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  • Viola De Martin

Breaking Point: Sweden's Battle Against Gang Violence

An overview of Sweden’s gang problem 

“Sweden has never before seen anything like this. No other country in Europe is seeing anything like this.” is how the Swedish PM, Ulf Kristersson, addressed the nation in September 2023. A country that for decades held a reputation of as a tolerant, idealistic, almost utopia-like society, is seeing all of that disintegrate in recent years due to gang violence in the country. While for years Sweden has been a prime example for left-wingers promoting a generous welfare state, in recent years it has also become a prime example for right-wingers, who argue that open-door immigration policies can go terribly wrong and lead to social chaos.  Gang-related violence in Sweden has been on the rise for the past couple of years, but in the past two years, the situation has gotten significantly worse, with shootings and bombings becoming more common and more disruptive. 


A few years ago, the situation was more under control. The shootings were mostly between rival gangs and were limited to the big cities of Stockholm, Göteborg and Malmö, Sweden’s three largest cities. However, in recent years, the situation has drastically escalated, with  violence spreading to the suburbs and the targets expanding to relatives of rival gangs. Additionally, in recent years, gangs have started to implement shootings, causing further disruption and instigating more fear among citizens.  As of February 2024, the Swedish police estimated that around 62,000 people are active in, or have connections to criminal networks in the country. As of 2023, there has also been more collaboration between the police forces and the military in order to gain more control of the situation.


Explaining the extent of the situation 

The following figures taken by The Guardian in 2023 can offer a better understanding of exactly how drastic the situation has become. In 2023, Sweden had the 2nd highest gun violence in Europe, second to Albania. In 2014, they ranked 14th place on the same scale. Between the years 2017 and 2018, the country saw an increase of 45% in gun-related homicides. As of 2022, the Swedish capital of Stockholm had a gun-murder rate that was 30 times that of London that same year. 

One of the reasons for so much violence is the huge link between gun violence and the narcotics market, especially in the cities of Stockholm and Malmö and especially in vulnerable neighbourhoods. A lot of the weapons used come from the war in the Balkans and are sold for obscenely low prices. A hand grenade has a street value of 200 sek, roughly equal to 17 euros. 


How did the situation escalate so badly? What are the reasons? 

When discussing the reasons as to why the situation escalated to such an extent. The Swedish Democrats, a far-right party which is also currently the second-largest party in parliament, is quick to point to immigration. Until 2016, Sweden had among the most generous asylum-seeking laws in the European Union, so much so that it was the EU country to take in the most refugees per capita. Since then, the country has tightened its immigration laws. As of 2024, the Swedish police do not track the nationalities of the perpetrators however, research by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention in 2021 showed young people born in Sweden to two parents from abroad were overrepresented as suspects.


More than immigration, the blame should be placed on the lack of integration of immigrants in Swedish society. In fact, in 2022, the PM at the time, Magdalena Andersson, said that Sweden failed to integrate immigrants. Andersson said that this led to the fostering of Islamist and extreme right-wing ideologies which created parallel societies in Sweden. When kids don’t feel welcomed by society, they turn to gangs, which can offer a sense of belonging but in turn resort to violence. Additionally to the lack of integration, another main reason behind this crisis is the rise of income inequality and poverty within the country, specifically within the suburbs of cities. Police have also linked the violence to poor integration of immigrants, a widening gap between rich and poor and drug use.


Conclusion 

Sweden’s once utopian society faces an unprecedented challenge in the form of gang violence which threatens the harmony within the country. As the escalation of shootings and bombings takes over larger areas of the country, social stability is starting to unveil. The reason for the drastic situation is a combination of failure to integrate, rise in income inequality and the growing narcotic market. It is also believed that one of the reasons why the situation is currently so bad is because it was not tackled earlier and now it has gotten to a point that the Swedish authorities struggle to meet. 


Sweden’s society is now facing a moment of intense polarisation regarding how to handle this issue. The right wingers in society call for a reversal of the immigration within the country, to repatriate those that are causing an upheaval in society whereas the left wing calls for stricter integration policies. While the general population is aware of the situation unfolding and the extent to which this is becoming an issue in the country, the day to day life of citizens does not become directly affected by this issue unless they are closely related to the issue or unless they live in specific areas of the country. In order for the issue to be addressed, the country needs to improve their integration measures significantly and tackle the economic factors that lie at the heart of this issue.


Literature:

Reuters. (2022). "Swedish PM Says Integration of Immigrants has Failed, Fueled Gang Crime". Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/swedish-pm-says-integration-immigrants-has-failed-fueled-gang-crime-2022-04-28/ 



The Economist. (2023). "Sweden is Suffering a Grim Wave of Gang Violence". The Economist. https://www.economist.com/europe/2023/11/13/sweden-is-suffering-a-grim-wave-of-gang-violence 


Sunnemark Viktor. (2023). "How Gang Violence Took Hold of Sweden in Five Charts". The Guardian. 


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