Tag Archives: Sweden

Xenophobes elected to oversee European integration

Rhodri C. Williams

Well, the loonies have officially taken over the boobyhatch, as my late sainted Aunt Pat would have said. Marine Le Pen takes 25% of the French vote. Great Britain scores the first national election won by neither Labour nor the Conservatives but a party advocating independence for the UK (why didn’t anyone think of that before?) Austria and Denmark veer wildly right. And lets not even talk about Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. So now we all get to adjust to the fact that a party campaigning under a swastika entered the European Parliament. At least they took some trouble to disguise it. Plausible deniability and all that.

Sweden was one of the few bright spots, with a very robust Green party (that has taken on some of the tough issues related to e.g. fisheries) taking second place. The election of the xenophobic and weasely Sweden Democrats (9.9%) who refused to say whether they would join a future Le Pen-led racist bloc was bad, but symbolically somewhat offset by the arrival (5.3%) of what had previously been a somewhat marginal feminist party (both were in a dead heat at 7% as of yesterday but lets take what we can get).

So with all that said, let me sign off with quotes from the Facebook feeds of three Sweden-associated friends of mine. First, as the voting began:

People who cannot be bothered to vote do not deserve to live in democracy. There are plenty of people denied any chance to make their voice heard who would gladly trade places with you. If you do not know enough – read or listen to debates. If you do not agree with any candidate – give a blank vote. Not voting has no excuse rather than laziness or stupidity. Usually both.

And as the results began to drop in:

Proud to have voted in Sweden today, wish I could have voted a few 100,000 times in the UK as well.

And as we wake up to our just desserts:

A black day for Europe. Happy that I live in a country, and from a country, that actively rejects these types of bigots and morons.

Seven decades since the end of World War II next year. I suppose Europe was overdue for a bit of teenage rebellion. Hope they don’t wrap their car around anyone’s tree.

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Sweden faces up to past discrimination against its Roma minority in a new ‘White Book’

by Rhodri C. Williams

One week ago, the Swedish integration minister Erik Ullenhag presided over the long-awaited release of a government “White Book” documenting the country’s treatment of Roma during the 20th century. As appropriate to the aims and nature of this inquiry, the initial publication was a Swedish family affair; while the context of broader European antiziganism – or racism against Roma – is discussed and acknowledged, there has yet to be an official translation of the White Book in English (let alone romani ćhib), although a summary and fact sheet are now available.

Greater accessibility and dissemination will no doubt follow, if for no other reason than to show compliance with Sweden’s EU-mandated integration policy, and respond to specific criticisms of the Advisory Committee for the Council of Europe Framework Convention on National Minorities. However, for the time being, coverage, dissemination and discussion of the White Book have been in Swedish, with the exception of the Local and Swedish Radio. While this has emphasized the extent to which this effort is driven by and aimed at addressing local concerns, it has also resulted in a limited and eclectic international reception to date.

Given my own ongoing research interest in autonomy and minority rights in the Nordic countries, I have been working my way through the White Book and will be writing two posts on it here in TN. The first one, will address the general approach to truth-seeking set out in the White Book, and how it has been received and debated in Sweden. The second will focus more narrowly on the fifth chapter of the White Book, and, in keeping with the concerns of this blog, discuss the historical obstacles to property ownership and secure tenure to housing for Roma in Sweden.

As an outset observation, the White Book is a remarkable document, stating clearly and with an unassuming Swedish sobriety how far the country has come in the integration of its Roma national minority and how far it has yet to go. Its goals are two-fold, namely to provide recognition to the victims of a century of systematic discrimination, and raise awareness among the majority population regarding the severity of these abuses and their enduring effects (12). While the White Book represents a major step toward meeting both goals, some questions remain about both their sufficiency and their relationship with the prospectively oriented Swedish strategy for Roma inclusion.

