Maybe it was too early on a Sunday and everyone was still in bed. The streets were dead quiet, occasionally enlivened by a solitary pedestrians shoes thudding on the ground.
I was out of the beautiful old town of Malmö, it seemed almost like I had stepped into another reality. In place of historical landmarks and cultural hotspots were nondescript buildings and forgotten industries. In barely 15 minutes I had left a charming old town and entered a charmless district.
A sense of despair washed over my erstwhile excitement. The district seemed run down and tired, no where near the Sweden we tend to see on television or in documentaries. It didn’t help that the buildings donned the depressing, drab and dull designs of 1970s functionalism – an architectural travesty. It seemed like all the life was sucked out of this place – “how is this still Sweden?”
I had arrived at south Rosengård. This was considered part of the most dangerous part of all Sweden. The southern part of this district had one of the highest crime rates in Sweden, was the site of violent crime, riots in 2008, accounted for half of all Sweden’s summer car burnings in 2016 and is known to have been home to some suspected terrorists (e.g. Osama Krayem). After two years of listening to critics raise this up as a example of “how far Sweden had fallen” and police claim it as a problem of economics leading to crime, like the independent journalist Tim Pool did, I decided to see and decide for myself.
I continued on, apart from checking out the district there was also something I was looking for. My legs soon brought me into a regular looking housing district, regular service had resumed.
Or so it seemed.
Out from the corner of my sight, I spied a pair of eyes peer from the window, eyeing me up and down suspiciously, the vibe turning intermittently from suspicion to warning – “don’t get crazy, I’m watching you.” It would not have been a sentiment out of place, Rosengård in Malmö has been hit with a crime. And the people who live in Rosengård, like all people everywhere would treat a tall, unfamiliar male with a hoodie over his face (in my defence, it was cold, the hoodie had to come up) as a potential threat to them.
Rosengård’s reputation spread in December of 2008 (close to exactly a decade ago), when a group of youths rioted against the closure of a mosque. The mosque was housed within an Islamic Centre and the landlord had decided not to extend the lease of the leasees, while the adults handed over the keys a collection of angry youths occupied the basement and refused to move out of the building for three weeks. The police were called in to clear the occupiers and violence broke out between the police and these protestors (who were supported by far-left groups). Private property of innocent bystanders became collateral damage and A group of 200 adults eventually organised themselves to mediate and bring an end to the violent standoff.
The critics seemed to be right, things were bad in Rosengård, only they are a few decades late. Since its creation, Rosengård has always been an economically depressed working class district. It was completed in the 1970s as part of the Million Programme, a government incentive scheme to build a million houses in a decade.
Like most Million Programme housing, which helped the lower income especially get houses, the Million Programme’s completion in Rosengård allowed many workers from rural Sweden to move to Malmö to take up jobs in the shipping and manufacturing sector. They move in during the boom and barely had time to fill the residential areas in Rosengård when the Swedish economy went bust a few years later and Malmö’s economy tanked for a few decades.
The empty houses were then assigned to immigrant and refugee families who moved to Sweden for a better life. Many first from Finland, Eastern and Central Europe and later Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iran and now the Syria/Iraq/Afghanistan. By 1974, 18% of the population had an immigrant background. As of 2012, 86% of the population had an immigrant background. A study concluded that while immigration was a co-driver of the massive change in demographics, a significant driver of this was the phenomenon was the consequent avoidance/low in-migration rate of ethnic Swedes into these areas. The difference in Rosengård is stark. On the southern side, I saw shops with arabic on the sign, selling halal meats and barely a ethnic Swede in sight, cross the road to the north side and I saw supermarkets selling produce like I would in the majority of Sweden.
But whats really going on in these places? Tim Pool interviewed a few locals in Rosengård and another vulnerable area – Rinkeby, Stockholm trying to understand the situation from the residents mouth (rather than the politicians or activists), check out the other video in Rinkeby below and decide for yourself.
The movement of people out of district also follows class distinctions as those with financial resources move out first while those without move later. This inadvertently creates an income segregation of districts, of which Rosengård comes out at the bottom. Lower socioeconomic status and unemployment are key factors behind many social problems and that is what districts like Rosengård and Sofielund are. It’s not incidental that the districts with a high number of immigrants will end up less well integrated into the social fabric and economic life of Swedish society, thereby finding it more difficult to get out of the lower socioeconomic trap.
But there is another side to this story. That is the story of people making their way out of a vicious circle when the odds are against them. There is the story of people who have indeed benefitted from arriving in Sweden, the story of Yalla Trappan for example – women from the Middle East who grew up with no education, not allowed to work not allowed a place in a true patriarchy, given an opportunity to work and study and become part of a full society.
As this article from The Local shows, there are many untold, non-dramatic stories of people trying to improve the situation in Rosengård. They almost never make it to the news because, drama sells – violence sells, sex sells. Stories of things getting better don’t. The english translation of Rosengård however is Rose manor. Rosengård may be full of thorns, but there are still roses to be seen, its the rose we usually can’t see.
Rosengård may only be 4km from the city centre, but it feels a world away, that’s because it is. People are trying to make things better, but things are not fine and dandy, far from it; having said that Rosengård is not an earthly inferno and hell on display. Do solutions need to be found? Yes.
I had reached what I was looking for. The suspicious eye that followed me had determined that I was no threat.
I had reached Zlatan’s Court.
(continued in the next post)
ON THE MAP