Sweden, once the world’s best practice on immigration, has followed Australia’s in an identity crises. This week the Swedish Democrats have won representation based on anti-immigration policy, rejecting multiculturalism and proposing instead a multiethnic ideology where immigrants are forced to assimilate. Here in Australia we call it the ‘love it or leave it’ ideology you often see posted on the bumper bars of beat up cars.
The Swedish Democrats have their strongest following in the southern town of Malmo by the Dutch border where the immigrant population of 85,000 is 30% of the town. Since the murder of a Swedish pensioner in a Landskron parking lot, support for the Swedish Democrats has significantly risen making Malmo the stronghold for the party. The election on the 19th September saw the Swedish Democrats win 4% of the vote giving them 20 seats and representation in the government, specifically in the southern Swedish regions where immigration is more prevalent. Yet this hasn’t been without scandal. Political rallies have been escorted by police security for fears of an equally popular movement against the party. Late in the campaign police requested that the party cease public campaigning as they were no longer able to guarantee security. Within hours of the news of the election, 6,000 people it seems spontaneously gathered in Stockholm shouting ‘No To Racism’ to express their disgust that a racist party sits in parliament.
The Swedish Democrats argue that Sweden must return to its cultural roots and reject foreigness. It is important, they insist, to present to the world a singular Swedish image and so following in the shadow of ABBA and IKEA, Sweden’s current claim to fame in Zlatan Ibrahimović is rejected by the Swedish Democrats as osvensk, meaning un-Swedish, or outsider; even though he was born in Malmo.
My fiancée, a Serbian born Roma gypsy raised from childhood not far from Malmo, voted in this election along with 1.3 million fellow immigrants. People like her, who live, work and build Sweden. Only weeks prior had I also voted in a significant Australian election. Sweden and Australia’s social and cultural development in the last 200 years has tracked on a very similar path. We’ve both slowly distanced ourselves from our royal families, actively encouraging immigration and more recently becoming irrationally paranoid about it. In the pendulum swing of public opinion, the 2010 Australian federal election was fought more closely on illegal immigration than the fact that the female deputy who had seemingly fired her boss, was now running for his job of Prime Minister.
It’s easy to look from afar and think of the Swedish Democrats and their supporters as xenophobic, yet the same movement here in Australia predates the Swedes. Pauline Hanson founded the infamous anti-immigration One Nation Party in 1997 and after a couple of tumultuous years and a stint in jail, she was back in the spotlight fleeing Australia yet refusing to sell her home to a muslim family. She has sought greener pastures in England where incidentally the muslim population is 6 times that of Australia - oops! Don’t worry Pauline, in your short term in Parliament you didn’t manage to shut down immigration so Australia will take you back - lucky for you that you failed.
Perhaps I am being a little unfair on old Pauline, after all her peers in parliament continue the anti-immigrant campaign namely MP Bob Such who suggested Australia outlaw burqas that cover the face to limit their use in crime; yet balaclavas and stockings more popularly used by criminals will remain legal. Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott’s campaign against the successful PM Julia Gillard was grounded on ‘keeping the boats out’; at times it seemed he was channelling Churchill ‘we will fight them on the beaches’.
This knee-jerk reaction of cutting immigration out of a fear of the exotic other only serves to disadvantage. It limits economic growth in a time where we need as much stimulus as possible. It fuels diplomatic friction, it positions us as ethnocentric. Australia’s most recognised landmark and cultural icon, the Opera House, is place where you may hear the beauty of a symphony which is found in harmony; many different notes sounding together. The opposite we could call monotony, and who wants to live there? Time to grow up Australia, it’s ok for people to be different, to encourage and empower them to be so. If we continue to sow fear and panic, what will we reap?