In September, I met with Ami Horowitz for an interview about Sweden and immigration, for a documentary he was making on the topic. Horowitz had heard of the work I had done on the issue, such as my reports in the Washington Examiner on the recent mass sexual attacks at music festivals in Sweden that the media and police covered up, as well as my essays on Sweden’s growing problem of jihadi tourism.
Horowitz and I met up in a sleepy Swedish town and spoke for almost half an hour, of which four minutes ended up in the final cut of his documentary, Stockholm Syndrome. The film also includes an interview with two Swedish policemen and the director’s own running commentary. The documentary received some attention at the time it was released, but not much more than the occasional link appearing in my newsfeed. But — as we now know — that has since changed.
For the past week, I have been under tremendous pressure to rescind my statements and to swear off not only Amy Horowitz but also the entire premise that Sweden has problems relating to its immigration policies. Trump’s statement, however confusing, highlighted the most taboo topic in Swedish society and the well-oiled apparatus that does its utmost to keep it under wraps. And now that the world has its collective eye fixed on our country, the Swedish establishment is fighting hard to convey the party line.
Part of the reason for the outrage is that Sweden has a long-standing, complicated, love-hate relationship with the United States, defined by an equal mix of envy and distain — the U.S. being both that place we are better than and the country we secretly long to be. Sweden’s self-image is that of a country with solid liberal values, institutionalized equality, and social justice. Having an American president question that is a direct affront to the one thing we had going for us: our carefully cultivated sense of moral and intellectual superiority. The solution to this conundrum is to belittle and mock President Trump, making him seem ignorant and racist, poking fun at his statements through a barrage of colorful memes. But what all of these methods fail to address is the underlying issue and the truth at the heart of the president’s words.
Because the truth is that Donald Trump was right to compare the Swedish crisis to that of the rest of Europe, and the reactions to his words were out of panic rather than persuasion. Something has come undone in Sweden, and that is the fault not of an American president but of the failed policies of the political establishment, going on 25 years. The results of these policies are now visible in individual lives and on city streets, and we see them clearly in ballots. The far-right party Sverigedemokraterna (The Sweden Democrats) has tripled in popularity in three elections and is now the second-largest party in the country. Most of the votes it has gained have migrated from the Social Democrats, the working-class party, suggesting that the political climate in Sweden is far less removed from its American counterpart than the Swedish political and intellectual establishment would have us believe.
The truth is that Donald Trump was right to compare the Swedish crisis to that of the rest of Europe, and the reactions to his words were out of panic rather than persuasion.
While Sweden is not, as hyperbolic far-right sites claim, the “rape capitol of the world,” it is suffering from a serious social and economic crisis that is related to the influx of immigrants. It’s not anti-immigrant to debate this and to criticize the policies that led to this crisis; it’s a defense of classic liberal values at a time when they are under attack. In 2015 and 2016, Sweden took in 150,000 immigrants from countries whose populations have views on women, sexuality, equality, and the separation of church and state that are starkly different from the views that Swedish society claims to protect and uphold.
There is an inevitable clash of values, and the refusal to acknowledge that clash is only intensifying it, victimizing those who are least likely to have their voices heard. We now find ourselves with societies within the society, policed by gangs and plagued by violence; we see honor killings on the rise, sexual assaults being covered up by the police and the media, and public bathhouses gender-segregated to accommodate religious fervor. These are issues that deserve to be brought to light, and refusing to do so does nothing but spread the darkness.
In the week since Trump’s infamous Sweden-gate, I have reflected on the irony of the Swedish media’s criticizing him for silencing certain media outlets — after all, conservative voices in Sweden have been consistently silenced for as long as I can remember. And rather than face the evident problems caused by systemic political mismanagement in Sweden, the establishment is using President Trump as a bogey man; he is a welcome diversion from the failure of its own ideological paradigm.
Swedish pundits and politicians are now describing a war between two images of Sweden, but that very thesis perfectly encapsulates the core of the problem. Sweden is not the dystopian hell shown in Horowitz’s documentary, but it is also not the perfect liberal society touted by people furiously defending Swedish honor from Trumpian insults. A country with two such competing images of itself is in danger of becoming exactly what it condemns in others: a propaganda machine in defense of a false narrative.
Since the beginning of the immigration crisis, Sweden has cut 950 million U.S. dollars from its foreign aid to allocate to immigration services, and much more will have to be cut from other welfare programs to deal with a projected massive influx of refugees. No available studies show the current immigration as anything but a net loss for the country. The idea that immigration is noble has become a truth in Sweden and in much of Europe, and any critique against it is interpreted as racism. In this climate, we close our eyes to real solutions, such as devoting resources (military or financial or both) to aid individuals where they are. Western nations are now, at great expense, creating a problem within their own borders — to fulfill some sort of idea of themselves as being “good” countries — rather than doing actual good elsewhere. Europe is not dealing with the reason for the immigration crisis but is only delaying its solution indefinitely.
On November 12, 2015, the Swedish government announced that it would reinstate border control for the first time since joining the Schengen Agreement in 1996, a treaty that led to the creation of Schengen Area in Europe in which internal border checks have largely been abolished. In restoring border control, Sweden cited “threats to inner order and security.” This action, while sudden and drastic, does not change the right to seek asylum, nor is it guaranteed to stop or even lessen the influx or relieve the acute costs of settling refugees.
If we go by the current estimates, Sweden in two years will spend on immigration alone the equivalent of two annual defense budgets or the entire cost of unemployment benefits. There are no signs that the number of immigrants will diminish, and there is no plan to cut federal costs or raise taxes to pay for this. Our country is currently operating at a loss, both economically and socially, and the biggest losers are those farthest from the halls of power and the newsrooms that laud this failure as a success. That is why I stand by my statements in Ami Horowitz’s documentary and why I give President Trump credit for putting his finger on the issue we’ve been avoiding for far too long.
The Swedish debate on immigration is so contentious that even relaying statistics can lead to one’s being branded a bigot, which might be why journalists and politicians often insist that immigration is good for the country, creating jobs and paying for itself in the long run. When the reality of people’s daily life fails to comport with the picture painted by reporters and lawmakers, it creates a disconnect between the people and the powerful, and it stokes anger among voters.
The ongoing crisis is changing the political landscape, intensifying social tensions and causing a rise in crime — eerily reminiscent of days past. The inability to address the root cause of the problem or even to utter its name is pushing Sweden toward disaster, full steam ahead.
After World War II, Europe rejected borders and decided on a brave new world, based on an idea. What European leaders failed to understand, though, is that no matter how much they wished that the divisions had forever died in the war, the divisions still mattered. What we are now witnessing is a continent scrambling to rebuild something it long ago deemed obsolete. Trump won, at least in part, because he recognized that a nation has a right to control its borders. Europe is losing its soul as a result of its denial, giving up on a liberalism that has been its essence since the Enlightenment.
The immigration crisis highlights the grave problems in Sweden’s and Europe’s immigration policies, problems that may very well cause the eventual dissolution of the EU. The European peace project has ended up exacerbating the refugee crisis while abandoning the Syrian people on the ground, the Kurds in the hills, and the children dying to reach a European dream — a dream that never really existed beyond the pages of a post-war manifesto.
— Annika Hernroth-Rothstein is a political consultant and writer who lives in Sweden.