In fact, the current relevance of the White Book was underscored with near-Hollywood timing by a set of recent scandals involving Roma in Sweden. Continue reading

The European race to the bottom on the Roma

by Rhodri C. Williams

It is something of a truism now that many Eastern European EU member states remain threateningly uncomfortable places for their Roma citizens almost a decade after having solemnly plighted their troth to the Copenhagen criteria, non-discrimination standards and all. Even the briefest perusal of the European Roma Rights Centre website provides ample evidence. To wit, for instance, this charming encounter between a busload of visibly drunken football supporters and a schoolyard of Roma children three weeks ago in Konyár, Hungary:

…the group got off the bus and threatened the Romani school children. They sang the national anthem and the anthem of Transylvania (Szekler anthem) and shouted racist, anti-Roma expressions (“dirty gypsies, we will come back soon”). They made gestures threatening to cut the children’s throats. Some members of the group also urinated in front of the school building.

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In addition, the relevant school has previously been involved in a racist scandal. Earlier this year, a teacher at the school was dismissed after making racist comments about Roma on video. He said that Roma children are primitives, dirty and smelly, but who understand the physical punishment only, and that they should have their spines broken.

The teacher was fired from the school after the incident. The NGOs are concerned that the group may have targeted the school, which is not in an obvious location for a rest stop on this route. The fact that the former teacher was also on the bus suggests that the school was deliberately targeted. The subsequent events, including threats to children and shouting racist statements should have been investigated and clarified immediately by police.

Ah, the discreet charm of the post-socialist bourgeoisie. And yet – it is also a truism that many of the more established Western European EU member states may benefit from the splashy, full-bore racism in the East in the sense that it obscures their own slightly more sophisticated versions. In recent weeks, Italy and France have come under renewed criticism on this score, as – more unexpectedly – has Sweden.

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Democracy as a process

by Rhodri C. Williams

Democracy is on my mind this afternoon. For one thing, its July 4th and Philip Gourevich was kind enough to remind me that its about more than hotdogs and fireworks:

As our national day of celebrating our political system passes, I am also currently attending one of the most convincing exercises in homegrown open democracy anywhere in the world here in Sweden, while I simultaneously find myself preoccupied by the ongoing struggle to establish something tenable between the unattractive extremes of autocracy and people power in Egypt.

In Sweden, I am attending “Almedalen week“, an annual political gala in the picturesque seaside town of Visby. Sweden is a small enough polity that after a few years there, you recognize all the politicians and they are literally all here, from the xenophobes to the suecophiles, strolling around in their business casual uniforms, making speeches and gleefully networking. Coming from a country where the president has to cart around truckloads of bulletproof glass on foreign trips, it is a pleasant kind of shock to be this up close and personal with Sweden’s political elite, as well as a lot of leading journalists, diplomats and other functionaries.

There is plenty to find fault with in Almedalen, ranging from the way the week has morphed into a commercial free-for-all to the fact that Swedes of color are frequently notable by their absence. But for all that, Almedalen week is a remarkable experience, a sort of national pep rally for a democratic process that is deeply ingrained, civilly conducted, and fundamentally liberal (in the philosophical sense, Rush. Look it up.) Nothing much of import gets said or decided here, but everyone comes away with a fairly visceral sense of a system that is accessible and responsive.

Meanwhile in Egypt, we are seeing a brand new democratic process experience severe ructions. The commentators have been out in force, and there seems to be a  consensus that both sides are at fault, with the Muslim Brotherhood having vastly overplayed the hand it won in Egypt’s first free elections, and the opposition having responded by undermining the very democracy some of them had risked life and limb protesting for in 2011 (see the ICG’s statement here and Nathan J. Brown’s constitutional analysis here). For both practical reasons and more principled ones, there has been some reluctance to characterise what Egypt is currently experiencing as an unqualified coup. But it is undoubtedly a severe and early setback in a fragile process.

As I write this, a raucous group of Yanks (and their Swedish buddies) who are renting the guesthouse next door are doing a very poor rendition of ‘Star-Spangled Banner’. My own patriotism is feeling a bit less bruised now that I dumped this year’s load of IRS busywork into the mail (though Peter Spiro reminds that ever more US citizens abroad are unwilling to face a lifetime of pointless double-filing), and it is tempting to reflect on the progress of democracy. It is undeniably a pretty infectious idea that all those be-wigged gentlemen farmers invoked back in 1776. It certainly feels like the concept has found fertile ground here in Sweden, and it has made extraordinary progress in the last few years in the Middle East. But it is crucial to recall that it is a process, and never an entirely irreversible one.

