Citizenship in Scandinavia – What are reasonable demands for full membership?

Interesting comparison, showing despite the different approaches, the underlying views on citizenship requirements in all three countries were very similar:

In 2018, together with our colleagues in the other Scandinavian countries, we undertook a representative survey in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Young people from ages 20 to 36 were interviewed – just over 7500 in total. Individuals from the majority populations, descendants of immigrants from Iraq, Pakistan, Poland, Somalia, Turkey, and Vietnam, were included. Immigrants from Iraq and Somalia also participated in the survey in all three countries, while immigrants from Pakistan, Poland and Turkey were included, in addition, in the Norwegian sample. All respondents were asked what they considered reasonable requirements for citizenship, what they thought of the existing rules in their respective countries, and to what extent they felt they were recognized as members of the national community.

Citizenship is the last stop on the way to formal membership in a new homeland. Before this, immigrants with legal status already enjoy many rights. New members of Scandinavian societies have access to some civil and social rights, from day one in the country. Still, citizenship is regarded as important and attractive, especially among those who come from countries with greater legal, economic, and political uncertainty. Citizenship in Scandinavia protects them from deportation, in principle at least. It bestows help overseas, grants the right to vote in parliamentary elections – and not least, gives access to a Scandinavian passport, with all the rights to travel freely and work in the entire EU region.

In the last few years there has been a trend to implement stricter requirements for citizenship in many European countries, such as knowledge tests (language, history, and society), proof of self-sufficiency, and longer waiting times.

Among researchers, these stricter requirements are often interpreted from either a control or an integration perspective: Recent increases in immigration have made authorities keen on finding legal ways to control access to citizenship. On the other hand, concerns over integration have raised the bar for competence in language and knowledge about society, and those who are permanent residents and seek citizenship are required to meet this higher bar in order to become full members.

Regardless of how one interprets the politics, these laws create indisputably higher barriers. There has been an (implicit) assumption among researchers that the stricter requirements are not in immigrants’ interest, but no empirical research has been done. This new survey is the first to investigate these issues empirically.

The three Scandinavian countries are interesting to compare because they cover the entire scale when it comes to citizenship requirements. Denmark is one of the strictest countries in Europe when it comes to citizenship. Sweden is on the liberal outer edge, while Norway – as is often the case with immigration and integration policies – finds itself somewhere in the middle.

We began our study with the assumption that these marked political differences would be mirrored in the immigrant groups and descendants’ attitudes in the three countries – that immigrants and descendants in Denmark would be more critical of the country’s rules, than corresponding groups would be to Swedish policies in Sweden, for example. We also thought the majority populations would want stricter requirements than the minorities would, especially in Denmark. The results did not meet our expectations though, and in many ways were very surprising.

Overall the survey does not show big differences between the three countries, and when it comes to attitudes toward how the rules are and should be, there are barely differences between the three groups (majority, immigrants, and descendants). The prevailing attitude is that it is legitimate to set requirements for new members of society who become citizens – the majority across groups believe these requirements should include five years of residence, a simple language and society test, an oath, and being part of the work force. At the same time, they think it should be legal to keep one’s original citizenship when naturalizing. In other words, there should be clear requirements to become a full member of a Scandinavian society, but these should be reasonable and possible to meet. The results paint a picture of consensus on what “reasonable” means – a framework that lies somewhere between the extremes represented by Denmark and Sweden.

Other institutions, like the education system, labor market, and health care system are probably more important as a basis for attitudes toward membership in society than citizenship.

How should we interpret these findings? The alignment in attitudes across our survey respondents is a pointer to the fact that life in Scandinavia is not so different across the three countries, despite the respective states’ different policies on immigration. In fact, other institutions, like the education system, labor market, and health care system are probably more important as a basis for attitudes toward membership in society than citizenship.

The survey does not tell us anything about emphasis placed on different institutions’ importance for feelings of membership, acceptance, and belonging. But we do see indications of experiences of both discrimination and of lower levels of trust among minority groups.

The consensus on requirements, nevertheless, suggests that the citizenship institution continues to matter as a framework for togetherness. The survey also indicates that minority members of society are reflected actors, alongside majority society members, when it comes to guarding the last ticket into society – and what should be demanded, in order to ensure the functioning of an increasingly diverse society.

Source: Citizenship in Scandinavia – What are reasonable demands for full membership?

The Global Machine Behind the Rise of Far-Right Nationalism

Sweden sees drastic rise in waiting time for citizenship applications

Of note. Combination of increased demand and reduced resources:
Over the course of just a few years, average waiting times for Swedish citizenship applications have increased dramatically, and currently stand at over two and a half years, new data reveals.

There were 86,853 citizenship applications in processing at the end of June this year, according to the Migration Agency’s figures.

On Monday, the agency’s website showed that applications for citizenship could expect a 30-month (or 913-day) waiting time, adding that this did not necessarily mean all applicants would get a decision within that time. This is two months longer than the estimated waiting time as shown back in January this year, and much longer than was the case a few years ago.

