On Friday, violence erupted in the Swedish city of Malmo where over 300 people had gathered to protest against anti-Islam activities. Various reports suggest that protesters threw objects at the police and burnt car tyres.
Protests began after a copy of the Quran was burned in Malmo on Friday by members of the far-right Danish party Stram Kurs (Hard Line). Earlier in the day, the party’s leader Rasmus Paludan was denied permission to hold a meeting in Malmo about “Islamization in the Nordic countries”, where it was rumoured that the Quran would be burned, Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet reported. Paludan was invited by Swedish artist and provocateur Dan Park, who has previously been convicted of incitement against ethnic groups.
Paludan is a Danish politician and lawyer who founded the far-right party Stam Kurs in 2017 and was noticed for making anti-Muslim videos on YouTube, the contents of which included burning the Quran, at times wrapped in bacon, which he justified as a tribute to free speech.
In June, Paludan was convicted on charges of racism for posting anti-Islam videos on his party’s social media channels, as a result of which he was sentenced to three months in jail and was disbarred from practicing law. In 2019, he was sentenced to 14 days of conditional imprisonment for delivering a racist speech. In June he was found guilty on 14 counts including racism, defamation and hazardous driving and served one month in jail along with two months of a suspended sentence.
Paludan was close to getting into parliament in the last Danish elections with a policy based on deporting more than 300,000 Muslims from Denmark and banning Islam.
On Friday, Paludan was barred from entering Sweden and was given a two-year entry ban.
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According to a report published by Brookings in March, Sweden has historically been a safe haven for refugees and, after Canada and Australia, has taken the most refugees per capita. Between 2013 and 2014, Sweden granted permanent residence permits to all Syrians in Sweden who sought asylum and since the beginning of the Syrian war, over 70,000 Syrians have come to Sweden.
As per the report, in 2015, Sweden received a record 162,000 applications for asylum primarily from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and this influx of Muslim asylum seekers from war-torn countries has had a significant impact on Swedish politics.
The Swedish parliament’s third-largest party, the right-wing Sweden Democrats that has roots in Neo-Nazism, has created the perception among people in recent years that the influx of predominantly Muslim immigrants has led to a surge in crime and since 2015-2016 migrant crisis, many Swedes view refugees as putting pressure on public finances in a country that has one of the most generous welfare programs in the world.
Also in Explained | Stram Kurs, the far-right Danish political party behind anti-Islam riots in Sweden
A report in The New York Times reported that the large influx of immigrants into Sweden threatens the endurance of the country’s model that depends on its residents paying some of the highest taxes in the world and “understanding that everyone is supposed to work”. But a large number of immigrants, many of whom are not as skilled and educated, means that they will depend on welfare for years, something that Swedes are becoming increasingly wary of.
Significantly, in 2018, while the unemployment rate in Sweden was at 3.8 percent, it was at 15 percent among the foreign-born Swedish population. “Among supporters of the Sweden Democrats, these sorts of numbers are cited as evidence that refugees have flocked here to enjoy lives of state-financed sloth,” the report states.
Sweden’s support for right-wing parties is in line with the sentiment in the rest of Europe, which in recent years has seen a surge in support of populist parties including the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in Germany and Vox in Spain that have brought the ideas of national identity and immigration to the forefront.
In 2017, the Swedish police launched an investigation after riots erupted in a predominantly migrant area of Stockholm. The BBC reported at the time that rioters threw rocks, set vehicles on fire and looted shops days after US President Donald Trump made a reference to Sweden in a speech on immigration problems. In 2010, rioters burned down a school in the Swedish capital and threw stones at the police in a predominantly immigrant suburb after a group of youths were refused entry to a school dance.