The Intercultural Approach to Counter an Anti-Immigrant Mood in Sweden

 

Katarina Berggren, Mayor of BotkyrkaOn 1-8 July 2012 the traditional Almedalen political week (Almedalsveckan) took place in the city of Visby on the Gotland Island in Sweden. The event owes its name to the Almedalen park in Visby where in 1968 Olof Palme, then the leader of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, held his first speech from a truck. Since 1982 the Almedalen week has become a regular annual practice, bringing together major political parties, lobbyists, journalists and civil society leaders. All the democratically elected political parties have one day each to stage debate, which is decided by a lottery. In 2011 alone some 14,000 individuals attended the Almedalen week and 1,476 events were held. The figures were even higher in 2012, when, as every year, the event organisers had to face stiff competition for an audience and media attention, putting the most burning issues on their agendas.

 

On July 1 the highly diverse Swedish municipality of Botkyrka (Stockholm county), a member of the Intercultural Cities (ICC) programme since 2008, organised a workshop to promote the intercultural approach to integration. The choice of the day was not purely symbolic: it coincided with the day raffled by the Sweden Democrats, a party genuinely opposed to immigration and open borders within Europe. Botkyrka thus aimed to present an their alternative view and intercultural strategy which would contribute to sustainable and discrimination-free urban development. On the other hand, Botkyrka intended to influence migration-related debate in the upcoming week and to prevent the Sweden Democrats from setting an anti-immigrant mood in Almedalen.

 

With this in mind, prior to the workshop, two opinion articles appeared in Swedish national and local newspapers. Botkyrka also issued an eight-step toolkit inspired by the ICC Step-by-Step Guide discussing how to start shaping intercultural commitment at the city level. Several municipal departments invested their time and efforts in preparing the workshop.

 

At the workshop, Ms Katarina Berggren, Mayor of Botkyrka, clearly stated her municipality commitment to intercultural development. Mr. Jimmy Baker, chairman of the Moderate Partyís Botyrka branch, dedicated his speech to being Swedish and discussed the forthcoming opening of a UNESCO centre in Botkyrka. Ms Helena Rojas, coordinator of the ICC programme in Botkyrka, highlighted current priorities of the municipal intercultural strategy, such as transforming existing public spaces into intercultural, promoting conflict prevention and fostering interaction between rich and poor districts of Stockholm with different diversity levels by running youth-related projects. Particular focus was put on the need to further the intercultural approach to other cities in Sweden and beyond, with the idea of establishing a North European network of intercultural cities.

 

Botkyrkaís workshop attracted a considerable audience of politicians, including the Sweden Democrats, journalists and NGOs. Its extensive media coverage in national press, social networks and on the radio exceeded the expectations of the organisers.

 

Christina Baglai