(Translation of Jörgen Huitfeldt chronicle in Kvartal)
There is something that does not work with the claim of responsibility in Sweden. It is a common thread that runs all the way from the politician who in vague words says what needs to be done without ensuring that it is done, to the authority that fails in its core mission without anyone reacting, on to the media that all too often makes a big deal of insignificant details but misses the whole, to the citizen who sleeps on the TV couch and thus lets those responsible get away, to the criminal who is not allowed to fully bear the consequences of his socially harmful actions. My suspicion is that this is connected with a widespread unwillingness – even out of fear – to act authoritatively.
Being authoritative should not be confused with being authoritarian. According to Max Weber’s definition, authority is “power based on voluntary submission by those who obey.” In pure Swedish, to use the legitimate mandate that the leadership role entails. The society that is afraid to act with authority has the same role towards the citizens as the so-called curling parent gets in their family. The one who tries to bring up and raise with the help of tips and advice at the same level as the child. The parent who may, in wrapped words, say what the child is not allowed to do, but when the child then still does it never lets it face any real consequences. The child becomes insecure, frustrated and unable to distinguish between what is right and wrong.
In Sweden, we have learned that anything that smells like authority is bad. At the same time, those who have the leadership role – for example the responsibility to govern the country, lead an opposition or maintain law and order – have a mission. If they do not fulfill that task with authority, if a government, for example in a national crisis, is first unclear about what to do (and who should do it) and then points to someone else when things go wrong, if an opposition first stands behind all decisions a government makes in the crisis and then with a decision in hand to judge the same decision, or if the police who are set to maintain law and order do common cause with protesters who break the law – who are the ones most affected ?
Ultimately, it is about protecting society’s most worthy of protection through this authority: the elderly, the children, the sick – in general, those who lack the ability to protect and defend themselves.
The leadership role, laws and rules that must be exercised and defended with authority are there to protect us from what Thomas Hobbes called the State of Nature: Where “everyone’s war against all” prevails and where human life is “lonely, poor, dirty, animalistic and short”. Ultimately, it is about protecting society’s most worthy of protection through this authority: the elderly, the children, the sick – in general, those who lack the ability to protect and defend themselves.
Let me illustrate this with a slightly longer exposition, a story from reality: An acquaintance of mine, we can call him Stefan, has his almost 90-year-old mother, “Eva”, living in a district just outside Stockholm city center. He visits her often and makes sure she is well. But despite her advanced age, she still manages much of the daily chores herself. She has lived there for almost six decades and has always felt safe and secure. One day in March, she did as always does. She tied her sneakers and put on her jacket to go out on her usual two-kilometer round in the lush green area near the house. In her purse she put a five hundred bill beside a twenty who were already lying there. She then stuffed purses and keys to her home in a small purse and set off. On the way home, she passed the mall and decided to go into the grocery store to buy milk and some other things that she paid for in cash.
What she did not notice were the two men in their 25s who watched her in the store and then followed her through the mall. When she entered the elevator that goes up to the exit that leads to her home, she was joined by the men. Shortly before she arrived at the gate, just after taking the keys out of her purse to open the door, she was assaulted. The two men pushed her and tore off her bag. Shocked by the assault, she shouted, “Help, help I have been robbed, help me…” but no one heard her.
This happens in almost all societies. Unfortunately. Unscrupulous criminals exploit a person’s helplessness. But what separates a functioning society from others is what happens next. Or perhaps rather what will be the end result of society’s intervention.
Because Stefan’s reflection after what his mother happened to is that everyone involved initially did exactly what they could to do the right thing and to help her. This is how he describes it in an email to me:
The police interrogated her kindly, carefully and thoughtfully with regard to the shock she was in. The security guards who work in the shopping center immediately produced pictures from the surveillance cameras that showed how everything happened. The pictures were spread to some of the store owners in the mall who could immediately identify one of the perpetrators and called the police. The other is still at large.
A helpful legal representative contacted my mother a few days later and told me it was time for a trial. She herself found much of what was happening around her difficult. Some were even a little difficult to understand. She hears poorly and the language is incomprehensible. But I helped her so that it all flowed smoothly. During the trial, the court contented itself with receiving her testimony by telephone, but at the same time explained that if it bothered her too much, she did not have to testify in court. The perpetrator, who is a citizen of Romania, was sentenced to six months in prison and his mother was entitled to SEK 5,000 for violation. The value of the bag, the worn purse and the cash amounted to SEK 800. Everything was over in five days.
Something is not right
Here, the story of Stefan and his almost 90-year-old mother’s experience could end. But for Stefan, it’s something that is not right. In a few months, the perpetrator (after the period of detention and one third of the sentence has been deducted) is free again and can continue to support himself through crime. For Stefan’s mother, on the other hand, life will never be the same again. She is constantly afraid to go out alone. In the beginning Stefan went with her, now she dares a little more. But she is afraid that the men, or someone else, will attack her again and does not understand why a Romanian citizen who neither works nor studies in Sweden should be allowed to stay in the country after robbing an elderly person. With her tax money, which she has always paid, and still pays on her pension, she is indirectly responsible for the perpetrator’s subsistence, food and employment in a Swedish institution – something she perceives as unfair. And getting the indemnity she was awarded turns out to be a long way for Eva.
