Socialist Worker

Young people in Sweden revolt against austerity and racism

Åsa Hjalmers reports on the riots that have shaken Sweden’s capital Stockholm over the past week

Issue No. 2355

The riots that began in the Stockholm suburb of Husby on 19 May should have surprised no one.

They began after police shot and killed a 69 year old man in his apartment. Officers then added fuel to the fire by attacking local people in the streets, young and old.

The riots have since spread to more than 20 other suburbs of the capital—and other towns, including Orebro over 100 miles away. 

The rebellion is an explosion of anger from people without hope, a rage at those who seem to have it all.

One local told the press, “How can you say ‘stop’ to the kids who protest? They are trying to make their voices heard, and this is the only way to do this right now.” 

The frustrations of many, particularly young people, have been simmering beneath the surface for a long time.

Most of Husby’s population come from an immigrant background and are sick of daily police harassment and racism. But race isn’t the only issue.

Sweden sold off its public resources faster than any other country. It has allowed state financed public services, such as schools and health clinics, to be turned into privatised profit-making machines.

And much of the money made is shipped out to tax havens.

The austerity that began with Sweden’s economic crisis in the 1990s never really stopped. Cuts and closures of public services have continued, particularly in poorer areas.

Husby and similar neighbouring areas have seen youth centres, health clinics, libraries and schools shut down. 

Workplaces have closed and cultural facilities have been drastically reduced.

The background to Sweden’s riots is generally the same as that of recent suburban riots in the rest of Europe. It is high and long term unemployment, job insecurity, lousy housing, discrimination, racism, police harassment and media stereotyping.

Sweden saw rioting in 2008 and 2010 over similar issues. These were concentrated in the city of Malmo, away from the capital. 

But something is different this time, compared to previous riots. There has been grassroots campaigning over the past few years against privatisation and to defend services.

This means that there is both the confidence and the organisation to put pressure on politicians and the media to discuss social explanations for the riots.

One important organisation has been Megafonen (megaphone) which organises young people in the suburbs. 

It provides help with homework, organises trips, fights for more resources for the suburbs and resists the selling off of public housing.

Megafonen activists are regularly seen in the media and refuse to be blackmailed into condemning the riots. 

They have said that we need to understand the riots, and work to reverse the cuts and neglect that poorer places have suffered.

They have also demanded an independent inquiry into the police killing and called for the dead man’s widow to be given an official apology.

And, Megafonen is organising a solidarity fund for people who have had their cars wrecked during the riots.

Politicians predictably tried to condemn the rioters.

But they soon had to change tack, in part thanks to pressure created on social media.

This new generation wanted to tell a different story to that of “criminal elements” and “hooligans”. It wanted to talk about neglect, racism and cuts.

These activists, and the local networks they have built, give us hope for the future.

Åsa Hjalmers is editor of Anticapitalist, the publication of the Internationella Socialister group in Sweden

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Tue 28 May 2013, 17:53 BST
Issue No. 2355
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