A friend circulated the video below, a ‘Swedish Documentary On Failed Immigration‘, with some enthusiasm. I was interested at the time because I had met people in Iraqi Kurdistan who have relatives living in Sweden who appear to have become very well integrated into Swedish society. However, I do not recommend it, and since I think the film is relevant to some of the ‘concerns’ raised about immigrants in this country, I decided to publish my critique of the film here.
The film begins with a series of questions. They ask whether it would be cheaper to help refugees by allowing them to stay in their own countries and ending the Western supported wars that are driving them out. In fact, this is what the majority of refugees would prefer, but the film is not concerned with the preferences of the refugees.
They also ask why there is a preponderance of men among the refugees arriving in Sweden. This isn’t surprising as a single man can surely travel more efficiently than a woman with children. But they don’t ask how they could change this balance through providing more assistance to women and children in war zones. Their concern is that these refugees, strangers to Sweden, mostly Arab men, have been given permanent residency in their country.
What really jumped out was this message that Swedish culture is threatened and that Swedes are not allowed to question their countries reception of these immigrants, much less empowered to do anything about it. The film asserts a concern that the majority of white Europeans (Swedes) in Sweden will soon be lost. In the United States there are those that express similar concerns that the US will soon be a majority black and brown country, which I don’t see happening any time soon here. But about Sweden, the numbers given in the film itself reduce these claims to absurdity.
The film says about 163,000 migrants/refugees arrived in Sweden in 2015. It is likely that 2015 was a peak year as it is the year that Erdogan opened the gates to the Turkish refugee camps on the Syrian border and initiated a new round of hostilities with the PKK through bombing residential areas of Kurdish cities in Turkey. By doing this he triggered a massive outpouring of refugees and migrants who traveled, mostly by sea, to Europe. According to Population Pyramid dot Net, in 2013, Syrians don’t figure at all in the immigration chart. There are 130K Iraqis, but also 176K people from neighboring Finland and 76K from Poland, the birth country of more than half of those interviewed in this film. This number in the film, 163K in that one year, didn’t seem so threatening to me, but I’m here in the US which has a really massive population. I wondered how does the number stand up in Sweden?
I nearly doubled this number to 300,000 to accommodate a couple of intense years of Syrian migration (today many Syrians are beginning to go home), and divided it by the current population of Sweden. My result was around 3%. This number, which represents a peak of sorts during a significant refugee crisis, would not indicate a demographic threat to the people and culture of Sweden. Even over a decade, with the general population growing at 5-10% per year (a rough guess from the figures on the Internet) and an influx of 1.6% of the total (or less since the population is steadily growing and the influx of refugees fluctuates). It would seem to me that the premise of the film, that the country is being overrun by Middle Eastern or Syrian migrants is a gross exaggeration.
As I continued to watch it became apparent that the film is a slick piece of racist, anti-immigrant propaganda. First, we see a number of ‘ordinary Swedes’ sharing their concerns about the massive migration, but oddly most of those interviewed are Soviet era migrants from Eastern Europe. Specifically, several people describe their fears of the government and claim that there is unwarranted censorship of their views on the subject of immigration. They are also concerned that the unwelcome refugees of the present represent an unacceptable intrusion into their lives. Apparently they have not considered that their immigration might have been an intrusion on the lives of the indigenous Swedes when they arrived. The film presents multiculturalism and ‘mass immigration’ (not evident in the numbers they present) as top down decisions by elites imposed on the ‘little people’ – they show a photo of some startled looking black youth on the street then cut to a sedentary multi-generational white family from the 50s watching TV.
A political equivalence is asserted between ‘moderates’, ‘neo-liberals’ and ‘multiculturalism’. The people interviewed in the film are opposed to immigration, but more opposed, I think, to multiculturalism. They are what we call ‘white nationalists’ in the US. To make the point that the current crop of immigrants (Syrians) are the worst yet, another interview is presented with a Lebanese immigrant who complains that the Arab immigrants are not integrating successfully into Swedish culture. It is all very odd since these people complaining about Sweden’s openness to refugees and migrants arrived as migrants themselves. The one individual interviewed (twice) who supports Sweden’s migration policy is a native Swedish academic. He isn’t worried about welcoming migrants into his country. He asserts that it is a duty to help people who are suffering. I wonder if his opinion might be a reflection of Swedish culture rather than elitism.
