Sweden now: Leadership Collapse not System Collapse
Right now there are many voices making them heard about the present influx of migrants, be they refugees from the Middle East or something else. What is laid bare is our own almost total unpreparedness and belief that somehow the crisis will abate of its own accord.
The last few days even our government has realized that this is no so. It is easy here to be judgemental and probably unfair; Bundeskanzler Angela Merkel has herself made a 180 degrees turn around and thereby caused a lot of confusion as to Germany’s actual willingness to accept all the migrants now coming in.
So let me say first that it is easy to be judgemental about a situation which was difficult if not impossible to predict not so long ago.
Having said this I still mean that the current situation in Sweden lays bare our current political leadership and by that I mean the current party political leadership. What you see is embarrassing.
In order to understand the current dilemma one has to take into account the existence of a right wing, populist party, the Swedish Democrats, SD, now the third largest party; this is of course the common feature in West European politics these days. The one issue is of course that of immigration and the SD is clear: the influx of immigrants has to be cut down drastically. If you want to help refugees, do so via international organizations in the existing refugee camps (in the Middle East).
The resultant attitude from the rest is to denounce such refugee politics. The litmus test right now has become: you cannot say, “we must cut down on the number of immigrants coming in”. You cannot say that. Yesterday border controls were set up in southern Sweden, checking trains from Copenhagen and ferries from Germany. The Minister of Interior is then asked whether this would mean that fewer people would be allowed to enter. The answer is a given: not at all, but we need to have order and control of what is happening (ordning och reda). This is now the current mantra, ordning och reda, that helps you as a politician to avoid the unutterable (thanks to the politics of the Swedish Democrats) “we have to cut down on the number of refugees coming in”.
However, so far, it is not at all the system that has collapsed, but the leadership, supposed to be. For example, the decision to take up border control was a suggestion coming from “the system”, namely the department of immigration, which has severe difficulties at the moment to manage the situation. On this suggestion the Prime Minister acted.
What we see is a leadership crisis not made any easier due to the governing coalition (Social Democrats and the Green Party) which is a minority government. The Prime Minister, Stefan Löfvén is a very good man, a person with integrity, somebody to trust, has union background. But under the circumstances it is as if he does not know what to do. Caution rules the day and it is a going forwards and backwards, not knowing what is next.
In leadership terminology one has to say that what we see is very little leadership but a lot of attempts at doing management. But it is not enough at this time to just do management. If you do not know where you are going with things, management becomes a very precarious thing. Are you sure you manage the things at hand in the right direction? So leadership is lacking, sorely.
It does not help much looking askance. The opposition is divided like anything. The new leader of the Moderate Party, Anna Kinberg Batra has wanted to be more restrictive on immigration, but could not say it in so many words, but lately there has been a tendency in that direction (as a young politician from Stockholm she had the guts to utter, “Stockholmare är smartare än lantisar”, [ roughly, “Stockholm people are smarter than those from the country”]). The Christian Democrats has a new, very young leader, Ebba Busch-Thor. She cannot really help that she is inexperienced and this is compensated for in different ways. She comes up with, as it seems, ever more conservative suggestions. Two days ago she suggested that immigrants seeking asylum should be confined to a certain area (most likely in the Malmö region in the south) where they would have to stay until their fate was clarified. In a debate with the leader of the Leftist Party (The Socialist Party), Jonas Sjöstedt, the latter retorted, “do you then intend to put up barbed wire around such an area or how are you going to confine them”. Her totally unprepared comment was: “that will be something for the police to sort out”.
The leader of the Liberal Party, Jan Björklund, has been nowhere to be seen or heard. The Centre Party leader, a young woman, Annie Lööf, is gifted and clever and understands a great deal of the dynamics around immigration, has remained completely open to immigration, but focuses on how to get immigrant into work and into responsible citizens as soon as possible.
Finally, Jimmy Åkesson, leader of the Swedish Democrats; we know the mantra: cut down on immigration, drastically. He should be allowed to say this, and it is a fatal mistake not to allow him to take part in the wider discussion in the political arena.
The great problem is not that he and the party say what they say on this issue. The real problem is the grounds on which this is said. Lurking behind the policy is an idea of a pure Swedishness now risking to get lost. It’s about culture, language, looks, history, a nationalistic outlook, etc.
Back to the Social Democrats; why do they not perform? They have been the ruling party during most of the years since Sweden constitutionally became a democracy. They have built the welfare state which is (or was) Sweden. They made sure that a most progressive and fair system of arbitration was instituted between employers and workers (unions). Sweden was one of the first countries in terms of law to make it possible for the unions to be represented on various company boards, etc.
But when it comes to the leadership of the party things have gone awry. Is it because of the sinister infighting that takes place within the party structures each time a new leader is able to be identified? Be that as it may, but the Social Democrats are, still to this day, endowed with very high profile leaders, you look for them and you will find them elsewhere. Those I am thinking of are not of the youngest, but they could still play much of a role. Some examples: Jan Eliasson, still assistant General Secretary of the United Nations, Margot Wallström, current Minister of Foreign Affairs (could play a much more decisive role as Prime Minister), some now retired diplomats, but who could still play an important role in the present crisis, like Sten Rylander and Anders Oljelund.
So where is the leadership in Sweden right now to be found? In the political arena? Not really. I am looking toward the church, not least the Church of Sweden. We have after all an Archbishop in Uppsala. That, if anything, is a leadership position, an ideal position for someone with experience to be able to speak to, not only the nation-wide and world-wide church but also a stage, from which to address the nation as such.We are looking toward the still quite new Archbishop Antje Jackelén, who grew up in Germany and thus a person who could or should have rapport with a leader like Angela Merkel. But I cannot hear anything coming from her side. It is very silent…