“We don’t want to have too many,” Lars Svensson, the centre’s manager and Social Democratic member of the Landskrona local council, told the local Helsingborgs Dagblad (HD) newspaper,
Svensson then went on to explain what he meant by the term “immigrant wedding”.
“It’s those who live in the city. There are quite a lot of Kurds and Palestinians who get married. There’s something about having an oriental background; there can be between 400 and 500 guests,” Svensson explained, adding that “European immigrant groups” aren’t included in the term.
According to Svensson, the policy comes following repeated complaints about the noise and untidiness associated with “immigrant weddings” held at Landskrona’s Folkets Hus, translating literally into English as “The People’s House”.
But in Landskrona, Svensson’s policies have left members of some immigrant groups shut out of using the community centre.
Moreover, it seems that weddings thrown by some European immigrant groups are in fact included in Svensson’s category of “immigrant weddings”.
Local resident Habib Ramadani, originally from Kosovo, has lived in Landskrona for ten years and had hoped to hold a wedding reception for his son in the town’s community centre last year.
But Svensson rejected Ramadani’s request, citing the proud father’s immigrant background.
“If he had said, ‘no, it’s booked’, that would have been the end of it. But then he asked what country I was from,” Ramadani told the newspaper.
Ramadani told Svensson he was from Kosovo, still hoping to be able to rent out the community centre’s great hall.
“He said, ‘Not for you, you all throw cake on the floor instead of in your mouths,’” Ramadani explained.
“But the great hall was free that weekend. Others who worked there told us so.”
Having already sent out hundreds of invitations to guests around the world, Ramadani offered to pay professional cleaners to ensure the hall would be spotless following the event.
Svensson remained firm, however, prompting Ramadani to try another approach.
“Then I offered to pay for two days. But he said that this is the People’s House and as a result, people must be given access,” Ramadani told HD.
Even a promise to keep the party alcohol free didn’t help, leading Ramadani to question Svensson’s explanation.
“Do I not count as a person? I pay taxes and I’m a part of society. But when we want to rent space for a wedding, suddenly I’m only an immigrant,” he said.
“It’s like Lars Svensson wants to get rid of parties thrown by foreigners. It’s called the Peoples’ House but it should be called the Swedes’ House.”
According to Ramadani, Svensson also claimed that “immigrant weddings” require advance payment because people who arrange them don’t share “our norms” when it comes to paying bills.
Svensson told the newspaper that the community centre has been criticized by accountants for accepting payments for “immigrant weddings” in cash, often in large sums the day of the event.
“We’ve discussed this a lot. The accountants say ‘either send a bill or pay in advance’. But we probably wouldn’t have received any money. Those who arrange weddings don’t abide by our conditions, by our norms. They come with wads of bills in their pockets,” he said.
Per Holfve, a lawyer with Sweden’s Equality Ombudsman (Diskrimineringsombudsmannen – DO) think’s Svensson’s policy of limiting the number of “immigrant weddings” could violate the country’s anti-discrimination laws requiring everyone to have equal access to the facility, regardless of ethnicity.
“I think it sounds like they are on thin ice. It’s one thing if someone wants to rent the space and there are concerns about problems maintaining order, but then they have to be concrete; it’s not enough to say that it’s something to do with ethnic affiliation. Then it’s nothing other than stereotyping,” Holfve told the newspaper.
But Svensson doesn’t see any problem with limiting the number of immigrant weddings, claiming he is simply doing his best to maintain a balance that reflects the makeup of the community.
“The board’s policy is that if 20 percent of Landskrona’s residents have immigrant backgrounds, have another ethnicity, then they have the right to express their culture. And they can do that at the People’s House,” he said.
“We try to avoid discrimination. But the alternative is prohibiting these parties altogether.”
Folkets Hus is the name given to municipal halls through Sweden created during the rise of the country’s trade union movement in the early 20th century.
According to the website of the National Federation of People’s Parks and Community Centres (Folkets Hus och Parker), the community centres were originally created by groups of workers in order to allow them to have a place to organize and hold meetings at a time when property owners “were afraid of the revolutionary ideas” that might be discussed at such gatherings.
The community centres represented a “significant step on the path towards equality and democracy” and remain “an important part of the social economic system” in Sweden where “marginalized groups, such as immigrants, women and unemployed can find support and together work for a better future”.