Although the website states that this number “shows how long it has taken for people with similar applications to receive a decision”, a press officer for the Migration Agency told The Local that it represented “the longest expected time if you apply for citizenship today”.

Press officer Mardin Baban told The Local in an email that people receiving their decision on citizenship in July 2019 would have waited an average 284 days, well below the expected 913-day waiting time for those submitting their application in July 2019.

The average processing time for citizenship applications which have already been concluded in 2019 is 292 days, according to Migration Agency figures. This is up from 230 days in 2018, 185 in 2017, 176 in 2016, and 177 in 2015.

Two key factors behind the long wait are, as expected, a rise in the number of citizenship applications, and reductions in the Migration Agency’s staff numbers.

“Since the refugee situation in 2014-2016, many of those who were granted asylum in Sweden have now reached the criteria to be granted Swedish citizenship. Between 2014 and 2016, 131,109 people were granted asylum in Sweden, which is the most ever in such a short time,” said Baban.

“So the easy answer to the question is that there are very many at the moment who want to apply for citizenship in Sweden, which is why the processing time has almost doubled.”

The number of people becoming Swedish citizens has soared over the past decade. In 2010, a total of 28,100 people were granted citizenship, a figure which reached a peak of 65,562 in 2017 and was 61,312 last year.

The Migration Agency’s general director Mikael Ribbenvik has said that cuts to resources have also been an issue, telling the TT news agency: “If you have limited resources, you have to invest in certain areas. You can’t invest in all areas if there aren’t sufficient resources.”

However, he added that citizenship cases were now being prioritized, saying that the agency had allocated more staff to work on these cases as well as digitalizing parts of the process. The Local has contacted the Migration Agency for comment.

Earlier this year, the agency began prioritizing applications from British citizens in order to avoid additional paperwork and delays in the event of Brexit.

People of over 170 different nationalities became Swedish in 2018, with Syria the most common country of origin. Syrians, Somalians, stateless people, Iraqis, and Afghans accounted for almost a third of the total number of new citizens, and the next most common nationalities were Eritrean, Polish, Iranian, Thai, and British.

Source: Sweden sees drastic rise in waiting time for citizenship applications

Swedish youth politician defends anti-Zionist chant

One can only wonder at the sophistry involved. Just because something has been sung for ages doesn’t mean one should continue signing it:
“You can’t take anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism and stick an equal sign between them,” Electra Ververidis, the new chair of the local district of the Social Democrat youth wing SSU, told Sweden’s state broadcaster SVT.
“This song has been sung within the labour movement for ages past. It is about taking a political position against the occupation of the Palestine, and is not about being against Israel or the Jewish people.”
The performance of the chant-like song, which is repeats the words ‘Long Live Palestine, Crush Zionism” was condemned on Wednesday by Svante Weyler, Chair of the Swedish Committee against Anti-Semitism.
“The idea that you want to abolish the state of Israel is an antisemitic idea,” he told SVT.
Ververidis’s defence of the song reversed a rapid apology given earlier in the week by the youth movement’s national chair Philip Botström.
“I understand and take seriously all the criticism against our local unit in Malmö,” he wrote on Twitter after a recording of the song being sung was circulated on Wednesday.
“There should be no doubt over where SSU stands on this question. We distance ourselves from all forms of antisemitism.”
He asserted that the youth movement would not sing the song in future.
But Ververidis said no such decision had been taken, explaining that SSU’s Malmö branch had yet to discuss whether singing the song would be appropriate during future demonstrations. “We have not yet had time to consider that,” she said.
She criticised Botström’s condemnation of the song.
“It is very unfortunate that Philip Botström is now mixing up apples and pears. This chant has been sung for ages and is about criticism of Israel’s occupation policies and nothing else. This is something Botström himself well knows.”

Source: Swedish youth politician defends anti-Zionist chant

Sweden’s Decades-Long Failure to Integrate: Leonid Bershidsky

Excerpt from a good long and balanced read, along with the reminder of the links between integration and economic outcomes:

Media Vs. Reality

Having walked around Tensta after dark, I must admit it’s far nicer than any other bad neighborhood I’ve ever seen (I grew up in a concrete wasteland on the edge of Moscow). There’s no trash on footpaths between the boxy but well-maintained three- and six-story apartment blocks, built in the 1960s as part of Sweden’s “Million Homes Program” to provide affordable housing to workers. Socialist urban planning is often an underlying reason for the emergence of problem neighborhoods, but Tensta is fetchingly human-scale with a lot of small parks and footbridges spanning lanes of traffic. The absence of graffiti gave this Berlin resident an eerie feeling, and the lack of bars on ground-floor windows made me recall the complex gridwork necessary to keep out burglars in my country of birth.

