Wed, May 29, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Swedish riots spark surprise and anger

Inequality is rising, but the spread of youth disorder and resentment of authority has shaken ethnic Swedes and older immigrants

By Richard Orange  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Mountain People

The pace of the neighborhood watch suddenly picks up.

“Here’s the fire we’ve been waiting for,” says Samiy, an Iraqi in a bulky jacket.

It is 2:30am and Samiy, along with dozens of others from local Islamic groups and community organizations, has spent the night patroling the streets of Husby, the suburb at the center of riots in Stockholm.

Soon there is an acrid stench of burning plastic, and flickers become visible around the footbridge that the group is now jogging toward. A dumper truck on the road below is burning as a crowd of young men look on. Most claim to be watchmen, but as soon as a fire engine arrives, 10 or more rush to the bridge and begin pelting a firefighter who runs up.

“It’s enough. It’s enough,” says Jamil Hakim, from a group called Safe Husby. “Two nights was fun, but it’s enough. It’s not fun any more.”

The crowd turns to see a phalanx of police in full riot gear marching up a ramp to the bridge, protected by a wall of transparent shields. Immediately, the stone throwers — most barely more than children — sprint into the darkness, while Hakim confronts the police.

“Get lost! Please, just disappear,” he says.

By Saturday morning, the usually calm Swedish capital had been rocked by six nights of disorder, with about 200 cars set ablaze, fires in schools, police stations and restaurants, and about a dozen police officers injured. Police estimate that more than 300 young people have been directly involved, of whom 30 have been arrested.

What began in Husby on Sunday last week has spread to more than a dozen of the city’s other suburbs. And on Friday night, while police reported a quieter night in the capital, fires and stone-throwing were also reported in Uppsala, Sodertalje and even further afield in Linkoping and Orebro, in central Sweden.

However, the morning after the truck-burning, Husby seems idyllic.

There is a busy vegetable stall in the main square and a group of elderly men sipping beer in the sun. The rows of seven-story blocks, built in the 1960s and 1970s as part of Sweden’s “million homes” project, are all freshly painted, the gardens and playgrounds well-tended. At the local school, the windows broken the previous night are already being fixed.

“If you have broken windows and they see it, they will crack other windows, so we must fix it immediately,” says Christer Svensson, who has come in to do the work. “I don’t care, I make money out of this.”

Outside the new library, which opened last month, another ethnically Swedish handyman is busy painting.

“This place behind me, they’ve just spent 40 million kronor [US$6 million] on it,” he says. “They don’t talk about that when they talk to the TV, do they? They talk about the problems, they don’t talk about everything people are doing for them.”

“These people, they should integrate in this society and just try a little bit more to be like Swedish citizens,” he says.

Scratch beneath the surface and this is a sentiment shared by many in a country that arguably has the world’s most generous asylum policies. Sweden has taken in more than 11,000 refugees from Syria since last year, more per head than any other European country, and it has absorbed more than 100,000 Iraqis and 40,000 Somalis over the past two decades. About 1.8 million of its 9.5 million people are first or second-generation immigrants.

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