If there’s one topic dominating public debate in the days leading up to Sweden’s parliamentary elections, it’s a rather unusual one: violence. Although we are used to the idea of Scandinavia as a peaceful and calm region, according to official statistics, 2022 is on track to become the most violent year for Sweden in decades.
Just weeks ago, in mid-August, a woman was shot dead by a gunman outside a supermarket in the southern city of Malmö, in what police said was likely the victim of an assassination attempt on a rival drug-trafficking gang.
Just a few days later, in a suburb of the city of Eskilstuna in the central part of the country, a woman and her young child were hit by stray bullets in a playground during a shootout between rival gangs.
The problem in Sweden right now is that these are not just isolated cases, and the country is getting used to such news. Crime there has progressively increased over the past few years, with drugs, arms trafficking and other such activities becoming significantly more prevalent.
And if until recently it was believed that this kind of crime was limited only to certain regions and ghettos, now, thanks in part to the media noise and the resonance of the topic in the election campaign, the fear is felt more strongly.
Days after the shooting by the children’s playground in the Eskilstuna suburb of Erby, the place is deserted despite the fine, sunny weather – one of the last summer days of the year.
“We are terrified to be here. This is not the first time there has been a shooting in this area,” a young mother who lives nearby told Politico. She is afraid to let her child play in the playground as the place has actually become unsafe.
There is currently a territory of one of the local gangs that sell drugs. According to the police, this group is currently in an open war with another similar gang, which is located in a nearby suburb – Shkiftige.
What began as a territorial dispute now involves gunfights, bombings and other outbreaks of violence as locals try to live peacefully and stay out of these conflicts – something that is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve .
Car explosions are not uncommon in Malmö’s poorer suburbs
Local police chief Mikael Backman told the media a day after the shooting that just a week earlier his officers had confiscated “half a dozen” guns and arrested six people.
“We are coordinating resources from all over the country. But the problems are so serious right now that it is difficult for us to cope because we have to prioritize so many serious crimes at the same time,” explains Backman.
And crime statistics as of mid-August show what he means. From the beginning of the year to mid-August, 44 people were shot and another 66 were injured in Sweden. For comparison, for the whole of 2021, a total of 45 people were shot and 115 were injured
The capital Stockholm has seen the highest rate of deaths from firearms incidents, with 21 since the start of 2022. Another 11 were recorded in Malmö, and at least one more such death in each of the seven regions that make up a Scandinavian country – something that many still find hard to believe given how peaceful a country Sweden was until very recently.
Experts note that in this respect, Sweden is starting to stand out from the general background in Europe, as shootings increase, while elsewhere such outbreaks of gang violence generally decline and remain stable.
This new reality in Sweden is already challenging art. Recently, the series Snabba Cash appeared on Netflix, which gathered quite positive reviews. The series tells about the life of the drug gangs in Stockholm, showing a ruthless face of the underworld in the city. There, violence is a daily occurrence and life is often too short.
“The new trend we’re seeing now is that criminals are now shooting to kill. That’s one of the reasons this year looks to be the worst so far,” explained Mane Gehrel, associate professor of criminology at Malmö University in an interview on national television. SVT.
According to experts, one of the main problems in suburbs like Erby that give rise to crime is the creation of an environment of poverty and lack of opportunity for social mobility.
Uppsala University social process researcher Michael Ternfalk commented to SVT that high levels of immigration in recent years have led to increased segregation in some suburbs, making them socially and economically vulnerable.
According to him, in such places, many of the migrants do not speak Swedish well or even at all, and their ties to the local migrant communities are too strong, which prevents them from socializing, but also from monitoring how their children are developing at school. The children themselves are surrounded by poverty in gang-dominated areas.
Police action in Sweden after a shooting in Malmö.
All of this puts young people at greater risk of being lured by one gang or another with the promise of easy money from the drug trade. In such neighborhoods, dealers are the ones who can afford to wear expensive clothes and drive expensive cars.
This is what also fuels crime with a huge amount of young soldiers who are easy to manipulate and can just as easily be replaced if they die or go to prison.
The topic has logically become a major point of contention in the political debates ahead of the 9/11 parliamentary elections. As conservative opposition leaders are trying to capitalize on the shooting scandal and the topic of crime, they are pushing for tighter controls and tougher punishments.
Meanwhile, however, Björn Larsson, a local MP from the ruling Social Democrats in Eskilstuna, has a different take on the subject.
He commented that the municipality has invested significantly in social services and programs aimed at keeping young people away from a life of crime and directing them to more productive pursuits.
However, according to him, there is a need at the moment for a broad change in attitude in society itself, so that the country can deal with the problem of gangs.
Thus, according to Larson, those middle-class people who use drugs should realize that the money they give for cocaine or amphetamines goes to finance the gangs that are at the root of this violence. He also commented that teachers and social workers have a key role, whose job it is to reach troubled teenagers, showing them a future outside of crime.
A community center and library already operate in Erby, offering, among other things, childcare and job search support, but Larson says “there will be no easy solutions.”
Changing the outlook for young people in places like Erby will take time, he said. However, for the locals, time is a luxury they don’t have.
And young parents are looking for ways to move out of the region and find a new home as quickly as possible. Because gang dens like that are just no place to raise your child.