From what I’d read in media accounts, I’d expected to see drug deals in progress, a common sight in some areas of Berlin. But no one lounged around Tensta looking like a dealer or offering illicit substances for sale. The area around the subway station used to have a lively scene, I’m told, but surveillance cameras, which are generally rare in privacy-minded Sweden, drove it to someplace I couldn’t find.

This isn’t just my impression or a situation unique to Tensta. The 176-page report of the National Council for Crime Prevention is based on a door-to-door survey of two “particularly disadvantaged” areas that yielded 1,176 completed questionnaires, a massive exercise conducted by young female field researchers. Johanna Skinnari, the project manager, told me that team members received strict instructions not to walk alone and not to knock on doors in the late evening, but learned to ignore these precautions because they never felt threatened. “These places are a long way from the banlieues,” Skinnari said, referring to the notorious Paris suburbs.

The “vulnerable areas” aren’t no-go zones in the sense that police and other emergency services avoid going there. “I’d have no problem going to Tensta with my daughter,” said Erik Akerlund, chief police superintendent for the Botkyrka municipality outside Stockholm, which includes a “particularly vulnerable” area of its own. The neighborhoods are, however, no-go zones in a different sense. Locals in Tensta complain of a shortage of government services and doctors’ offices. The neighborhood of 19,000 people doesn’t have a police station of its own, the nearest one is about four kilometers away in Sollentuna. The shopping center at the center of the area was nearly deserted at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, and the few shops open there looked like they were hanging by a thread. The area’s reputation doesn’t make it a desirable place of business or posting for a civil servant or, say, a tax-funded dentist.

The violence and insecurity are real, too. Skinnari’s survey showed that a greater share of people in the vulnerable areas are exposed to crimes, especially property ones, than the residents of other Swedish neighborhoods. Protection rackets are common, and teachers often face the threat of violence at school. Street gangs can be visible and abusive. As a result, 55 percent of the women and 24 percent of men in the disadvantaged areas reported feeling unsafe going outside, compared with 27 percent of women and 8 percent of men in other neighborhoods. After 7 p.m., there are barely any women on the streets of Tensta.

The oppressive atmosphere can be easily linked to the neighborhoods’ economic profile. The employment level in the ghettos was 47 percent last year compared with 67 percent nationwide; between 40 and 67 percent, depending on the neighborhood, make less than 100,000 kronor ($11,000) a year.

That’s an integration failure. According to official data, 50 to 60 percent of residents in vulnerable areas are immigrants or children of immigrants, compared with 17 percent nationwide. In hours of wandering around Tensta, I didn’t meet a single person who looked like a Swede.

The Swedish government has tried to get more ghetto residents into the labor market, even subsidizing employers who gave newcomers their first job. But the program backfired as the foreigners lost the jobs as soon as the subsidy period ran out.

“The government has often just thrown money at the problems — with good intentions, but now there’s a degree of project fatigue,” Skinnari said.

There are constant attempts to improve schooling in the vulnerable neighborhoods, but official statistics say that 40 percent of young people in the disadvantaged areas leave school before graduating.

The Sources of Gang Violence

No wonder the ghetto kids end up in gangs. Though Tensta is visibly segregated — you won’t see any Kurds sitting in the Somali cafe, and vice versa — researchers, locals and police officers told me that the modern Swedish gang is surprisingly multiethnic.

Earlier this month, Rostami published a report for the Stockholm-based Institute for Futures Studies in which he attempted to quantify Swedish organized crime and extremism by combining information from several government databases. He found “business” links spanning seemingly vast cultural divides, including between Islamic extremists and the Swedish nationalist far right. Of the 15,244 people who are part of the gang scene, according to Rostami’s data, 67 percent were born in Sweden. But many of them are second generation immigrant kids who grew up together in disadvantaged areas. They went into the drug business together, too.

This new generation is more violent than its predecessors. Rostami, an Iranian refugee who lived in a ghetto-like area in Gothenburg and worked as a cop before he became a researcher, told me that in recent years, competition from the new generation of gangsters has wreaked havoc with the self-policing of the traditional mafias — the Russians, the Italians, the Bosnians.

“They didn’t see the new generation coming up,” Rostami said. “There’s a cultural shift: For the new kids, violence is the language they speak. They don’t dream of becoming godfather, they want to be king for one day. They don’t care if they’re killed tomorrow, next week or next month.”

Akerlund, the police superintendent, has noticed the shift, too. “When I talk to older criminals,” he said, “I see they’re sometimes afraid of the younger members of their own gangs. They have a different mindset, more violent.”

This change has been brewing for years. Akerlund remembers how he started as an officer patrolling a difficult neighborhood in 2005; almost the first thing he remembers is a riot. The police made an arrest and stones were soon flying at the officers. Car burnings and rock-throwing, often in retaliation for a drug bust, were a frequent occurrence until the middle of the current decade. Now, they’re relatively rare: Akerlund says the police have a better idea of how to counteract rumors and inform the neighborhood what’s really going on.

