Sunday

24th Mar 2019

Focus

Sweden fights back as foreign leaders make up bad news

  • Sweden, a country known for ABBA songs, Volvo cars and Astrid Lindgren's children books, has become a target for populist criticism. (Photo: Olmen)

Donald Trump bashed Sweden over the weekend, but he wasn't the first foreign leader to promote his own restrictive migration policies by painting a dark picture of the Nordic state.

Speaking at a political rally on Saturday (18 February), the US president announced he would take further measures to prevent Muslim citizens from visiting the US and recalled events in some European capitals that have been struck by terror lately.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • "For many Republicans, Sweden is the favourite symbol of everything they think is wrong with Europe: openness to refugees, feminism, environmental conscience, or resistance to the Vietnam war in the 1970s." (Photo: Gary Skidmore)

"You look at what's happening in Germany. You look at what's happening last night in Sweden," Trump said.

"Sweden. Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They're having problems like they never thought possible."

Swedes were quick to reply that nothing special happened in their country on Friday, prompting a White House spokeswoman to clarify the US president was speaking about "rising crime and recent incidents in general".

Trump later tweeted he had watched a Fox News report, which claimed that rape and violence has "skyrocketed" as the nation of 10 million registered hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers.

In fact, Sweden has abandoned its once generous refugee policy. It only registered 30,000 people last year, down from 163,000 in 2015.

Trump's claim about rising criminality in the Nordic nation are also difficult to verify. Preliminary statistics show the number of crimes reported in 2016 was roughly the same as the year earlier.

Although the police does track ethnic origin of perpetrators, such figures aren't disseminated publicly, making it impossible to draw conclusions on the link between crime and immigration.

Two Swedish police officers featured in the Fox News report have said their statements had been manipulated by a "madman" journalist.

Sweden's embassy in Washington tweeted back at Trump, suggesting it was well-placed to inform the president of Swedish immigration and integration policies.

Sweden bashing

The weekend's incident, however, wasn't the first time that Sweden was portrayed as slipping into refugee chaos, nor was Donald Trump the first foreign leader to spread rumours about the country.

The Swedish government in June last year presented its embassies with guidelines, which were eventually leaked to the press, on how to react to disinformation spread by media and politicians in foreign countries.

The brief mentioned that an unnamed leader from another European country had repeatedly underlined that Sweden has the "most rapes per capita in the world" and that this would be due to immigration from Muslim countries.

According to the foreign ministry, Sweden has a high number of registered rape cases primarily because the Swedish judicial definition of rape is broader than in most countries.

The unnamed leader was in fact Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban, whose government later argued that Sweden hosts no-go zones, areas where the police cannot enter.

The brief also referred to Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of Poland's ruling Law and Justice party, who argued in 2015 that there were 54 areas in Sweden where Sharia law applies.

Kaczynski spoke during a parliamentary debate, where he made a case for cancelling Poland's pledge to receive refugees under the EU quota system.

Some speculated the figure came from a 2015 Swedish police report that identified over 50 "vulnerable areas", which needed more attention from the police.

It's difficult to know what impact Kaczynski's statement had.

"My feeling is it only convinced those who were already allies of Jaroslaw Kaczynski," said Gabriel Stille, a lecturer of Swedish language in Warsaw.

He said Poles considered Sweden a neighbouring country, to which many of them had personal links, and that the debate remains rather nuanced and varied.

"My students love Sweden, some people think it's a nanny state, others see it as a beacon of gender equality and yet others cannot understand Sweden's migration policies," Stille told this website.

The foreign ministry, in its brief, said Sweden's embassy in Warsaw had acted in an exemplary manner by quickly rebutting the claim, and clarified that only Swedish law applies in Sweden. This counter-statement was widely circulated in Polish media.

However, claims of no-go zones came back in January this year, when Norway's Siv Jensen, the leader of the populist Progress Party, vowed that her country wouldn't "end up like our closest neighbour".

Reacting to lies

Christian Christensen, an American professor of journalism at Stockholm University, told this website that the weekend's statement by Donald Trump should be taken seriously.

"It was already the second time the Trump administration has made up a terrorist attack to smear immigrants and justify its migration crackdown."

Christiansen also said it wasn't a coincidence that Sweden had been targeted.

"For many Republicans, Sweden is the favourite symbol of everything they think is wrong with Europe: openness to refugees, feminism, environmental conscience, or resistance to the Vietnam war in the 1970s."

A dark picture of Sweden is a recurring feature of anti-immigration media such as Breitbart, he added.

That also applies to some of the European media.

The Swedish embassy in London warned last February that a British tabloid, the Daily Mail, was pouring scorn on Sweden ahead of the UK referendum on EU membership.

"Daily Mail highlights Sweden as naive and a deterrent example of the consequences of a liberal migration policy can provide", the report said.

Sweden still seen in positive light

The foreign ministry said it may sometimes be necessary to correct false information to prevent it from spreading further.

Henrik Selin from the Swedish Institute, a government agency in charge of promoting Sweden abroad, told this website that Sweden's reputation remains largely positive.

"We are small but punch above our weight, even if the image of Sweden is sometimes dated," he said, adding that the country is still mostly seen through the prism of ABBA songs, Volvo cars and Astrid Lindgren's fairy tales.

But in the wake of the country's liberal migration policy, there has been an increase in negative coverage of Sweden in foreign media, Selin said.

"Some of the reporting was completely accurate. Sweden had taken very many people in a short lapse of time, and it was legitimate to ask what challenges that posed. But we also saw exaggerated stories, with made-up facts and claims that the authorities are covering up the truth," he said.

"We don't want our reputation to be misused in political debates," the official added.

Not all the false news about Sweden have been negative, though.

One of the most widely spread false claims alleged that Sweden had introduced a six-hour working day.

Another suggested that Sweden pays its citizens to fix their belongings, rather than to throw them out. In fact, the government last year reduced the service tax on repairs, which remain more expensive than in most other EU countries.

Nordic states divided on Trump

US president Donald Trump has upset many of the values dear to Nordic nations. But the region lacks common strategies for how to stand against the US president.

Burned cars fuel Swedish election debate

Sweden's first big party leader TV debate ahead of September elections was marked by the burning of dozen of cars in cities across the south-west of the country.

Plastic pollution increasing at the top of the Earth

Marine plastic pollution, much of it garbage from the Asia-Pacific region but also from Europe, is pushed into the Arctic seas by global ocean currents. Scientists are also increasingly detecting microscopic plastic particles brought to the Arctic by long-range winds.

News in Brief

  1. EU leaders at summit demand more effort on disinformation
  2. Report: Corbyn to meet May on Monday for Brexit talks
  3. Petition against Brexit attracts 2.4m signatures
  4. Study: Brexit to cost EU citizens up to €40bn annually
  5. NGOs demand France halt Saudi arm sales
  6. Report: Germany against EU net-zero emissions target
  7. Former top EU official takes job at law firm
  8. Draft text of EU summit has Brexit extension until 22 May

Opinion

It is high time to exclude Fidesz from the EPP

"We have made our choice: we choose democracy and rule of law," write the leaders of the National Coalition Party in Finland and the Moderate Party in Sweden.

Supported by

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  2. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  3. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK
  4. EU avoids Brexit crash, sets new date for 12 April
  5. Campaigning commissioners blur the lines
  6. Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election
  7. EPP suspends Orban's Fidesz party
  8. Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  8. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  9. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  11. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  12. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us