This is a picture from Villa Serrana, where I have spent the last few days. Villa Serrana is a little village in Uruguay, where there does not seem to be any internet. In any case, I have spent these days in the wonderful company of cows, hens, beautiful nature, a beautiful woman, and a calming detoxification of the rapid information flow that comes with the internet. This has been wonderful, but now I am back in Montevideo again, and – after reading up on some of the latest news – I feel the urge to put my own thoughts into the mix regarding some of the recent news in Sweden that has concerned illegal immigrants. I will do that by zooming out a little bit from the details, by comparing to the situation here in Argentina/Uruguay where there is still free immigration, and by reflecting on the whole “can we actually afford this?” question.
Picture by me, March 2013.
Let’s just start with a short little recap of what has happened in the news lately, regarding immigration in Sweden. Ever since the nationalistic and anti-immigration profiled party Sverigedemokraterna (SD) entered the Swedish parliament, in 2010, Sweden has followed in the footsteps of the other European countries where this has happened: first there was a widespread condemnation by all conventional parties, then a slow acceptance of the new state-of-affairs but not any actual “debating the issues”, a continued growth of SD, which has then finally made some of the other parties copy aspects of their profile, and also they become more immigration-hostile. This is sort of where we are today, since some few months back. And this change of policy puts the associated ministers in the spotlight, since they are the ones who have to carry these policies through, and answer to critique that follows. First the minister of justice, Beatrice Ask, was in focus in the recent debate article “Bästa Beatrice”, which argued against REVA, a political project to increase the hunting-down of illegal immigrants by increasing the number of public checks of ordinary citizen going about their ordinary lives. This article makes use of personal stories in a beautiful and compelling fashion, and in just a few days it became one of the most read articles ever written in Sweden. The second minister in spot light is the migration minister, Tobias Billström. He was found saying that the people hiding illegal immigrants are not the nice blue-eyed friendly women you think they are, but typically landsmen of the immigrants – a racist statement by definition.
Although I think that these recent statements and events are interesting and important reflections of where we are, I do feel a strong reluctancy to go into mobs of condemnation of individual statements and persons - because this easily leads to a worse and more afraid-of-doing-wrong public discourse - and I will therefore try to deal with the bigger picture. I will do that by first comparing a little bit with the situation in Argentina and Uruguay, where I am currently enjoying life. As I wrote earlier, these countries are much younger and more alive democracies, and they are also in a completely different situation regarding immigration: in Argentina it is spelled-out in the constitution that immigration is free for all, and it still seems to be the case that anybody can become an Argentinian citizen within less than a year. Sweden also had a free immigration until the 1970s, where after it was abolished, and now the current consensus is that we couldn’t possibly afford it. Even with this being the case, there is still (at least in Uruguay, which is very similar to Argentina in many ways) a public unemployment benefit for all, without the checks and expulsion strategies that we are increasingly introducing in Sweden.
The preamble to Argentinas constitution, picture from Wikipedia.
There are of course many complicating factors that I do not mention in this comparison (Argentina anyway has many undocumented immigrants, and the pressure to go to Sweden is probably much higher than to go to Argentina, etc), but it still puts the current debates in a different light. Is it really such an impossible thing to open the borders to Sweden? (e.g. Gustav Fridolin has argued that it would be possible) Where should the money be taken from? Many of the illegal immigrants are people who have been denied citizenship in Sweden, after a more or less careful asylum process; is it really ok to allow them to stay anyway? Won’t such a system create a shadow society, where people live with half-rights, and easily become exploited?
I do not
have the answers to all of these things. But I do agree with the above
mentioned debate article saying that “we know that a person never can be illegal, and that something needs to be done when uniforms spread insecurity, and the Law turns against its own citizen”. And when I read up on
organisations like “No man is illegal”, they say things like: “a person has no more
rights to live in a country just because he is born there”, and also these
statements just seem so right to me. They just feel right. And, also when looking at the state today, I think that
it has become so dysfunctional. Let's therefore just remind ourselves of another recent example on that, from the
news today. Politicians and public institutions are today spending more money on
media-training to face a nosy reporter working on a case than the same reporter
has access to, when working on that case. I think that the only media-training you should get as a public employee is to “tell
the truth, and if something you say is bad – we will help you fix the system you are working within” - and the current millions spent on media-training money should then be spent on
that: fixing the system.
When being in nature, as this one I have just visited in Uruguay, it becomes apparent that all borders are artificial. Let us work towards a global society where these borders just are aids for administration, and where no man dies because of them. Picture by me.
So, to sum up. Regarding the specific situations of the two ministers Beatrice Ask and Tobias Billström, I think that it is high time for us to say "enough", and ask for their firing: if not now, then in the next election. However, these are just symptoms. Regarding the more important question of "can we afford a more humane politics?", I say: with such a dysfunctional state and public
scrutiny system, with enormous amounts of money going into averting a
dysfunctional economic system leading to a potential economic collapse, I think
that we should take some time – if that is indeed necessary economically – to reduce
the state, to make it more agile and functional again, and build up and support
our own systems where people help each other directly. And with respect to the
fears of a shadow society, I say: even though it may not be possible to now directly
go back to a state of free immigration, and to grant instant asylum to all
illegal immigrants, I think that the dangers with an institutionalized shadow
society is of less importance than the vision of a society where all humans are
being treated as humans. So, please, let us strengthen and support – not work
against – empathy-driven organizations like “No man is illegal”, trying to help
the most down-trodden of our fellow human beings. And then, let us deal with
the global and structural inequalities that are truly at root of all of these
issues. Once this is done, free movement between all countries will be the next
logical step. Let us never stop imagining this being possible.