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NORWAY AND SWEDEN

‘Party Swedes, go home’: Do Swedish immigrants get a bad rep in Norway?

They might be close neighbours with a seemingly shared culture and identity, but Swedish immigrants have not always found it easy to settle in Norway, and have often been the butt of jokes and even abuse, explains Xander Brett.

Pictured is a Swedish and Norwegian flag side by side.
Do Swedish immigrants in Norway receive a tough welcome, or is it just friendly banter. Pictured is a Norwegian and Swedish flag side by side. Photo by Petter Bernsten/ AFP.

In May 2008, a wall on St Olavs gate street, Oslo, was graffitied. Scrawled across it, the words: ‘Partysvensker go home!’. The slogan, asking ‘party Swedes’ to leave Norway, played with neo-Nazi chants of the 1980s and 90s.

But, with free movement of people and a shared Nordic identity, Swedes in Norway had a history of being treated as ‘different immigrants’, or often simply not as immigrants at all.

The slogan, therefore, was generally interpreted as something benign and humorous. That was until a later addition to the wall, in 2009, that asked, ‘men Norge är ju svenskt?’ (But isn’t Norway Swedish anyway?’).

Rebecca Jafari, writing for Norwegian tabloid Dagsavisen, picked up on the debate. ‘They work hard,’ she wrote, ‘are service minded, rarely engage in crime, and pay taxes. Yet Swedes are subject to bullying by their neighbours.’

In 2014, the problems faced by some young Swedish immigrants in Norway were depicted by director Ronnie Sandahl, who named his latest feature film Svenskjævel (Swedish Devil).

The movie follows 23-year-old Dino as she arrives in Oslo to seek a life of affluence and happiness, only to be thrown into a cycle of odd jobs and partying.

It was a journey that seemed to document the life of an archetypal ‘partysvensk’, and it was held up as an example of the treatment awaiting young Swedes moving over the border.

By the late 2000s, Swedes had grown to be Norway’s second largest immigrant community (after Poles). The unique combination of high youth unemployment back home, versus a strong labour market further west, saw them flood into higher salaried jobs from hospitality to engineering.

At the same time, Norwegians continued to flock the other way, heading over the border to take advantage of Sweden’s low prices. Travelling along the border, the vast supermarkets are clear to see, erected just a few kilometres into Swedish territory, their car parks full of Norwegian registration plates.

Academic Ida Tolgensbakk wrote a 2015 study that examined how young Swedish workers were treated on arrival in Norway. She says the term ‘partysvensker’ is generally used more humorously than other immigrant chants, but that doesn’t mean everyone on the receiving end finds it fun.

“Some find it funny,” she tells The Local, “interpreting it as a sign of equality and closeness. Others find it stigmatising and racist.”

Tolgensbakk based her research on interviews, fieldwork, and a media study. She says Norwegians and Swedes have a long history of mutual jokes dating back to the 1970s.

“Swedes made jokes about Norwegians and vice-versa. However, at that point, there was no significant migration between the two countries, so it was merely neighbourly banter. The meaning changed when one neighbour became a minority in another,” she explains. 

Norway had been independent for years, but there was, perhaps, some lingering unease among Swedes about being the butt of jokes in a country they ruled until 1905.

In 2013, researching for Swedish daily Aftonbladet, journalists Jerker Ivarsson and Victor Stenquist went ‘on location in Oslo to meet Swedish workers aged 20 to 30.

Two-thirds of Swedish immigrants they spoke to had settled in Oslo, and it was to this carefree age group the term ‘partysvensker’ seemed to apply to. However, the then 23-year-old bartender Sarah Thegerström told them ‘partysvensker’ was far from a joke and spoke of the all-too-common bullying experiences of Swedes in her profession (she, apparently, was the victim of frequent anti-Swedish abuse from drunken customers herself).

Writing for Nyheter 24, meanwhile, Haviet Kok was in Norway when he took a phone call from his landlord. Kok says he was harassed by a Norwegian passer-by who had heard his Swedish accent and swore and pleaded that he and his compatriots cross back over the border.

Despite their infrequency, Tolgensbakk, author of the 2015 report, admits these experiences are far from non-existent. Many of the respondents to her study found it difficult to get to know their Norwegian neighbours, and she says they were often naïve in their belief that their culture was identical.

“If you look at the three Scandinavian nations from abroad,” she tells The Local, “you’d think we’re the same country: our histories are intertwined, our languages mutually intelligible. But when you get up close, there are noticeable pegs that separate us. We have our own peculiarities, and that can be confusing if you expect everything to be the same.”

For his part, migration researcher Jan Horgen Friberg says that in the social hierarchy of Norway’s immigrant groups, Swedes are at the top. “Although they may face negative stereotypes,” he says to The Local, “I think the term ‘racism’ is drawing it way too far.”

Along with reports of jokes, banter, even abuse, and struggles to settle in – which are not just limited to Swedes in Norway, there are, of course, many positive experiences of Swedes moving across the border.