But violence hasn’t gone away; it’s made a comeback in the shootings. The cutthroat gangland competition is a new phenomenon and researchers and police officials struggle to explain its roots or figure out why firearm use is growing despite restrictive gun laws. They all say, however, that the recent wave of immigration has nothing to do with it: The newcomers haven’t had time to integrate into the gang culture.

Trapped by Decades of Bad Policy

Although Skinnari’s report indicates some statistical improvement in the vulnerable areas — slightly less exposure to crime, more feeling of safety compared with a few years back —the prospects for residents may actually be getting worse. For decades, the bad neighborhoods were gateways for immigrants into the rest of Sweden. People settled in them for the ethnic support networks, learned the language, got better jobs and moved out in a few years, always replaced by more immigrants.

Now, people get stuck. Everyone I talked to named the Swedish real estate market as the reason. It’s almost impossible to rent an apartment in Stockholm or other big urban centers, and few can afford to buy one. Swedish housing prices were up 44 percent last year compared with 2012, and they’ve almost tripled since 2000.

“I remember, 20 years ago one could save, borrow and move out,” said Rostami, who’s done just that. “Now that’s a challenge: You need a very stable job and a high income.”

Fixing the housing market requires investment, political will and planning so skillful that I doubt it exists anywhere. Last year in the Netherlands, often touted as a model when it comes to creating neighborhoods for people with different income levels, residents of these mixed neighborhoods told me of powerful class and ethnic tensions. Sweden has even less experience with such projects.

Inadequate policing is at the core of the problem. Despite safety gains made in the past four years, Rostami said there aren’t enough officers to “shrink the space that organized crime occupies.” According to him, Germany has twice Sweden’s number of police officers per 100,000 residents.

Skinnari’s survey showed that in the vulnerable areas, the police and the court system often are mistrusted because they’re perceived as too soft: Known gang members are let out quickly and prisons lack space to accommodate everyone who’s sentenced, giving convicted gangsters a chance to keep terrorizing neighborhoods.

More prison cells — and, yes, a tougher deportation policy, as the Sweden Democrats suggest, could help.

Not even the nationalists propose going as far as neighboring Denmark with its infamous ghetto laws aimed at assimilating the immigrant population. The Sweden Democrat Bieler said she’d balk at the Danish idea of increasing punishment for crimes committed in problem areas. But it’s not unreasonable for a country to deport foreign nationals who have committed serious offenses. Though it offends liberal sensibilities, it’s also reasonable for a receiving country to try to instill some unifying values in newcomers, especially children. Not doing that has led to the emergence of parallel societies in the vulnerable areas, in which it’s normal to collect funds to refurbish a school in Baghdad but local schools are left to the Swedish government to worry about.

Interestingly, some of the younger immigrants, who yearn to become Swedes, don’t mind adopting a new identity as much as the previous generations of immigrants have done.

Ahmed Abdirahman, a 32-year-old integration policy expert at the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce and the founder of a non-governmental organization called the Global Village, was born in Somalia and lives in Tensta. He believes the immigrant areas, with a much higher proportion of children and young people, “are producing the future of Sweden,” a country with a low fertility rate. So the civil society in these areas shouldn’t aim simply to maintain the culture of the old home country, as has often been the case.

“We are the next generation, and for us it’s about being Swedes: we want to be part of the political conversation,” Abdirahman says.

Even if the Sweden Democrats ever become part of the establishment and succeed in restricting immigration, Sweden is stuck with a large, segregated immigrant population that both its high achievers and its criminals won’t let the rest of the country ignore.

Sweden has lived for decades with a blissful sense that a wealthy, tolerant society can iron out all its kinks. Now, there’s a widespread sense that the country’s social and law enforcement infrastructure is overburdened because too many immigrants are coming in, and time is needed to assimilate the earlier arrivals. But time isn’t the best doctor here: Problems with previous generations of immigrants and their kids were swept under the rug for too long.

What’s needed now is clearer awareness of where the problems really are. The police and researchers affiliated with them lead the way here with their attempts to pinpoint and study the problem neighborhoods and the gangs that operate in them. Superintendent Akerlund firmly believes that in 10 to 15 years, there won’t be any vulnerable areas in his district. But he understands that dream can only become reality with constant effort and learning.

The rest of Swedish society should concentrate on the real problem, too: It’s not the recent refugee wave, it’s decades of complacency and half-hearted integration policies. For Sweden, proud of its world-leading social policies, that’s a bitter pill to swallow, but better late than never.

