witnessed in Stockholm last week. Following the termination of a lease for a basement used as a mosque by the residents of Rosengård, protests quickly degenerated into unrest and disturbance.

Stockholm suburb Rinkeby is another example of people throwing stones at police and setting cars on fire. In 2010, riots led to the Rinkeby Academy being burnt to the ground, and as recently as spring 2012, unrest arose in Rinkeby.

Recent research by Stockholm University and Uppsala University concluded that areas with a high level of residential segregation are at a greater risk of riots and instability than areas where foreign born and ethnic minorities are well integrated with the majority population. Eva Andersson, Associate Professor at the Department of Human Geography at Stockholm University, believes that it is a problem that can and should be addressed:

”The conclusion to draw from this is that a housing policy that prevents residential segregation is required.”

In turn, the government’s response to the civil unrest, and what may be called failing integration policies, has been indifferent in many ways. In these areas, people experience a greater deprivation than in other parts of Stockholm. Massive youth unemployment and less income are not the only aspects of everyday life to the people throwing stones at police and setting cars on fire.

Feelings of inferiority and constantly being less prioritised by politicians, in combination with lack of prospects is similarly bubbling under the surface. Yet underlying factors such as these should not act as an excuse, nor even a justification of the behaviour witnessed in Stockholm’s suburbs. But if not an excuse, it may at least be an explanation.

Jessica S. Säll

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Jessica S. Säll is a freelance journalist based in Stockholm, Sweden. She has covered South Africa societal problems such as poverty, social disparities and inequality. As well as in the United States covering domestic politics, international relations and the presidential election 2008. You can contact her at jessica.s.sall *at*

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