Natur och Kultur, 2014.
Reviewed by Nichola Smalley in SBR 2015:1
Review Section: Non Fiction
Racismen i Sverige is a collection of texts which includes essays, journalistic articles and other works written between 2010 and 2014 on themes connected to racism and opposition to racism in Sweden. These themes form the framework for six chapters, each consisting of several contributions. Some of the authors are prominent, others less so; some are professional writers, others simply write from a strong desire to speak out against racism that they have perceived or experienced. Many of the texts have previously been published in the Swedish media, but there are also a number of newly commissioned, unpublished pieces.
The collection comes at a time when many Swedes are questioning traditional views of their country as progressive, tolerant and egalitarian. This reassessment of national values and identity is partly attributable to the success of the far-right, populist party Sverigedemokraterna (Sweden Democrats), which was elected into the Swedish parliament in 2010 and won 13 percent of seats in the 2014 general election. The idea that a party with neo-fascist roots could play a major role in Swedish politics shocked many, and has led to a proliferation of anti-racist initiatives. At the same time, public anger has grown at allegations of discriminatory tactics on the part of police and politicians with regard to undocumented migrants and marginalised groups such as the Roma. These and other topics form the basis for the texts in this collection. The six sections of the book are inspired by the debate and are entitled: ‘Sweden Democrats in Parliament’; ‘Utøya’ (on the 2011 massacre in Norway); ‘REVA’ (on the large-scale collaboration between the Migration Board, the police and the prison and probation services aimed at locating and deporting undocumented migrants who have been refused asylum); ‘Racial Stereotypes’; ‘Antiziganism’; and ‘The Protests’.
Reading this book, one gets a sense of the rage, but also the passion and hope driving many of the contributors. It is an important book and a positive one, full of messages that deserve to find their way out into the world. Why? Because many of the contributions offer possible solutions to apparently insurmountable problems. Per Wirtén’s essay explores why Sweden has not followed Denmark’s lead in allowing far-right parties to dictate the terms of political debate. In doing so, it offers practical (if roughly-sketched) suggestions for promoting anti-racist policies. Alex Bengtsson talks about the concrete progress made by Swedish organisations inspired by Britain’s Hope Not Hate movement and specifically the local activism which plays such an important role in the rural and de-industrialised communities that often form the breeding ground for racist and anti-immigrant feeling. Amat Levin, Editor-in-Chief of the pop culture magazine Nöjesguiden writes about how crucial it is to increase ethnic diversity in the media, and describes the steps he has taken to promote it.
Other articles inject life into debates often characterised by bitterness or hostility. Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s famous online letter to Beatrice Ask, a right-of-centre MP and the then Minister of Justice, turns the debate about REVA into a take-a-walk-in-my-shoes trip through the experiences of a dark-skinned male in Stockholm. Negra Efendić revisits her high school in provincial Sweden, where a gang of neo-Nazis wearing steel-toed boots patrolled the corridors and tormented outsiders. She finds that the hate and power games have mostly been replaced by regret (among the perpetrators) and hope (among the 25 percent of current students with an immigrant background). The vividness of these accounts is affecting and inspiring.
As a whole, the collection paints a picture of a country working towards a new understanding of how to talk about racism at a time of great change and uncertainty. This uncertainty is not confined to Sweden, and, although some texts in this volume may interest foreign readers more than others, all of them have implications and important lessons for the wider debate in Europe and farther afield.