Source: Sweden’s Decades-Long Failure to Integrate

In Sweden, Populist Nationalists Won on Policy, but Lost on Politics

Geert Wilders had a similar effect on Dutch politics, shifting the consensus to the right and anti-immigration.
If Bernier succeeds in creating a new party, and if that party gains some support, it could have a similar effect but, IMO, much smaller effect given Canadian demographic and political realities:
Never mind the headlines: Sunday’s election in Sweden was a major setback for the far right. The populist-nationalist Sweden Democrats may have seen their percentage of the vote increase from 13 percent in 2014 to just shy of 18 percent this year, but they and many experts anticipated a much higher share; some even predicted that they would become the largest party in the country. Such an outcome would have been in keeping with their history of rapid growth, of more than doubling their previous tally in every election since 1998. Instead, they posted unexpectedly meager gains, which will do little to strengthen their influence in a deadlocked parliament where all other parties, center-right as well as left, refuse to negotiate with them.And yet, this conclusion is the result of what some may consider a troubling bargain. In past contests, the Sweden Democrats’ keystone political cause of reducing immigration had been used to stigmatize the party. This year, multiple parties —including the center-left Social Democrats and center-right Moderates—included calls for reduction in their platform.

The anti-immigration position was normalized even as it was neutralized.

At the center of this drama is an unusually complicated political party. When compared to other nationalist forces in Europe, the Sweden Democrats appear relatively moderate. They expel members who make explicitly racist or anti-Semitic statements, claim to reject ethno-nationalism, endorse a pathway toward full civic and cultural membership for Sweden’s minorities, have shown little love for global strongmen such as Russian President Vladimir Putin or President Donald Trump, and are headed by Jimmie Åkesson—a blushing mother-in-law’s dream with gentle mannerisms. But if style and policy place the Sweden Democrats on the softer side of global anti-immigrant movements, their history does not: They were born in 1988 from the merger of a tax-populist party and a white-nationalist organization.

Despite the Sweden Democrats’ internal reform campaigns aimed at repelling radicalism, most Swedes were horrified when the party first entered parliament in 2010 with 5.7 percent of the vote. In their eyes, homegrown neo-Nazis had marched into government, thrashing a global reputation of exceptional tolerance and progressivism in the process. For existing parties, dialogue with the newcomers was out of the question: It was acquiescence to extremism. Moral consensus and political logic seemed to dictate the repudiation of the Sweden Democrats and all they stood for, first and foremost their agenda to restrict immigration. Commitment to Sweden’s generous refugee policy became dogma.It was a righteous stand, perhaps, but also a short-sighted one. Sizable minorities of Swedes since the late 1990s have wanted reductions in the number of immigrants admitted to the country as well as more emphasis on assimilation rather than multiculturalism. Those sentiments had no outlet in establishment politics, creating an opportunity for the Sweden Democrats. Scandal after scandal—including those revealing that its lower ranks included racist ideologues and anti-Semites—could not stop the party’s growth so long as it held the monopoly on immigration skepticism. Whether motivated by economics, cultural concerns, or racism, voters seeking cuts in immigration had only one option. That remained true even after the Sweden Democrats climbed to a 12.9 percent share of the vote in 2014.

But an unprecedented shift in Swedish politics came the following year. War, poverty, and political strife across North Africa and the Middle East sparked a massive wave of immigration to Europe, and Sweden was one of the prime destinations. By the end of 2015, Sweden had received upwards of 160,000 asylum seekers, more per capita than any other country in Europe.

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven initially said there was theoretically no limit to the number of immigrants Sweden could embrace. But it soon became clear that a limit had in fact been reached. Sweden’s schools, hospitals, and law enforcement could not handle such numbers. In late November 2015, the center-left government, headed by the Social Democrats and the Green Party, initiated restrictions on refugee immigration. And the center-right Moderate Party, whose leader just a year before had called on Swedes to “open their hearts” and allow large-scale immigration to continue, called for closed borders.

It was a U-turn on Swedish politics’ definitive issue. (American readers looking for a comparison might imagine the Democratic Party ending Social Security, or Republicans annulling the Second Amendment.) And its implicit message was bitter for the political establishment. The Sweden Democrats had been right: Refugee migration was destabilizing the country.

Forced by circumstance, with great reluctance and occasional pain—the Green Party leader sobbed as she announced cuts to refugee migration during a press conference—Sweden’s politicians moved toward a new political consensus. The country’s largest parties, the Social Democrats and the Moderates, as well as the center-right Christian Democrats, adopted platforms calling for reduced immigration, and they carried those positions into elections this year.The parties differed on how much of a reduction they sought and how to achieve it. There was enough cross-party agreement, however, to make immigration a somewhat boring topic of debate in this year’s election. Immigration was just one subject among many, sharing space with youth unemployment, health care, and gender equality.

In a sense, then, the Sweden Democrats succeeded beyond their wildest dreams: Parties espousing restrictions to immigration received a combined three-quarters of the vote, and ideas once confined to the far right spread into the establishment. Yet if the Sweden Democrats won on policy, they lost their political cudgel. The far-right party will not have the opportunity to implement its long-desired reductions in immigration, or any other policy for that matter. Future border restrictions will be pursued by centrists, and in the eyes of many Swedes, this will mean more thoughtful and compassionate policy.

