Last Monday like many of my friends I woke up to the shocking news. Far-right party Sweden Democrats (SD) with roots in Nazism made it to Sweden’s parliament in general elections. As the governing centre-right four-party alliance failed to gain an overall majority in the parliament, SD can play an important role on the political arena which makes the situations quite unpredictable.
While we should, I think, start a conversation as to why this happened, I agree with those who say freezing out the political party that many trusted would best represent their interests, would further the separation between us and them and would certainly not be a democratic way of dealing with the issue. I notice how my perception of us and them shifts depending on what group I identify with in this unfolding story.
The way I see it, there is no difference in who we see as them: people who voted for SD, people coming to Sweden from other parts of the world or any other beings. I believe one of the explanations of the shocking for many election results lies in this very idea of separation: the agenda of the political debate in Sweden has been more concerned with keeping up the appearances of political correctness rather than with giving voice to the concerns of all the citizens, on equal terms. We are a tolerant society but we will not tolerate opinions that differ from our tolerant views. People who felt they had somewhat different from the prevailing in the society opinion on immigration were not given space to voice it outside their own circles. This made it impossible to establish a dialogue with them, get to know their concerns. We kept the lid on the cooker for two long, letting the pressure build under, oblivious of what was going on outside our own bubbles.
One other thing that many of us wake up to now is the same basic truth of impermanence only this time in respect to the values. We took democracy and solidarity for granted forgetting that agreeing on them once is not enough and they are to be realised in our own everyday choices, not the least in the way we think, talk and do. The sense of separation, often expressed through the means of language, leads to estrangement. Once we label it, we think we know what this is, we don’t want to listen, to see, to meet. We close up.
So, what do I do now, as a member of this community on a daily basis enjoying the benefits of its diversity in terms of ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, etc or rather what should I do differently?
During the improvisational anti-racism rally in Uppsala on Saturday, I was struck by the words of one of the speakers who encouraged the so-called good ones to look at what believes we hold and operate from on a deeper level. They might not be racist but they often are based on the assumption that can become a ground for it: there is us and there is them. The most friendly Swede will more often than not ask the So-where-do-you-come-from question as soon as they hear their partner in the conversation speaks Swedish with an accent. I certainly got my share of the question earlier and each time wondered if the person realised of the subtle shift of energy created by the friendly and seemingly innocent question. No matter how well-meaning it is, it reminds the person they come from outside and from then on the conversation can take a new direction where the person is a representative of a certain culture and our perceptions about it.
Likewise, those of us who found their new home in Sweden, often turn to generalisations about the culture we find ourselves in. Coming from different parts of the world, we find comfort in complaining to one another about “the cold and hard to get to know Swedes”. While it might feel good for a while and create a sense of unity with other immigrants and expats, this reinforces the image of the Swedish culture, homogenous and well-defined, signalling that we are nothing like them. Wait a second! How do we contribute to a warmer and more open society talking to one another about them? Are we not forgetting that we, too, are part of it now? Your olive-green eyes, dark skin and all the stories you carry about your experience of being a stranger in many countries, her vitality and feeling for rhythm that shows even in the way she walks, my “crazy Russian spontaneity”, his kinky bossa nova in the dark autumn night – they are now all part of the Swedish culture, even though we don’t know it yet. Everything changes with you being here. Details matter. We cannot be separate from something we enrich with our very being. It is time to start paying attention to what it is we are inspired by being part of this melting pot. Anything? Ok, if you drop by for a cup of tea, I will start…