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

“This is one of the countries that treats immigrants the best,” says Mohammed Hassan, a Bangladeshi studying in Husby’s new library, who previously lived in Brick Lane in east London. “It’s much, much better than any other European country in which I’ve traveled.”

So it has come as a shock for many Swedes to discover the scale of resentment.

It is not hard to find it.

Aleks, whose parents came from Kosovo, says: “I hate the police. I hate the cops. I think setting fire to cars in the neighborhood should stop, but I don’t think throwing rocks at the cops should stop.”

The trigger for the riots — police shooting dead a 69-year-old Portuguese man called Lenine Relvas-Martins — has been dismissed as an excuse. However, his neighbors are still incensed.

“They had a bastard-load of police here. You would have thought there was a huge group of terrorists, not a man with a little knife,” says Milos, 73, Relvas-Martins’ neighbor since 1984. “If he was Swedish they never would have shot him. I’m sure about that.”

Martins had been brandishing a knife on his balcony, angry after a confrontation with local youths. Police then broke into his house and shot him in front of his Finnish wife.

They say she was at risk. She denies it.

The police then inflamed the situation on Sunday last week, reportedly calling young people causing a disturbance “monkeys” and “negroes.”

“They seize people, and strip them and really embarrass them in front of their friends,” says Yusuf, a young Somali.

Yusuf used to live in Birmingham, England, but says he prefers Husby. And there is no doubt Husby has better facilities than deprived areas in Britain. However, it is also more segregated. About 85 percent of people here have their origins outside Sweden.

“The politicians are thinking the wrong way. They want to help people, but you never help people when you put 30,000 to 50,000 in one place,” says the man painting at the library.

Camila Salazar, who works for Fryshuset, a Stockholm youth organization, says: “For a lot of people who live in segregated areas, the only Swedes they meet are social workers or police officers. It’s amazing how many have never had a Swedish friend.”

A third of the 2,500 white, ethnic Swedes who lived in Husby 10 years ago have left.

“My children say: ‘Why don’t you leave there? All the Swedish have gone,’” Milos says. “There’s only three Swedish families left in this whole block.”

Inequality has also grown faster in Sweden over the past decade than in any other developed country, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which puts the blame partly on tax cuts paid for by reductions in welfare spending.

According to official statistics, more than 10 percent of those aged between 25 and 55 in Husby are unemployed, compared with 3.5 percent in Stockholm as a whole. Those that do have jobs earn 40 percent less than the city average.

However, Aleksandar-Pal Sakala, an information-technology consultant and politician for the center-right Moderate party, has little sympathy.

“It’s nonsense, this left-wing propaganda that the schools are bad and there’s no jobs. Some people are too lazy. They feel they have less respect if they work in a low-status job,” he says. “When I came here from Belgrade, I was cleaning. I worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week.”

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