The next subject is Malmo, a city presented as a slum inhabited by recent Muslim immigrants – We are told that in 2007 it was too dangerous for ambulance to enter Malmo without police escort. There weren’t any Syrian migrants at that time but there were probably lots of people from Iraq. We are told that education in Malmo has failed. I wonder if it is worse than here in Rochester, which is near the bottom of US cities in terms of results at present. But, the film goes on to show a series of unanchored ‘facts’: a city of 4 Million(Malmo? Really?), now 1/4 Muslim; iin a Swedish school (where??) 2 out of 1000 students are Swedes. Now (2017), , the narrator says, Malmo is turning into a 3rd rate copy of NYC (??!). Let me clarify: Wikipedia gives Malmo a peak population of 300,000 in 2011, but maybe only 260,000 at present. The narrator complains that Malmo doesn’t feel Swedish any more because it is being renovated with open modern spaces.
Now the truth comes out. Here is a time line that shows Malmo’s collapse into poverty and confusion:
- In the 70s, Malmo was a prosperous working class town, a port city with a large shipyard
- in the 1980s the shipyard went into decline due to competition from the far east.
- In 2002, the shipyard was sold to South Korea
- Malmo was, at this point, no longer prosperous, not due to multiculturalism but due to capitalist economic globalization
- In the 21st century, a bridge was built to the EU mainland over which a significant number of Middle Eastern refugees passed into Sweden, and more specifically, the economically depressed city of Malmo, already in a state of dire poverty.
- The jews are leaving – irrelevant, but not surprising
The forces unleashed by globalization are undermining class boundaries and everyone’s economic security. The Swedish state, a ‘welfare’ state that provides basic resources for all citizens, is working to address these problems, but European Union policies are undermining these efforts.
In defense of his stance, the narrator says that 1/4 of Malmo’s population is now Muslim (reiterated from above, now in context), Malmo’a population us down from 300K in 2011 to 260k in 2017. Many Swedes have left Malmo, but there have been significant economic reasons to do so. There is high unemployment and there are problems with education. At one school, only 1 in 10 students graduates. However, on the right side of the tracks, young people express enthusiasm for the new open architecture of the public spaces. On the other side, there are many social problems; problems with strict traditional families limiting children’s activities; children who report knowing ISIS sympathizers; 400 cars set on fire every year; 120 school fires and 26 hand grenades since 2014. These figures are not sourced and I find myself wishing I had some context for them.
The rest of the film (nearly half) is about the producer’s difficulties with the Swedish university system. Apparently his narrow ideas were not appreciated at the University where he was employed and he lost his job due to a complaint by a student. He talks about other politically conservative people who have been treated similarly. The leader of anti-immigration party (SD) is Iranian immigrant says he can’t get a job anywhere due to association with this party. A Dutch immigrant with Kurdish background says you cannot speak your mind in the prevailing political environment.
A white academic says that ‘passive’ acceptance of other cultures avoids social change. I think to myself that ‘active rejection’ of other cultures avoids change all the more. He says that “perhaps some of these [other] cultures have to change.” Not ours, of course. He’s considers himself a ‘modernist’. One notable contradiction is that the complaint is against acceptance of other cultures, and yet most of those complaining are immigrants from other cultures who want to be heard. It is clear that the producer of the film is angry that his conservative views are not well received in Sweden. Apparently he is more in sync with migrants from Eastern Europe. Although his film asserts his views, it is framed in such a way as to undermine them.
One last oddity about the film is that there are English subtitles, but the narration and conversation is almost entirely spoken in English. So, who is the targeted audience? My first thought was that the producer might be proselytizing Americans with his views. But, more likely, he is speaking to the one group of people he expects to understand his concerns. And, unfortunately, he is probably correct in that assumption.
The film is dangerous because it normalizes a kind of racist thinking. The use of immigrants to complain about immigrants seems to carry the message that it isn’t all migrants the author rejects, only the current ones; the bad ones. Because the film takes place in Sweden it would appear that the most open hearted country on earth is corrupted by a kind of do-gooder syndrome. It’s sad. We don’t want to do so much good that it hurts us. Oh no. Not us. But although the very real problems caused by globalization and the European Union economic sphere which does not provide economic support for all members are mentioned, they are not given their due as the real drivers of the problems identified by the film.