Criminals setting up their own roadblocks in Gothenburg; a 12-year-old girl shot dead in gang crossfire; and beatings involving potential torture — a wave of violent crimes this month in Sweden has led rightwing opposition politicians to warn of a “second pandemic” sweeping the Scandinavian country.
In recent weeks, daily incidents of shootings, bombs and car fires across Sweden have knocked its lighter-touch approach to coronavirus out of the headlines, offering the rightwing parties a new opportunity to accuse the centre-left government of inaction over both Covid-19 and crime.
“There is a big frustration and anger at the developments,” Mattias Karlsson, parliamentary leader of the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, the country’s third-largest political party, told the Financial Times. “Our laws are too soft, the police don’t have the means to investigate this very serious crime.”
On Friday night, a large riot broke out in an immigrant suburb of Sweden’s third city Malmo after far-right sympathisers burnt a Koran.
Ulf Kristersson, head of the main centre-right opposition party, the Moderates, used his summer speech on August 24 to accuse the government of failing to act after more than 200 shootings and 24 deaths this year. “The deadly violence is Sweden’s second pandemic,” he added.
The governing Social Democrats had until recently enjoyed a boost in the polls from their handling of the coronavirus pandemic where they have largely followed the recommendations of state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell while ploughing billions of krona into the economy.
But a nascent conservative bloc — involving Mr Kristersson’s Moderates and the Christian Democrats from the mainstream centre-right, plus the previously shunned Sweden Democrats — is increasingly attacking the government on law and order and migration as many of the suspected criminals are immigrants.
Nicholas Aylott, senior lecturer in political science at Sodertorn University, said the Swedish right had been “discombobulated” by the country’s Covid-19 strategy where the centre-left suddenly rallied around a “libertarian” approach of not having a formal lockdown.
But he argued the resurgence in violence had dented the centre-left hopes that coronavirus could tilt the debate more towards the economy and big government. “The violence is becoming so grotesque it is bound to displace pretty much everything else,” he added.
Police in Gothenburg reported this week that criminal gangs in the suburb of Angered, which has a large immigrant population, had put up their own roadblocks to control who enters certain areas. “It is completely unacceptable,” said interior minister Mikael Damberg.
He similarly condemned the killing at the start of August of a 12-year-old girl, hit by a stray bullet fired as part of a gangland conflict. And a wave of so-called humiliation crimes culminated last weekend in what Swedish media have described on a “torture-like” attack and kidnapping on two teenagers in a Stockholm graveyard.
Mr Karlsson said that “many people are feeling insecure in their everyday life” and argued that Sweden’s immigration and integration policies had failed, leading to “segregation and violence”.
He added: “It’s not really economics or taxes that are the main sources of conflict in Swedish politics — values, identity, crime that is where the debate is.”
A conservative bloc consisting either of the three parties or the Moderates and Christian Democrats with the Sweden Democrats as a support party in parliament was likely by the next elections in 2022, he said.
Mr Kristersson of the Moderates opened up to ending the cordon sanitaire around the Sweden Democrats in December — in place due to their roots in the neo-Nazi movement — saying he could envisage working with them on immigration, law and order, and energy policies. This week, he used some of his toughest language yet, saying that “gangs are like Sweden’s domestic terrorists” and criticising the Social Democrats’ immigration policy as “irresponsible in a dangerous way”.
Mr Aylott said the warming up to the hitherto untouchable Sweden Democrats was mostly a result of electoral arithmetic as the populist party scored 17 per cent in 2018. “I would expect that the three parties there will go into the election not with common manifesto but sharing a general understanding that if they’re going to get into power it will be in connection with each other,” he said.
The Sweden Democrats have been one of the rare voices to criticise the government’s handling of the pandemic. Mr Karlsson noted that Sweden had both a higher death rate and worse economy than Denmark, Finland and Norway. “It seems we’re worse off than our Nordic neighbours,” he said.
He reserved his heaviest criticism for prime minister Stefan Lofven, arguing his government had the “cynical strategy” of following Mr Tegnell’s advice blindly. “Anders Tegnell is an expert on viruses but he’s not a politician,” Mr Karlsson said. “The government wanted to hide behind him so they couldn’t be blamed.”