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A Swedish Class Safari

Submitted by on February 10, 2012 – 5:47 pmNo Comment




Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A lesser Swedish coat of arms.

In January 2012, a small organisation called Allt åt Alla (Everything for Everyone), organised an event to highlight the issues surrounding inequalities in Sweden. It did this by organising what they called an “upperclass safari” and for 50kr (£4.70) members could go on a bus-ride to a wealthy suburb called Solsidan. It was advertised as a chance to see how the upperclass lived and to meet “some of Sweden’s richest exploiters”. The aim of the bus ride was to “grow your class hate”. They were also told by Anna Svensson, the safari leader, to remember that like on a normal safari, the rule “look, but don’t touch” applied.

For the residents of Solsidan, an idyllic small town located by the sea, the bus tour created some mixed feelings. Some were indifferent and just found it odd. Others thought it outrageous, and one resident even reported the organisation to the police. However, no one was arrested and the tour was allowed to go on. TV crews and major newspapers came along to document the event. When the bus arrived in Solsidan it was met by locals who had turned up to see who these people were that had come to look at their houses and talk about the differences between them.

Leonard Schreij, 18, has lived the most part of his life in Solsidan. He says he and his friends found out about the event via Facebook, and whilst some disregarded it as nonsense, others found it offensive. “Many people, me included, started to debate with the organisers and those who were going on the safari via Facebook,” he says. “Things really got out of hand and several left wing extremists created pseudonym accounts and threatened to “crucify” our “bourgeois” families and things of such nature.” He says that the Facebook page eventually become like a zoo, calling it “a safari in left wing extremism”.

He and his friends were part of the group that had gathered to meet the bus. They were interested in what these people had to say about the area they lived in, and followed along. The tour went through neighbourhoods, and highlighted certain streets. At one street it was highlighted that most residents worked as venture capitalists. Leonard says that on several times they also made prejudiced assumptions about the people living here. “They walked up to people’s homes and pointed out several households to be the ‘greatest criminals in society’ claiming they had committed serious tax fraud,” he says. “They also made silly generalisations such as ‘in this suburb, everybody likes to drive fast cars, and preferably drunk’. “

The event comes as a surprise to many, as Sweden is generally seen as a country of equal opportunities. Much more so than for example, the US where the American Dream has long since vanished. However, Allt åt Alla is arguing that Stockholm has become one of the most segregated cities in Europe. So what exactly is it this group wants to achieve? In an interview they say that their aim is to highlight and showcase Stockholm as a class segregated city. Their slogan, to grow your class hatred, is not meant to be an incitement to violence, but to wake up the anger in people against the class system.

A recent study by the Swedish Centre for Business and Society (SNS) on the income division in Sweden said that, unlike what Allt åt Alla argued, Sweden still remained one of the most equal societies in Europe. Sweden currently has a gini coefficient (a measurement of equality) of 0.25 which, along with Denmark and Norway, is one of the lowest in Europe. Compare this to that of the UK and the USA, which are at 0,35 and 0,40 respectively. The study also found that the link between the parents income and that of the children was relatively low in Sweden compared to the rest of the world. For every 10 per cent difference in income of the parents, there was on average two to five per cent difference between the children.

However, the study shows that Sweden, despite being relatively equal at the moment, is heading towards a more unequal future. New school reforms are potentially uprooting the previous system, where the parents’ income was not meant to play a part in the children’s education. So what does all this mean for the rest of Europe, if one of the most celebrated countries of equality is heading towards an unfair future? Annika Tverin, director of Social Finance in England, sees the class system as something highly restrictive. “Most of us want to create and live in a society that fundamentally feels equal,” she says. “Part of an equal society is that the society teaches children to read, write and count, so that all individuals can have an education and find a productive occupation – regardless whether it is as a plumber, teacher or landowner.”

Traditionally there are three social classes in the UK – upper-, middle- and working class – and despite many reforms and attempts by politicians to reduce the class differences, the structure has essentially remained the same for the past 100 years. During the Blair years there was a push to increase the middle class by offering better schools, education and welfare to the working class. However, Tverin says that during the ten years that Blair was in charge, not much changed between the classes and the big question now is whether the government really can make a change to the differences.

The future does not look much brighter either according to Annika. “I think equality is going to decrease,” she says. “Partly because the British government has fewer means of paying welfare to low income recipients and the unemployed, and partly because in the UK the fundamental problem with  the school system has not been resolved. Dumb children with well off parents who live in Wimbledon are much more likely to get into Oxbridge than clever children with immigrant parents living in Bradford.”

To create a better future for all members of society she believes that the key is equality of opportunity. Unlike Allt åt Alla, she does not think that a completely class less society can exist as you cannot erase individual traits. “All people are different, and will always have different capabilities of saving, investing and creating new innovations,” she says. However, the most important thing is that all children, regardless of their economic background, should have the opportunity to get an education that is based on the capability of the child, not parent’s income.

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