PS – Anyone interested in watching my efforts to discuss the rule of law in Libya – in Swedish – here in Almedalen can tune in here: http://www.sommartorg.se/. The seminar will be carried live at noon, GMT+2 and will be available for streaming thereafter.

A happy ending for Eurovision?

by Rhodri C. Williams

I promise that this will be my last ever word on the Eurovision song contest. There are any number of good reasons for me to move on, not least the fact that Eurovision seems to move me to rant, which is honestly not my strongest genre. However, the best possible reason was handed to me on a plate by fresh-faced Emmelie de Forrest, who took all the honors and moved them conveniently from one peaceful Nordic democracy to another one a forty minute commute away.

And there were moments, as Azerbaijan nudged within a few ‘dix points’ of Emmelie’s comely heels, where I saw an alternative, dystopic future – a future in which I would once again be compelled to wander the darkened streets of the blogosphere, bitterly denouncing the capricious demolitions of homes in Baku, casting aspersions upon the political naifs of the European Broadcasting Union, and railing against the hypocrisy of ostensible guardians of democracy such as the Council of Europe, long since tamed by a steady diet of inflated per diems and caviar. Thank you, Emmelie, for sparing us all that.

But before I bow out of the debate about Eurovision and human rights fully, a few observations. First, despite the welcome contrast between Azerbaijan’s structural aversion to human rights (universality notwithstanding, how is one honestly to go about applying them in a dynastic autocracy fueled by oil patronage?) and Sweden’s imperfect but earnest efforts, the human rights did emerge once again as a background issue in this year’s contest.

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Breaking news – Dissident arrests, police abuse and mass evictions in downtown Malmö by Swedish Eurovision hosts

by Rhodri C. Williams

Okay, that was the first completely bogus headline I have ever run in TN. But I bet it got your attention. You were probably skeptical, and rightly so, about connecting the phrases ‘dissident arrests’ and ‘mass evictions’ with adjectives like, well, ‘Swedish’. Unthinkable, right? However, if ‘Eurovision’ seemed similarly ill-placed in such unseemly company, that’s where things get interesting.

In fact, it was only last year that Europe’s annual fiesta of pop-culture self-congratulation was hosted by Azerbaijan, a dynastically ruled pseudo-democracy where strategic location, deep oil reserves and self-interested support for the ‘global war on terror’ have bought the regime a near complete pass on human rights observance. Sound like Gaddafi’s Libya in late 2010? Well, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong there.

A key difference, one might argue, was that Gaddafi’s Libya was not eligible to join prestigious European regional organizations like the Council of Europe, which are meant to ensure mutual respect for human rights standards among their members. However, the performance of the Aliyev regime in Baku appears to indicate that Mr. Gaddafi’s problem was largely geographical.

In fact, last year’s Eurovision contest went boldly forward where no autocracy had gone before, bulldozing a shrill chorus of human rights criticism with Wagnerian pyrotechnics even as entire neighborhoods were razed to improve the view from an arena built with purloined money, protesters were roughed up by police and dumped at the edge of town, and political prisoners continued to rot in jail, unenlightened by Azerbaijan’s spectacular entrance into Europe’s vacuous pop culture scene.

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Advanced course on response to internal displacement

Just a brief note to TN readers to say that there are some spaces left for last minute applicants in a three day course I co-facilitate on internal displacement for the Advanced Training Program on Humanitarian Action (ATHA). This year’s “Specialized Training on Protection of Internally Displaced Persons” will take place from November 5-7 in Sida’s excellent training facility in the Swedish town of Härnösand. A few more details on the course as well as information on how to apply are available here.

This will be the fourth time I’ve taught this course and the second time I will have the pleasure of co-facilitating it with Susanne Ringgaard Pedersen, a 15 year veteran of human rights and protection monitoring in numerous conflict and disaster-based internal displacement settings. The course is targeted toward participants with significant experience and demonstrable interest in human rights and displacement issues, and has consistently been engaging and stimulating for me to be a part of. Part of the secret is the setting – Härnösand is only mid-Sweden, but it is probably as far north as most of us ordinary mortals will get in our lives. Its a charming place and with any luck the current onset of winter – low sun beaming over fresh snow – will hold for another week.

Hope to see some of you there!