The group will take care of him even though he has committed a crime which – if it had been committed against an elderly person in his own circle – would have been considered heinous.
Since the Romanian citizen is neither written in Sweden nor owns anything here, she is forced into a bureaucratic carousel that, according to Stefan, she would never have managed without his help. Neither the insurance company, the Crime Victim Compensation Authority nor the Enforcement Officer can initially help her get the money that the court considers she is entitled to.
Stefan wants to know more about the men who hang out in the mall, two of whom assaulted his mother. He talks to some guards who have worked in the area for many years and who know the group that the men belong to. According to their experience, the perpetrator, who is known as an abusive petty criminal by both the guards and the businessmen in the area, has nothing to worry about when he comes out. The group will take care of him even though he has committed a crime which – if it had been committed against an elderly person in his own circle – would have been considered heinous. Yes, he probably would have been expelled from the community if not worse, the guards say.
Why, then, must a foreign citizen who lacks decent employment in Sweden remain in the country despite having been convicted of assaulting an elderly woman? The free movement of the EU makes it impossible to do anything about it. It’s about legal certainty, Stefan is told. But for him it is not an argument.
– If it is legally certain that people who have nothing to do in Sweden can still be here and at the same time attack Swedish citizens in different ways, then there is something wrong with the rule of law, he says.
So is Eva’s right not to be afraid when she pursues such a fundamental interest in society?
In June 2019, Minister of Justice Morgan Johansson received a written parliamentary question from the Moderates as to why more EU / EEA citizens are not deported after a crime. The Minister of Justice replied that as the legislation now looks with regard to deportation in the event of a crime in general, it is required that the crime leads to imprisonment and that it can be assumed that the person in question may be guilty of continued crime in Sweden.
Applicable EU / EEA citizens are also required to ensure that the offender’s conduct constitutes a genuine, factual and sufficiently serious threat to a fundamental public interest.
Hopeless call for deportation
So is Eva’s right not to be afraid when she pursues such a fundamental interest in society? No, not according to Södertörn District Court. Not even according to the prosecutor who did not even demand deportation. The current prosecutor has quit, so I call a colleague of hers to ask why they do not demand deportation in a case like this.
– The rules for deportation of EU citizens are much stricter than for non-EU citizens, he says. In addition, one wants to cope with this type of simple case quickly and preparing a claim for deportation requires a lot of time and energy.
Time that is also pointless to spend because the courts rarely go along that line. As for a crime with a penalty of six months in prison, it would be completely hopeless, he believes.
Stefan, who is himself a child of immigrants (both his mother and his father were born abroad) believes that this is one of the major problems with the integration and growth of what are called parallel legal systems. In the email to me he writes:
One can have many opinions about the norms that exist within some immigrant groups. Honor culture, an outdated view of women, the racism that it means that others, who do not belong to the group, are seen as less worthy and legitimate quarries. An internal oppression within the group with strict demands on what its members may and may not do to enjoy the group’s protection. But in such communities, an 88-year-old woman belonging to the group is not robbed with impunity.
This is in fact a crucial issue in terms of integration, says Stefan. If people who come to live in Sweden are to renounce the protection that the old community, for better or worse, can offer, the alternative must appear attractive. And the alternative, the Swedish system, leaves a lot to be desired. Many of those who commit serious crimes are not prosecuted, those who are prosecuted are sentenced to comparatively lenient punishments. In addition, the authorities are not able to fully protect the citizens who still turn to the police, from reprisals such as threats or violence.
As a common thread throughout the system is the unwillingness to be authoritative, to use the mandate assigned to one in one’s leadership role, to show who simply is in charge.
To reconnect with the question of accountability that began this chronicle: As a common thread throughout the system, the reluctance to be authoritative, to use the mandate assigned in one’s leadership role, to show who decides simply. That mandate also includes clearly taking responsibility for the decisions one has made – or refrained from making – even if the result is not good. But also to ensure that those you lead must bear the consequences of their mistakes. The flip side of the coin is that if leaders are unable to act with authority, it becomes unclear who actually decides. And who is responsible. This applies regardless of whether you are one of the Swedish school’s teachers, a politician who is at the forefront of a war against a pandemic, an opposition with the task of opposing or a legal system that will give an almost 90-year-old lady, who gave her best years to Sweden, redress after she has been subjected to a violation.
Not exercising one’s leadership role with authority may appear sympathetic. In the short term, it can even make a leader popular. But the danger is that you want good but do evil. Because it is always the result that counts. And if it happens that the most worthy of protection, that is, the old, the children, the sick, those who lack the ability to protect and defend themselves, are constantly affected – what is it if not evil?
Jörgen Huitfeldt is the editor-in-chief of Kvartal