Source: In Sweden, Populist Nationalists Won on Policy, but Lost on Politics

Exclusive: Right-wing sites swamp Sweden with ‘junk news’ in tight election race

Possible factor contributing to the shift in Swedish politics (scheduled before results known):

One in three news articles shared online about the upcoming Swedish election come from websites publishing deliberately misleading information, most with a right-wing focus on immigration and Islam, Oxford University researchers say.

Their study, published on Thursday, points to widespread online disinformation in the final stages of a tightly-contested campaign which could mark a lurch to the right in one of Europe’s most prominent liberal democracies.

The authors, from the Oxford Internet Institute, labeled certain websites “junk news”, based on a range of detailed criteria. Reuters found the three most popular sites they identified have employed former members of the Sweden Democrats party; one has a former MP listed among its staff.

It was not clear whether the sharing of “junk news” had affected voting intentions in Sweden, but the study helps show the impact platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have on elections, and how domestic or foreign groups can use them to exacerbate sensitive social and political issues.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, whose center-left Social Democrats have dominated politics since 1914 but are now unlikely to secure a ruling majority, told Reuters the spread of false or distorted information online risked shaking “the foundations of democracy” if left unchecked.

The Institute, a department of Oxford University, analyzed 275,000 tweets about the Swedish election from a 10-day period in August. It counted articles shared from websites it identified as “junk news” sources, defined as outlets which “deliberately publish misleading, deceptive or incorrect information purporting to be real news”.

“Roughly speaking, for every two professional content articles shared, one junk news article was shared. Junk news therefore constituted a significant part of the conversation around the Swedish general election,” it said.

A Twitter spokesman declined to comment on the results of the study.

Facebook, where interactions between users are harder to track, said it was working with Swedish officials to help voters spot disinformation. It has also partnered with Viralgranskaren – an arm of Sweden’s Metro newspaper – to identify, demote and counterbalance “false news” on its site.

Joakim Wallerstein, head of communications for the Sweden Democrats, said he had no knowledge of or interest in the party sympathies of media outlets. Asked to comment on his party’s relationship with the sites identified by the study, he said he had been interviewed by one of them once.

“I think it is strange that a foreign institute is trying to label various news outlets in Sweden as ‘junk news’ and release such a report in connection to an election,” he said.

“DECEPTIVE TOOLS”

Swedish security officials say there is currently no evidence of a coordinated online attempt by foreign powers to sway the Sept. 9 vote, despite repeated government warnings about the threat.

But Mikael Tofvesson, head of the counter influence team at the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), a government agency tasked with safeguarding the election, said the widespread sharing of false or distorted information makes countries more vulnerable to hostile influence operations.

“Incorrect and biased reporting promotes a harder, harsher tone in the debate, which makes it easier to throw in disinformation and other deceptive tools,” he said.

Lisa-Maria Neudert, a researcher from the Oxford Internet Institute’s Project on Computational Propaganda, said most of the “junk news” in Sweden supported right-wing policies, and was largely focused on issues around immigration and Islam.

The top three “junk news” sources identified by the study – right-wing websites Samhallsnytt, Nyheter Idag and Fria Tider – accounted for more than 85 percent of the “junk news” content.

Samhallsnytt received donations through the personal bank account of a Sweden Democrat member between 2011-2013 when it operated under the name Avpixlat. A former Sweden Democrat member of parliament, who also previously ran the party’s youth wing, is listed on the Samhallsnytt website as a columnist.

Samhallsnytt often publishes articles saying Sweden is under threat from Islam. In June, for example, it said a youth soccer tournament in the second-biggest city had banned pork as “haram” – or forbidden under Islamic law. The article is still online with the headline: “Islam is the new foundation of the Gothia Cup – pork proclaimed ‘haram’”.

A tournament organizer told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper that caterers had not served pork for more than 10 years for practical reasons, and there was no ban against eating or selling pork at the event.

Samhallsnytt and Fria Tider did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Commenting before the Oxford study was published, Nyheter Idag founder Chang Frick disputed the “junk news” label and said his website followed ethical journalistic practices, citing its membership of Sweden’s self-regulated Press Council body.

“Yes, we put our editorial perspective on news, of course, like everyone else,” he said. “If you are doing a tabloid you cannot have dry, boring headlines, it should have some punch to it. But we do not lie, we do not make false accusations.”

FACT CHECKERS AND BOTS

Social media companies have come under increasing pressure to tackle disinformation on their platforms following accusations that Russia and Iran tried to meddle in domestic politics in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. Moscow and Tehran deny the allegations.A report by the Swedish Defence Research Institute last week said the number of automated Twitter accounts discussing the upcoming election almost doubled in July from the previous month. Such so-called “bot” accounts shared articles from Samhallsnytt and Fria Tider more frequently than real people, the report said, and were 40 percent more likely to express support for the Sweden Democrats.

