During the 2000s, nationalism has increased in Europe. Parties on the far right are working in parliament, often to counteract the increased mobility used by job opportunities as well as economic and humanitarian crises.
Sweden is one of the countries that remains relatively open to refugees and immigration. Despite the fact that opinions about immigration differ in Sweden, the country has for many decades been shaped by the idea of a rich, multicultural society.
It was thought that they would become modern people, that is, Swedes
Mats Wickström, who has always been fascinated by Sweden and the country’s welfare model, has written a historical dissertation on the path of Sweden towards the affirmation of cultural diversity.
The beginning of multiculturalism
In connection with the Second World War, many people fled, including to Sweden, and after the war the country opened its borders when labor was needed. Racial biology and the ideas of the differences between the different peoples were stone-dead as science and politically impossible.
The Swedish Social Democrats had no problem leaving that idea behind, to instead hang on to a universalism. They wanted to assimilate people who came to Sweden, but also minorities who already lived in the country; Tornedal Finns, Roma and Sami, they were happy to become good folk home sauces and follow the journey towards the future, says Wickström.
– It was thought that they would become modern people, that is, Swedes.
The assimilation policy was connected with the folkhem project. Every human being would get a job and improved living conditions.
“You could not let Hitler win”
Sweden was a country with high labor immigration. The need for labor attracted Finns and Yugoslavs in the 1960s. After the war, the country had received both Balts on the run from the Soviet occupation of their homelands and Jews who moved or survived the Holocaust.
The idea of multicultural societies was initiated by Estonians and Jews, by immigrant people in a Swedish political context, says Wickström.
People started talking about the multicultural society and the right of all minorities to live with the Swedes on relatively equal terms.
There was a burning commitment to keep Estonianism alive in the diaspora. The leading Estonians were nationalists and saw it as their duty to reproduce Estonianism in Sweden and other Western European countries during a time when the home countries were transformed into Russian and communist forms.
The father of Swedish multiculturalism, David Schwarz, ensured that assimilation was not possible for the Jews in Sweden,
– You could not let Hitler win, assimilation would be to give the Nazis the victory posthumously, says Wickström who in his research examined i.a. Schwarz thoughts and deeds.
At first, they managed to found some Estonian schools, but it was not a question of some extensive cultural parallel life. The Jews and Estonians merged with Finns and the idea of multiculturalism in a universalist spirit gained momentum in the 1960s. It was generally considered to benefit both Swedes and minorities.
– People started talking about the multicultural society and the right of all minorities to live with the Swedes on relatively equal terms.
Both Social Democrats and Liberals were initially skeptical of the multicultural project. World War II had taught us not to cultivate roots, to instead look ahead and emancipate the individual from the nation and race.
There were those among the new generation of politicians who still took the message to heart, and in the social sciences they began to give flank support, away from the idea of assimilation.
The conviction with which the minorities presented their case convinced mainly Olof Palme and they went in to simply make multiculturalism work with the Swedish welfare idea
-I started in the 1980s, so many of the younger generation had adopted the idea, even though there were people who also reacted to this policy.
Mats Wickström shows that multicultural roots in the education system and in the media. The idea of the right to their culture has been around since the mid-70s.
– This also applies and is heard in the rhetoric that both Fredrik Reinfeldt or Stefan Lövfen put forward.
The Swedish Social Democrats ruled the country during most of the years that the multicultural society brought together in Sweden.
The party had difficulty with the idea that minority groups would reproduce and create their own institutions. The Finnish-Swedish model could not be tolerated by the Social Democrats. Everything would be done in Swedish within the framework of the folk home’s institutions. For example, Finnish immigrants were not allowed to found their own schools, language teaching was called home language, something that existed to be able to talk to their parents.
A question of human vision
Central to multiculturalism is not yet the normative in the concept, the affirmation of diversity, Wickström believes, that it is desirable that society is pluralistic in terms of ethnicity, culture and religion.
The idea is that such a society is more enriching, that it benefits everyone. The fact that several cultures can live side by side leads to development, and then it is also a question of human dignity.
– The differences of minorities will be recognized as an essential part of the whole. As individuals, they will be seen as equal to the members of the majority group. They may feel that they are also respected as minority members.
Mats Wickström shows that multiculturalism clearly contains a strong moral aspect. Through multiculturalism, one wants to meet the other in one’s otherness and not impose on the other one’s culture, one’s group’s ethnic identity.
The Swedish self-image always contains a certain amount of nationalism, despite the fact that after the Second World War they abandoned the classic flag-waving, says Wickström, and at the same time they wanted to show that they can create a slightly better, slightly modern society.
– I think that the post-war immigration showed the Swedes that we can handle this too, immigration, while maintaining one of the world’s best welfare states.
The idea of acknowledging difference has transcended the fixation on difference, which is a bit paradoxical
This has made Swedish politicians proud and raised the bar for what Swedes feel they can do and manage.
This is a legacy that will be heard in Swedish politics, where the Swede openly urges his heart. But Sweden today is also a paradoxical country.
– Segregation is increasing and while it is said that people have the right to preserve their culture, it will be difficult to get a job if they do not know the language.
The multicultural project also carries something practically contradictory within it, Wickström thinks. Today’s young Swedes may not care so much about their classmates’ ancestry. All are Swedes, something that still expresses that we can have parallel cultural coexistence to some extent turned into and successful assimilation.
For many, the question of Swedishness is not a question of origin and Swedishness has become an open category.
– The idea of acknowledging difference has exceeded the fixation on difference, which is a bit paradoxical.
In the Swedish debate, the fact that the idea of the multicultural society was the result of immigrants’ own management has been something that has been made a bit invisible. This is important and I also need to remember today, says Mats Wickström.
Mats Wickström defended his dissertation in January with the dissertation: The Multicultural Moment: The History of the Idea and Politics of Multiculturalism in Sweden in Comparative, Transnational and Biographical Context, 1964-1975.