Immigration sparks global controversy these days.In the US it's a flashpoint for politicians.European Union countries flail between denouncing the overcrowding in refugee camps in Greece or Sicily and warning that their country cannot absorb more immigrants.Meanwhile, the flood of immigrants heads to northern Europe believing that their lives will be better in Germany or Sweden.
When Leslie and I were writing Jewish Luck, we never lost sight of our immigrant beginnings. Most of all, we felt grateful that our grandparents left Russia before the Great War at a time when the US had an open door policy for European immigrants.Tsarist Russia displayed no intention of blocking emigration while the great harbor cities like Gdansk (Danzig) flourished as ships plied the Atlantic, their bellies filled with immigrants.
Alisa's emigration from the USSR to Sweden in 1986 was a well-contrived deception.When her ship docked in Stockholm, she had no idea what kind of welcome she'd encounter. As it happened, Swedes were no longer opening their arms wide to Russian immigrants despite their well-developed programs for assimilating new immigrants into Swedish society. Alisa managed to navigate the absorption system, but found little acceptance and warmth among Swedes.
While some of us may have an image of Sweden built on the reputation of the likes of Raoul Wallenberg, Sweden's acceptance of "the other" is much more complicated.To understand the pressures within Swedish society, I recommend Aleksandra Ålund and Carl-Ulrik Schierup's study, Paradoxes of Multiculturalism published in 1996. Although currently out of print, it is still available in university libraries. These essays were written between 1986-1990 and published almost twenty years ago, so this study helped me understand the world Alisa encountered when she settled in Sweden.Many of the issues tackled in Paradoxes of Multiculturalism have only intensified in the current world of desperate refugees fleeing war in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa who view Sweden as a haven. Currently Sweden counts about 20% of its population as foreign born with the percentage rising.
Ålund and Schierup trace Swedish policy towards immigrants from 1975. At that time multiculturalism became an important underpinning of Swedish state policy. Swedish law offered benefits to all who immigrated to work in Sweden. Unlike guest workers in other countries, "labor imports" in Sweden had the right to vote in local elections as well as receive Swedish benefits. Swedes referred to the rest of Europe as "Fortress Europe" disdaining their anti-immigrant ideas and Europe's push for Sweden to curtail its liberal policies.The authors describe a more racist Sweden by 1996. In February 1990 an article appeared in the Dagens Nyheter challenging the Swedish slogan coined in 1989, "refugees as a resource," and expressed Swedes' preference for eastern Europeans over Third World refugees to fill the Swedish labor pool.
The nine essays in this compact book (192 pages) deal with topics that are still germane to today's immigration crisis from the Swedish view that all have a "duty to work" to the chapter that outlines the "puzzle of a trans-ethnic society."
Like all Swedes today, Ålund and Schierup continue to wrestle with issues raised by the vast, global movement of refugees.They are professors and researchers at The Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society - REMESO - at Linköping University. Urban justice movements have been Ålund's research area since 2014. Schierup's current focus is international collaborative research on migration and ethnic issues.
Fortunately, for English speakers, many of their articles are available in English through JSTOR. One of the most recent analyzes the shift in Swedish attitudes towards refugees.Published in July 2011 in the journal Race and Class (volume 53, Issue 1) the article is entitled The End of Swedish Exceptionalism.Citizenship, Neo-liberalism, and the Politics of Exclusion. Alisa's experience in Sweden helped us understand one person's heartaches immigrating and assimilating to Sweden. .Scholars like Ålund and Schierup enable us to move beyond the personal and the crisis news to understand the issues and the depth of the struggles on all sides to cope with a world in chaos.
Ålund, Aleksandra and Schierup, Carl-Ulrik.Paradoxes of Multiculturalism
Brookfield, VT: Gower Publishing Company, 1996.