Facebook said its work with Viralgranskaren to fact check content on its sites helped it quickly identify “false news.”

The company declined to give specific figures about the amount or sources of false news it had recorded around the Swedish election, but said any flagged content is given a lower position on its site, a practice known as “downranking” which it says cuts views by 80 percent. Users who see disputed articles are also shown other sources of verified information, it said.

In a blog post on its website, Twitter says it “should not be the arbiter of truth”.

But the MSB’s counter influence team’s head Tofvesson said there had been a “positive increase” in the work of Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies to help safeguard the election, largely via better communication and coordination with local authorities.

Source: Right-wing sites swamp Sweden with “junk news” in tight election race

Integration and immigration key battlefield for Swedish election

Failure of integration policies and approaches and political leadership:

Polish-born pensioner Agata sits in the sunny open square of the Rinkeby shopping centre, on the outskirts of Stockholm, and laughs when she hears Donald Trump’s name.

Last year the US president warned of a surge in violence in Sweden after a US television report about neighbourhoods like Rinkeby, and the supposed cover-up of immigrant criminality there.

Before Agata moved to Rinkeby 20 years ago she lived in Trump’s home town – New York City – where she learned a thing or two about gang crime that even Rinkeby cannot match.

“It is mostly nice and quiet and clean here, the black people are polite and friendly, but outsiders are only interested when bad things happen,” she says, sitting beside an open-air fruit and vegetable market.

Leaving the Rinkeby underground station is like crossing continents with public transport. Shiny, white, downtown Stockholm is just 18 minutes away but here the streets are populated by Iraqis and Somalians, many in headscarves and even a handful of women in niqabs.

Some 90 per cent of people living here are foreign-born and crowds of working-age men sit around in cafes, testament to failed integration and a jobless rate three times the Stockholm average.

When night falls, another Rinkeby emerges, populated by gangs of young men who hang around and zip around on scooters as the occasional police helicopter watches from above.

Half a century after it was planned, Rinkeby – and similar immigrant suburbs in Gothenburg and Malmo – have become a contested symbol in Sweden’s closely watched general election on Sunday.

Most of the heated campaign has been dominated by immigration and integration issues – with the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD) calling the tune.

Burning cars

Its election videos show tower-block neighbourhoods like Rinkeby in drab grey, overlaid with ominous music and slow-motion footage of riots and burning cars.

What are officially referred to as “vulnerable areas” are “no-go zones” for most Swedes, who know these places only from crime reports. There have been riots every other year in Rinkeby and fatal shootings are no longer a rarity. Swedish national statistics show 41 fatal shootings last year – more than double the 2011 number.

In the SD narrative, this is a direct result of unchecked immigration that “ruined Sweden” and brought in 160,000 people – proportionately more than any other European country.

On the defensive, Sweden’s Social Democrat-led government has since tighted up migration laws. But locals in Rinkeby say the real problem is not about new immigration but old, failed integration policies of state alimentation and benevolent apathy.

Talk to Ahmed Abdirahman about the neighbourhood he has called home for 20 years, after moving here from Somalia as an 11 year old with his family, and the word he keeps using is segregation.

He grew up in Tensta, next to Rinkeby, and is an integration expert at the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce.

His mother pushed education and the Swedish language and her son displays an eloquent determination to assist those who were less fortunate by lobbying Sweden’s politicians.

Xenophobic rhetoric

A new integration effort is needed, he says, from a language-learning push to an opening of native Swedes’ networks to jobseekers with immigrant roots.

Abdirahman sees the rise of the populist SD and its xenophobic rhetoric as a serious risk, but also a chance to create a more inclusive Swedish “togetherness” model for this century.

“Until now people were afraid to discuss problems with migrants before for fear of being labelled racists,” he said. The challenge now is to balance overdue law-and-order measures against immigrants who commit crime without overshooting the target because of social media distortions and half-truths from incomplete statistics.

“Most people believe immigrants take out of the system yet, as soon they take a job, putting back into the system as millions of foreign born citizens do here, they are no longer registered anywhere as such,” he said.

Back in Rinkeby main square, local Social Democrat candidate Mohammed Nuur, of Somali descent, is promising his neighbours “early-age [crime] prevention is an investment in the future”.

From behind a shop window sign, reading “Politicians must be begin to act”, a Swedish-Egyptian sales assistant says her work colleagues are Palestinian and Iranian.

“Things are rougher here than 20 years ago,” she said, “but we are all Swedes and not giving up our neighbourhood – if we get help.”

Source: Integration and immigration key battlefield for Swedish election

ICYMI: Sweden funds Holocaust memorial trips to tackle anti-Semitism – The Local

Useful initiative:

Sweden wants as many young people as possible to visit Holocaust memorial sites in an effort to tackle anti-Semitism in the Nordic nation, where neo-Nazi activities have been intensifying in recent years.

