The strange death of liberal Sweden
The Nordic nation has seen the sharpest drop in trust of any European country
I am very English in many ways. I like to say ‘sorry’ all the time, even if someone barges into me, although I was once out-Englished by a colleague I saw apologising to a chair after bumping into it. I’m not entirely unlike Eric Idle in the 1980s screwball comedy European Vacation, the injured cyclist who doesn’t want to cause a fuss even as the arterial spray shoots out.
Cultural differences are real and important, and being around those who behave like us has a big impact on our lives. That is why freedom of movement can be such a benefit on an individual level, allowing people to find cultures that suit them more. I’ve found that Italians in England tend to like and admire the native habit of queuing, because the rule-following of English life personally goes with their temperament. Many Germans move to Ireland because the friendliness and eccentricity is a contrast to home. People even emigrate to Switzerland because they prize efficiency over banter. The United States has long selected for the most enterprising, individualistic and religious Europeans.
But what happens when large numbers arrive is in many ways the opposite. Instead of individuals seeking cultural norms they prefer to home, whole communities bring their culture with them, and way beyond the first and second generations, the subject of an upcoming book by Garett Jones.
The end result of this process can be unsettling to those already there, a subject referenced by Christopher Caldwell in his 2010 Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, where he wrote about the preference for cultural sameness. Swedes, he noted, are so taciturn that according to ethnologist Åke Daun, ‘signalling in traffic is often considered an undesirable expression of aggression’. They speak quietly and like to stand at a distance, although not so distant as the Finns, for whom the joke during Covid was that standing 2 metres apart would be uncomfortably intimate. When large numbers of people arrive with a drastically different way of behaving, as Caldwell put it, it ‘can make your life a little bit crummier’.
For the Swedes it certainly has, but then their problems extend way beyond gentle social mores. As Paulina Neuding recently wrote in the Spectator, police in Sweden ‘say there are now at least 60 immigrant neighbourhoods over which they have little control. Some 300 officers were injured when massive riots broke out in these areas in the spring, and Sweden’s chief of police has warned of a “brutality we haven’t seen before”.
In January the New York Times reported on the country’s problems with gangster rap, noting Sweden’s ‘shift from one of the safest countries in the world to among Europe’s most violent’. Last year saw ‘at least 342 shootings resulting in 46 deaths (up from 25 shootings in 2015), along with dozens of bombings’, and it has spread across the country.
And as Reuters has stated: ‘In the span of eight days in May, three young men were shot dead in a small neighbourhood of the town of Orebro, part of a wave of gang violence spreading from big cities to small-town Sweden’.
Gun violence, once confined to Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo, has now spread to small towns, and ‘so far this year, 44 people have been shot dead in Sweden, almost all of them in connection with suspected gang crime, according to police. That compares to 46 for all of 2021.’
Crime now topped a list of voters’ concerns, Reuters noted in their pre-election report, quoting one lifelong Social Democrat voter who told them. ‘I think we might need new ideas to stop the gangs. We have been too naive.’