Tea Lovcalic, who moved to Norway from Lund in southern Sweden, is perhaps just one of many Swedes who settle smoothly into life in Norway.

She says she felt included straight away.

“The experience was positive and welcoming, both in the workplace and out.”

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IMMIGRATION

Politics in Sweden: The migration paradigm shift we need isn’t the one we’re getting

Malfunctioning bureaucracy at the Migration Agency is the single biggest hurdle to Sweden's ability to attract international talent – and yet it receives shockingly little attention in the political debate, writes The Local's editor Emma Löfgren.

Politics in Sweden: The migration paradigm shift we need isn't the one we're getting

Earlier this month, the Migration Agency in a press release cheered that it had been able to shorten the processing time for receiving Swedish citizenship last year.

It felt rather like the passively polite automated voice in a phone queue. “You are number 10,549 in the queue. Thank you for waiting. Your call is important to us.”

Because although cutting the median waiting time from 330 to 256 days is a step forward, it’s not good enough.

Elsewhere on its website, the agency regularly updates the current expected waiting times for cases to be processed (based not so much on the actual expected waiting time, because such an estimate does not exist, but instead on the maximum time that 75 percent of “recent applicants” had to wait for a decision).

At the time of writing, they show that if you’re applying for citizenship, you may have to wait 40 months, an increase of one month since September 2022.

If you’re a doctoral student applying for your first permit, five months. Renewing your permit, six months. Applying for permanent residency? Congratulations, 14 months.

If you’re a work permit holder renewing your permit, brace yourself for a wait of anything between half a year to almost two years, depending on which industry you work in and whether or not your employer is certified with the Migration Agency.

Run your own business? Get comfortable, you’ll be in the queue for 28 months.

Thank you for waiting. Your call is important to us.

Meanwhile, several industries are crying out for workers.

The booming tech scene – the crowning glory of modern Sweden – will have a shortage of 25,000 game developers in ten years if the industry’s current growth rate continues, according to a recent report by the Swedish Games Industry and the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth.

Yet getting your foot on the ladder has become near-impossible after a law change last year, which shortened work permits for trial periods from two years to six months. This means the applicant might still be waiting for a renewed permit when their existing one runs out, and risks losing the right to work, they argue.

Squeezed out before their career in Sweden has even begun.

“The processing times are so long and the permit times so short that the [Migration Agency] can’t keep up. (…) If the current situation is not resolved, Sweden’s entire image is threatened and it will be harder for companies to recruit staff to the country,” they continue, calling for simplified rules and automated processes.

In a new opinion piece for the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, the chair of SULF – the trade union for people working in academia – writes about highly qualified researchers who simply packed their bags and quit Sweden after being stuck in a never-ending loop of permit bureaucracy.

One was rejected after Migration Agency delays meant that once it finally gave them a decision, they no longer had enough time left on their contract to qualify for a permit.

“Sweden’s talent intake is being throttled,” writes SULF chair Sanna Wolk.

There are a few caveats to consider, not least that talent is a strange concept by which to measure people’s worth – awkward at best, dehumanising at worst.

The current right-wing government, and the left-wing government before it, are so busy trying to perform a balancing act of cracking down on some migrants while attracting other migrants, that long processing times gets shockingly little political attention.

There will always be routes for international talent to come to Sweden, they insist. But out of 2,255 applications for a shiny new talent visa since it was launched in June last year, only 20 percent have so far received a decision. Of those, only 10 percent were successful. Polishing the hood doesn’t fix a broken engine. 

And amid all the talk about paradigm shifts, they fail to understand that we exist in the same paradigm. That long waits, language tests, tightened citizenship rules – or even just taking it for granted that people will always want to come to Sweden, no matter how high the barriers – affect most migrants, and affect all who care.

Time and time again, the Parliamentary Ombudsman – the top watchdog in the country – has criticised the Migration Agency’s long processing times, put down both to the agency’s own flawed administration and a lack of resources from the government.

Cutting queues and red tape may not be as politically sexy as cracking down on refugees, not as headline-grabbing a word as paradigm shift. But it’s the single biggest hurdle right now to Sweden’s ability to attract the international talent it claims to need.

In other news

One of Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson’s top aides resigned from his post after it emerged that he had been fined by police for illegally fishing for eels and had twice lied to the authorities about what happened.

In a joint press conference last week, Moderate Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard and Sweden Democrat parliamentary group leader Henrik Vinge announced the campaign, which they hope will discourage refugees from coming to Sweden.

Muharrem Demirok is expected to be voted in as the new leader of the Centre Party at a party conference on Thursday. The newly elected member of parliament and former deputy mayor of Linköping will take over from leader Annie Lööf. Here’s The Local’s guide to why his role matters.

What’s next?

Kristersson has invited the leaders of Sweden’s eight main parties to a meeting at 5pm on Tuesday to discuss national security, in the wake of protests against Sweden in several Muslim countries.

Politics in Sweden is a weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in Swedish politics. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive an email alert when the column is published. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.

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