Roots of Riots and State of Governance in Sweden

Beyond the recent media avalanche of reports on the daily ups and downs of violent gang riots in Stockholm suburbs, a shocked citizenry is asking itself if this is only an outburst of accumulated adolescent tension in criminal destructivity or an indication of underlying deeper causes yet to be fully grasped.

At this premature stage of soul-seeking it seems wise to leave options open to different interpretations. The open question remains, whether we see a transient eruption from a modest level of societal tension—with few implications for policy adjustment other than short-term protective measures—or whether we face a significant trend—signs and symptoms in support of an interpretation indicating a much more sinister societal condition—with considerable strategic consequences.

Sweden is generally perceived as a peaceful place with a well-functioning welfare system—at work since the heydays of the social democrats—capable of providing safety even to the most unfortunate. Minor adjustments of a generalized social insurance system were accomplished by the present liberal alliance—after general election—to boost dynamic incitement and release entrepreneurial energy in a society afflicted by signs of bureaucratic petrifaction. The governing alliance won its mandate by promising to empower people—filling wallets by reducing taxes—in an effort to foster individual self-reliance. The intended effect, however, remains to be determined. Even the side-effects of any austerity measures allegedly hitting unprivileged groups alone—cannot explain the surprising surge of disseminated riots in the Swedish capital and in mid-sized cities around it.

An attempt to spot in depth socio-cultural processes at the heart of the disruptive dynamic behind the turmoil would likely generate a sequence of hypotheses beyond mainstream media explanations. Complex social phenomena are inherently multi-causal and its study necessarily encompass many disciplines, such as—in addition to political sciences—economics, sociology, psychology, and psychiatry. While authorities are fully occupied with calibrating actions to contain the unrest short term and limit its spread beyond metropolitan areas, it is time to open a dialogue, inquiring “what went wrong”, on a general level.