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Sweden: the Moral Super Power

The superiority of Morals over Military Power

November 21


London , United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland - 21 Nov 2017 - Ghassan Matar

In order to understand Sweden's foreign policy and, generally speaking, its attitude towards the world at large, one must bear in mind two facts--its long period of peace and neutrality, and its exceptionally calm internal political development. Since 1814 Sweden has not participated in any war, nor has it entered into any alliance, something truly remarkable in the 20th and 21st century.

It is true that on a few occasions Sweden has either been threatened by war or has manifested a marked inclination to take part in one, however the government and the political leadership worked for a peaceful solution and agreements were always reached which in time became the foundation for good relations between nations.

During World War I, another "activist" movement urged that Sweden join Germany to liberate Finland; but public opinion overwhelmingly supported peace and neutrality. After the war, when the population of the Aland Islands, situated between Sweden and Finland, demanded annexation to Sweden, some politicians and newspapers made vehement statements; but the question was referred to the League of Nations and its 1921 judgment in favour of Finland did not strongly disturb Swedish public opinion.

World War II from time to time brought danger of war to Sweden; but the government used a mix of pragmatism, negotiation and concessions to avoid war.

In February 2017, Sweden's Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström summed up Sweden’s foreign policy in just a few words: ‘What is good for the world is good for Sweden…”. Wallstrom also recounted a story about a grandfather and his grandchild who asks:

“There is a battle between two wolves inside me. One is evil; he is arrogance, ego, lies and despair. The other is good; he is peace, compassion, truth and hope. This battle is inside us all.” The grandchild asks: “Which wolf wins?” The grandfather replies: “The one you feed.”

Many countries claim such foreign policy, but very few if any put their words to action. However, in the case of Sweden, words were translated into actions; Many countries prefer to make token gestures as a means of upholding their foreign policy ethos, shying away from policies that create headaches. Sweden chose to test its ethos against two complex and contentious subjects.

Sweden’s unilateral and brave decision in 2014 to recognize Palestine truly demonstrated the remarkable qualities that set the Nordic nation apart from its European or Western Counterparts. In a move that caught the world by surprise, Sweden showed courage that has eluded its European and Western counterparts. It went beyond other European nations whose legislatures held symbolic votes backing Palestinian statehood, without such recognition extending to their executive branches.

As far as history is concerned, Sweden will be remembered as the first Western nation to recognise Palestine regardless of the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The highly brave decision was rarely covered in the main stream media. It was not imitated by any other country and was severely criticised by Israel. While the Palestinians cheered the move, Israel summoned Sweden’s ambassador to protest and express disappointment.

When Sweden, the only EU country to support Palestine’s ascension to UNESCO, Israel responded “that Sweden once again has aligned itself with Muslim countries, dictatorships and religious regimes against the only democracy in the Middle East,”

As if that was not enough, Sweden’s generosity in opening its borders and welcoming hundreds of thousands of refugees also set it apart from its peers with the exception of Germany who also absorbed swathes of desperate refugees. Wallstrom’s bravery and humanity was commendable; not even closely matched by the very nations who’s ill thought out meddling caused the crisis in the first place.

Wallstrom, had declared that if the rest of Europe continued to turn its back on the migrants, “in the long run our system will collapse.”

The vast migration of desperate souls from Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere has posed a moral test the likes of which Europe had not faced since the Nazis forced millions from their homes in search of refuge. Europe had failed that test. 

 Most of Europe, and much of the world, has, as Wallstrom feared, turned its back. The ethnically homogeneous nations of Eastern Europe have refused to take any refugees at all; Hungary, their standard-bearer on this issue, has built fences along its borders to keep refugees from even passing through.

Balkan countries, by contrast, helped migrants pass through their territories to the West — until mid-November, when they collectively began blocking asylum-seekers who did not hail from Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan. England has agreed to take only those refugees arriving directly on its shores from the Middle East.

Denmark has taken out ads in Arabic-language newspapers warning refugees that they will not be welcome, and has passed legislation authorizing officials to seize migrants’ assets to pay for their care.

In the United States, where politicians eager to exploit fear of terrorism have found a receptive audience, Congress has sought to block President Barack Obama’s offer to accept a meagre 10,000 Syrian while President Trump has been trying to ban immigrants altogether and deport some that have already made their way to the US.

However Sweden’s moral superiority vis-a-vis refugees is not new. As Sweden began to build its social democratic state after the second world war, the ready acceptance of refugees became a symbol of the national commitment to moral principle.

Sweden built a system designed to deliver to refugees the same extensive social benefits that Swedes gave themselves — housing, health care, high-quality education, maternal leave, and unemployment insurance. In the 1980s, Sweden accepted not just Iranians and Eritreans, but Somalis and Kurds.

More than 100,000 former Yugoslavs, mainly Bosnians, came in the 1990s. By that time, Sweden was taking about 40,000 refugees a year. In recent years, the figure has been closer to 80,000 — slightly greater than the inflow to the United States, which of course also sees itself as the world’s shelter from tyranny, but has a population almost 35 times greater.

There are many critics who were prepared to raise impolite questions about whether Sweden could afford to lavish generous benefits on so large a population, whether it could integrate so many new arrivals with low levels of skills, whether a progressive and extremely secular country could socialize a generation of conservative Muslim newcomers.

There is no doubt that Sweden has taken on a huge challenge that will have many negative effects in the short term. Integration is typically multi-generational, with the older generations remaining outside the realm of real integration while the new generation existing in a hybrid stage. It is only the third generation of migrants that truly integrates.

The burden on the social state is also likely to hit hard, especially in light of weak global economic conditions, however many of the older Syrian refugees will eventually return home; leaving behind their semi-integrated offspring; providing there is still a country for them to return.

Crime has gone up; there is now so much negative coverage of crime in Sweden that some people believe the country is in anarchy. There has been off course a remarkable increase in crime and yes some of it can be attributed to refugees; but when a population suddenly increases, crime will rise in situ. A lot of the scare mongering is coming from anti-immigration parties who opposed Sweden’s open-door policy and are sure to exaggerate problems to justify their position.

Malmo for example, is described as the capital of rape in Europe, and reports of bombs going off are now quite frequent. But the latest OECD figures show that Sweden has five times fewer rapes per 100,000 than the United Kingdom, .4 times lower than Hungary, 2.5 times less than Luxembourg, 5 times less than the USA, .2 times lower than Austria and just above Germany, Switzerland. Off-course, per-capita, Malmo may have high levels of rape, but to label it the rape capital of Europe is nothing more than anti-immigration propaganda.

Furthermore, the majority of crime being perpetuated in Sweden is being carried out by Serbian gangs and not desperate refugees who have had their country destroyed in the grand scheme of imperial arrogance.

Despite all the challenges that Sweden will face, the country will continue to be among the best countries in the world at just about everything— from gender equality and tech start-ups to pension systems and social progress. 

Above all, Sweden will continue to retain pole position as the Moral Superpower of the world.


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