Monday, January 21, 2008

Homogeneity, Diversity and Race in Sweden: Part II

I often hear from honest people that this year's Linköpinglivin' entries aren't quite as fun as last year's. I can understand that, and in some ways, I agree with them. As a naïve foreigner, wide-eyed, curious and embracing, it was a lot easier to write last year, too. However, for those still willing to read when it’s not quite as lighthearted, hopefully this year’s Linköpinglivin’ is a bit more real, a bit more meaningful and perhaps, on some level, at least occasionally, maybe even fun!

This week’s topic re-visits a subject discussed earlier on Linköpinglivin’ and still just as dicey and difficult as ever, here in Sweden and elsewhere. To read the earlier entry on homogeneity and diversity in Sweden, see the September 3, 2007 entry.

Though the flight from the homeland and Swedish reception of immigrants in general and Iraqis in particular has decreased in recent months, the overall increase of non-native Swedes continues, which emphasizes the question even more: How do you successfully integrate natives and non-natives so that everyone can fairly and equally pursue what many believe to be “God-given” or “self-evident” rights? Second only to the economy, this discussion dominates political conversations throughout Sweden as immigrants reap the benefits of very high taxes that Swedes are all-too aware of and concerned about.

Personally, as an educator-at-heart, helping students learn how to recognize and humbly address these issues is something for which I feel responsible. At Linköping University’s campus, the international exchange student enrollment is only on the rise, but so often these students come to Sweden, have classes and live with other English-speaking internationals visiting Sweden in the same way, then go home having made friends with people from multiple countries of the world, but not necessarily any Swedes. I think the main problem is simply language – when you walk into a room of people, you want to be with the people you’re comfortable with and language is the very first obstacle – then cultural and other hindrances follow after that. The issue on campus can be seen as a microcosm of the larger issue (not just in Sweden, but in any country that seeks to integrate foreign-speakers seeking an improved life).

The result is, as in so many countries, isolated communities of similar-looking, similar-acting and similar-believing people groups who try to manage and try to make the best of the situation. Just as Americans genuinely care for and appreciate the Mexican-immigrant, but want to do something about a situation that simply can’t remain status quo, so Swedes want to provide a country where war- and corruption-torn citizens can flee to for safe-haven, sanctuary and new possibilities, but know that these dreams will never be realized for anyone if the current policies and social patterns continue. Difficult issues.

Perhaps a better title to this entry is simply “Immigration in Sweden,” but you know how I like my series and “Part Is,” “Part IIs,” Part IIIs,” etc.

Though not often seen on the Linköpinglivin’ comments, I do occasionally get some very profound and insightful comments about various topics through email. This topic along with recent topics like “Neutrality” and other hot ones have provided some very good feedback. The following excerpts came after the last entry on this topic from one Swede who, surprise-surprise, would like to remain anonymous. So you know who you are and thanks for your contribution:

One must bear in mind that Sweden has had very few colonies and those few were lost long ago. Immigration to Sweden has been mostly by 'tradecraft experts' like Germans in the middle ages, Vallonians and Dutch in the 1600s, Italians and Yugoslavs in the 1960s and 70s. In the 70s and up until now immigration has been mainly refugees. Palestinians, Chileans, people from the Middle East. One and a half million people in Sweden are first or second generation immigrants.

Sweden has transformed since I was a kid. In my class in 'grundskolan' we had one Korean girl, adopted of course. Of roughly 150 (five 'classes') of us in ninth grade at Folkungaskolan there were less than five non-European children. This was 1990. Now you can't find a single class in school with less than a third of non-Europeans. So I can't agree that the racial homogeneity remains the same. But it is true that only one-sixth of the Swedish population is non-European.

Racism, yes we have it. You'd be hard-pressed to find it though, because if you ask someone he'd most likely answer the politically correct way. Many would however add the phrase 'I'm not a racist, but...' The fact that all these immigrants have all arrived here over the last three decades, most after 1990 even, when the economy has been less-than-stable and the policies of how to integrate these people into Swedish society have been amateur, at best, makes us a bit skeptical about immigration, some even of immigrants. Myself? I think we shouldn't accept more immigrants than we can take care of, because that would be a sure way of creating a racist problem. Non-integrated, unemployed immigrants who live in their own parts of town and are overrepresented in the criminal statistics are the result of the policies employed since the 1970s and there must be a change, for their own sakes.

You mention Jews, or rather the absence of them, in your blog. I beg to differ, since I personally know several. Before 1750 there were no Jews in Sweden. Not one. This is because the strict laws on religion forbade all faiths except the 'true holy Lutheran' faith preached by the church of Sweden.”

I think that’s enough for now. If you made it this far, you’re probably better than most. Until next week, “Hej då” from Linköping.

(Pictures above are some of the students with whom I work, both Swedish and international. They generally like to get some representation on the blog, if they're aware of it, but I'm not sure this topic was what they had in mind.....The last one if of Jonas Morling, of whom I am now a proud Facebook fan club member.)


Magnus said...

Please realize though, that this person does not represent all of us Swedes.

Just as in the U.S., people in Sweden will have varying opinions. While there is a small party (less than 3% in the polls) that is against immigration, all the major parties are in favor of generous immigration.

In fact I've heard many Swedes taking pride in the fact that in recent years Sweden has welcomed the largest amount of refugees from Iraq out of any non-Middle Eastern country in the world. This is in spite of the fact that Sweden was not one of the countries that took part in the invasion.

Mike said...

Great post!
I can totally agree with coming to Sweden and not knowing Swedes. I went to school in Sweden for almost 2 years, and I actually had more contact with Swedes and met my now best friends, Swedish, abroad.
Language has a bit to do with it, but I think deep down it is the timid nature of many Swedes. I can definitely say though that it is not genuinely for everyone, there are some very social people and more "American" in my eyes. Basically the fact is, I can't, you can't and not one can classify anyone in any particular category. There are so many people in this world, and everyone is different in their own good and not so good ways! =)

Todd said...

How am I suppose to be a smart ass little brother with this post?

Let me just say that I like the gender diversity represented in the first picture?

Martin said...

Hey cool, the girls in the first pic are some of my old class mates. :P
Nice to see this blog btw, as a native Swede with his mother in the US since I was ~6, I can sort of relate, albeit kinda the other way around I guess..

I'm gonna bookmark you anyway, good reading :)
You can contact me on btw, if you'd like for some reason.