“Violent acts make people afraid. It’s getting worse,” says Torsten Elofsson, the former police chief in Malmö, southern Sweden. He is now running for the center-right Christian Democratic Party. “It used to be just a problem for Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö. Now it has also come to small towns all over Sweden,” he adds.
In the past decade, Sweden has gone from having one of the lowest per capita shooting deaths in Europe to having the highest rate, according to data from the Swedish National Crime Prevention Council. This year could be a record year in this regard. By mid-August, 44 shooting victims were recorded in Sweden, while for the whole of 2020 there were 47 such victims.
In the past, the shootings were blamed on gang warfare in the poor suburbs, populated mostly by immigrants, but now restoring order is a priority for voters, according to polling companies.
Nicholas Aylott, an associate at Södertörn Peninsula University, said he recently read about a 17-year-old shot near Stockholm and only later found out that the victim was a friend of his son’s who had visited their home in the past. “It’s unbelievable, but in a way it’s inevitable. It is no longer something you read about in the newspaper, but something you experience yourself. Nothing can better demonstrate how Sweden has changed,” he noted.
Crime and shootings dominate pre-election debates and agendas of party leaders. The city of Eskilstuna, which has a little over 100,000 inhabitants, recently came into the spotlight. Bullets injured a mother and her five-year-old child on the children’s playground there. According to the Swedish police, they probably accidentally found themselves at the scene of an uncompromising settlement of accounts between rival gangs.
“How can we live in a place where children are at risk of being shot on the playground? It’s no longer safe here,” the child’s father told Dagens Nyheter.
The ruling Social Democrats, in power for the past eight years, have toughened their stance on immigration and law enforcement to fend off criticism from the right-wing opposition. “These are attacks on the whole society, so society has to defend itself,” center-left Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said during a visit to Eskilstuna last week.
However, the nationalist Sweden Democrats, who have long warned that the country’s open immigration policy, implemented until 2015, will lead to an increase in crime.
The increasing number of shootings has been linked to turf wars by immigrant-based drug gangs. According to the latest Ipsos survey, the Sweden Democrats are the biggest opposition party with 22 percent support, ahead of the Moderate Coalition Party, whose preferences hover around 17 percent. The ruling Swedish Social Democratic Labor Party continues to have the most support at 28 percent.
“For eight years we had a Social Democrat government promising to crack down on gangs, but the situation only got worse,” said Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Aakesson, who also visited Eskilstuna last week.
The center of southern Sweden’s Malmö is full of trendy bars and restaurants that attract a lot of foreigners, many of whom work for start-ups in the city or in the nearby Danish capital Copenhagen. But it is also the gateway for many immigrants and the location of the infamous suburb of Rosengaard.
“Strengthening the police is not the answer,” says the officer
Elofsson, a candidate for the Christian Democrats, says that many years ago, as an ordinary policeman, he noticed how many names of immigrants were among those arrested. “They silenced us for many years. The politicians and the media didn’t take us seriously,” he said, pointing to growing signs of parallel societies and even local implementation of strict Islamic Sharia law.
The police in the suburb of Rosengaard try to work with the local community and have managed to reduce the number of shootings in recent years, but this year the number has increased again. Long-time police officer Glen Sjögren believes that politicians’ current promises to push for tougher sentences for criminals and strengthen the ranks of the police are too simple an answer.
“Providing more police resources is not the answer. The whole society must try to stop it, and it needs to start already in kindergartens. If immigration is going to be the way it has been in the past few years, we need to do a better job of integrating immigrants,” Sjögren said.
According to Sjögren, most Swedes have never set foot in the suburbs inhabited by immigrants, and for a long time the prevailing opinion among them was that if the violence did not affect their immediate surroundings, then it did not concern them.
“I’ve never been to Rosengaard and I hope I never have to,” one visitor to the Emporia shopping center, which is located near the bridge connecting Malmö and Copenhagen, told the Financial Times. Two days later, a man was shot dead in the same mall.
September 6, 2022 at 12:01 p.m. Post Archived: September 7, 2022 at 10:08 a.m.
Prime Minister Andersson recently changed her tone and warned that Sweden should not have its Chinatowns, Little Italy or “Somali towns”. The Prime Minister’s unusually harsh statements disappointed many members of her party, who are used to a more welcoming approach to immigrants.
“If we continue with this kind of rhetoric, I don’t know if I will continue to support the party,” said one activist in Stockholm, who said the main focus should be on better social security and education for immigrants.
However, Elofsson and a number of right-wing politicians warn that the situation is urgent. “When your house is on fire, you call the fire department and you don’t think about how the fire started. Only when you put out the fire can you start working on prevention,” he said.