The government said it would invest 15 million kronor (1.4 million euros, $1.7 million) on projects over three years to raise awareness about Nazi crimes against Jews, Roma communities and other groups.

“Nazism and racism are growing and spreading. We are therefore launching this investment so that more youth can be equipped with the knowledge to tackle the anti-democratic forces that are growing in Sweden,” Culture Minister Alice Bah Kuhnke said in a statement.

The Swedish Committee Against Anti-Semitism will receive 12.8 million kronor to organise trips to Holocaust remembrance sites, and the Living History Forum, a public authority, is to offer educational tools and resources.

Sweden, which boasts a long tradition of welcoming refugees and persecuted groups, is experiencing a creeping rise in neo-Nazi activities in the public and on social media.

At the centre of this is the Nordic Resistance Movement (NMR), described as the most violent neo-Nazi organisation in Sweden by the anti-racism magazine Expo.

Openly promoting a racist and anti-Semitic doctrine, the group organised demonstrations on the sidelines of an annual book fair in Sweden’s second-largest city of Gothenburg in September and held an authorised protest at a political forum on the island of Gotland last year.

Expo estimates that the organisation’s core consists of barely 80 members, but says it was more active last year than ever before.

A Swedish court in July last year sentenced three neo-Nazi activists for up to eight and a half years in prison over bomb attacks against refugee shelters that left one person seriously injured.

A 1997 study found that 66 percent of Swedish secondary school students were unsure whether the Holocaust actually happened.

The Living History Forum, which was established in 2003 to provide accurate information in schools about the Holocaust, recently launched a similar study, the results of which will be released later this year.

via Sweden funds Holocaust memorial trips to tackle anti-Semitism – The Local

Why did Vikings have ‘Allah’ embroidered into funeral clothes? – BBC News

Interesting:

Researchers in Sweden have found Arabic characters woven into burial costumes from Viking boat graves. The discovery raises new questions about the influence of Islam in Scandinavia, writes journalist Tharik Hussain.

They were kept in storage for more than 100 years, dismissed as typical examples of Viking Age funeral clothes.

But a new investigation into the garments – found in 9th and 10th Century graves – has thrown up groundbreaking insights into contact between the Viking and Muslim worlds.

Patterns woven with silk and silver thread have been found to spell the words “Allah” and “Ali”.

The breakthrough was made by textile archaeologist Annika Larsson of Uppsala University while re-examining the remnants of burial costumes from male and female boat and chamber graves originally excavated in Birka and Gamla Uppsala in Sweden in the late 19th and mid-20th centuries.

She became interested in the forgotten fragments after realising the material had come from central Asia, Persia and China.

Larsson says the tiny geometric designs – no more than 1.5cm (0.6in) high – resembled nothing she had come across in Scandinavia before.

“I couldn’t quite make sense of them and then I remembered where I had seen similar designs – in Spain, on Moorish textiles.”

Unlocking a puzzle

Larsson then realised she was not looking at Viking patterns at all but ancient Arabic Kufic script.

There were two words that kept recurring. One of them she identified with the help of an Iranian colleague. It was the name “Ali” – the fourth caliph of Islam.

But the word next to Ali was more difficult to decipher.

To unlock the puzzle, she enlarged the letters and examined them from all angles, including from behind.

“I suddenly saw that the word ‘Allah’ [God] had been written in mirrored lettering,” she says.

Larsson has so far found the names on at least 10 of the nearly 100 pieces she is working through, and they always appear together.

The new find now raises fascinating questions about the grave’s occupants.

“The possibility that some of those in the graves were Muslim cannot be completely ruled out,” she says.

“We know from other Viking tomb excavations that DNA analysis has shown some of the people buried in them originated from places like Persia, where Islam was very dominant.

“However, it is more likely these findings show that Viking age burial customs were influenced by Islamic ideas such as eternal life in paradise after death.”

A past exhibit shows what a Viking woman’s boat grave in Gamla Uppsala may have looked like - similar to the tombs the above fragments were found in
Image captionA museum display gives a sense of what the Viking woman’s boat grave in Gamla Uppsala may have looked like – similar to the tombs the fragments were found in

Her team is now working with the university’s department for immunology, genetics and pathology to establish the geographic origins of the bodies dressed in the funeral clothes.

Historic first

Contact between the Viking and Muslim worlds has long been established by historic accounts and the discovery of Islamic coins across the northern hemisphere.

Two years ago, researchers re-examined a silver ring from a female tomb at Birka and found the phrase “for Allah” inscribed on the stone.

Again the text was Kufic, developed in the Iraqi town of Kufah in the 7th Century – one of the first Arabic scripts used to write down the Koran.

What makes Larsson’s discovery so interesting is that it is the first time historic items mentioning Ali have ever been unearthed in Scandinavia.

Source: Why did Vikings have ‘Allah’ embroidered into funeral clothes? – BBC News