Elections loom on Sunday amid sweeping claims from the (far) right about a Sweden in decline.
Ever since the ‘refugee crisis’, a recurring theme in Swedish debates—not least on ‘social media’—has been that the country has gone to the dogs. But is this, objectively, true or should such claims be considered politically-driven disinformation?
Our new report, Beyond the Political Framing Battles—Sweden in an International Comparison, examines this political battle over the ‘framing’ of Sweden.
The collapse that wasn’t
Despite claims that he refugee influx of the middle of the last decade—when Sweden took in more refugees, proportionately, than any other European country—would overwhelm the system, no such collapse occurred. Indeed, it unwittingly turned out to be a boon for the Swedish economy.
This has however not prevented a long list of commentators continuing to portray Sweden as in a downward spiral. Those who do so within the country are largely politicians, commentators and alternative media on the (far) right.
They have been well assisted by forces abroad with an interest in dividing and weakening democracies. Particularly Russia has been active in seeking to exert undue influence and spread disinformation.
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Sometimes these narratives have in turn been reinforced by domestic political forces. They include the far-right Sweden Democrats but also members of the centre-right Moderate party. The claims can be sweeping, although even if more specific they are still highly questionable.
One such was when politicians and commentators, including leading Moderates, recently claimed that Sweden was the world’s second-most dangerous country in the world for female travellers. Another, from the Sweden Democrats, was that there might be tampering with this weekend’s election.
A common trope is to present an incident as a symptom of a general problem purportedly applying to the country as a whole, without considering the statistics to the contrary. This fits the dynamics of propaganda, where the facts are considered less important than whether a particular item is held to confirm a pre-existing narrative.
Considering how politicised the debate has become, it is all the more important to examine what actually distinguishes Sweden. One obvious way to do this is to draw on a range of international indices, where countries are ranked according to how well they perform and where the compiling organisations are independent of domestic disputes.
Beyond the Political Framing Battles presents Sweden’s position on 49 international indices and rankings, all published over the past five years. They cover issues ranging from democracy and human rights, the rule of law, gender equality and social justice to global competitiveness, innovation capacity and business climate—so benchmarks of concern to those on the right as well as the left side of the political argument.
In contrast to the narrative of a Sweden in steep decline, in fact the country emerges as one of the world’s top performers. In six of the indices, Sweden is ranked first globally, in 27 as one of the top five countries and in 42 as one of the top ten.
The indices in which Sweden leads are: Freedom of the World, Gender Equality Index, European Innovation Scoreboard, Global Sustainable Competitiveness Index, Good Country Index and Commitment to Development Index. Widening the perspective to indices in which Sweden is in the top ten confirms the breadth of the parameters across which the country performs very well.
One can always quibble about what any individual index measures, how it is constructed and the indicators on which it is based. But the big picture is incontrovertible: Sweden scores very highly across the board on the global level. To portray it as decayed or atrophied is thus disinformation.
Of course, as with any country, Sweden faces challenges, such as climate change, serious crime, electricity supply, segregation, skills deficits and the increasingly uncertain world in which it finds itself. A prerequisite for meeting these challenges is however that public debate is based on verified facts and established evidence. It is thus high time to consign the politically-motivated rhetoric of doom and gloom to the dustbin.