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OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Chemical crayfish’: Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

It's time for this year's "kräftskivor", Swedish crayfish-eating parties! A cause for celebration? Not if the Swedish media has its way.

'Chemical crayfish': Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?
"Alarm on chemicals in Swedish crayfish". A typically miserable headline for a Swedish festive story. Photo: Screenshot

Sweden’s main newswire this week ran a story warning that an analysis of the eight brands of Swedish crayfish available in the country’s supermarkets contained elevated levels of PFAS, a persistent pollutant which can damage your liver and kidneys, disrupt your hormones, and even cause cancer. 

But don’t worry. If you weigh 70kg or more, you can still safely eat as many as six of the outsized prawn-like crustaceans a week without being in the risk zone. 

While I’m sure the news story, which was covered by pretty much every paper, is accurate, it is also part of a grand Swedish media tradition: running miserable, killjoy news stories whenever there’s a sign that people might be planning to have a bit of festive fun. 

The two public service broadcasters, Swedish Radio (SR) and Swedish Television (SVT) are by far the worst offenders, their reporters unusually skilled at finding a downbeat, depressing angle for every public celebration. 

To give readers a sense of the genre, we’ve spent half an hour or so searching through the archives. 

‘This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is’ (and other yuletide cheer)

Source: Screenshot/SR

Christmas is a time for good food, drinking a little too much, and cheery decorations to ward away the winter darkness. But have you considered the risks?

SR has.

In “This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is”, a local reporter in Kronoberg looked into the possibility that your tree might have been sprayed with pesticide, or if not, might be covered in pests you will then bring into your house. 

By far the most common recurring Christmas story reflects Sweden’s guilt-loaded relationship with alcohol. 

You might enjoy a few drinks at Christmas, but what about the trauma you are inflicting on your children?

In this typically festive report from SVT in Uppsala, a doctor asks, ‘why wait for the New Year to give up alcohol? Why not start before Christmas?’, while the reporter notes that according to the children’s rights charity BRIS, one in five children in Sweden has a parent with an alcohol problem, with many finding drunk adults both “alarming and unpleasant”. 

God Jul! 

The Swedish media finds ways to make you feel guilty about the food you eat at Christmas too. You might enjoy a slap-up Christmas dinner, but what about those who suffer from an eating disorder? SVT asked in this important, but less than cheery, story published in the run-up to the big day. “This is the worst time of the year,” Johanna Ahlsten, who suffered from an eating disorder for ten years, told the reporter. 

Don’t you just love a cosy Christmas fire? Well, perhaps you shouldn’t. A seasonal favourite in Sweden’s media is to run warnings from the local fire services on the risk of Christmas house fires. Here’s some advice from SVT in Blekinge on how to avoid burning your house down. 
 
Those Christmas lights. So mysigt. But have you ever added up how much those decorations might be adding to your electricity bill? SVT has. Read about it all here
 
Finally, isn’t it wonderful that people in Sweden get the chance to go and visit their relatives and loved ones over Christmas.
 
Well, it’s wonderful if you’re a burglar! Here’s SVT Jämtland on the risk of house break-ins over the Christmas period. 
 
Eat cheese to protect your teeth! and other Easter advice 
 
 
“Eat cheese after soda”. Good advice from Swedish Radio. Photo: Screenshot/Richard Orange
 
For the Swedish media, Easter is a fantastic opportunity to roll out all the same stories about the risks of open fires and alcohol abuse, and that they do. But the Easter celebration has an additional thing to be worried about: excess consumption of chocolate and sweets. 
 
Here’s Swedish Radio, with a helpful piece of advice to protect your teeth from all that sugary ‘påskmust’, Sweden’s Easter soft drink. “Eat cheese!”. 
 
Yes, you and your children might enjoy eating all those pick-and-mix sweets packed into a decorated cardboard egg, but have you thought who else has had their grubby hands on them? SVT has. In this less than joyous Easter article  a reporter gives viewers the lowdown on “how hygienic are pick-and-mix sweets?” (According to the doctor they interview, sugar acts as an antibacterial agent, so they are in fact less dangerous than the newsroom probably hoped). 
 
Perhaps though, it’s better to avoid those unhealthy sweets altogether, and instead cram your mouth with healthy raw food alternatives, as SVT advises in this Easter report
 
Aren’t daffodils lovely? Well they’re not if you’re a dog. They’re deadly, according to this Easter report from Swedish Radio on all the “dangers lurking for pets over Easter“.
 
Glad Påsk!
 
Midsommar drowning  
 
Midsommar, again, has all the same possibilities for worried articles about excess drinking etc, but in the summer there’s the added risk of drowning. 
 
From Midsummer until the start of August, the temp reporters who take over Sweden’s newsrooms as everyone else goes on their summer holidays churn out a steady stream of drowning stories, all of them with a slightly censorious tone. After all, most of these accidents are really about excess drinking.
 
Here’s SVT Västmanland tallying up the Midsummer weekend’s death toll in a typical story of Midsommar misery. 
 
So, what is the reason for the Swedish media’s taste for removing as much mirth from festivities as possible?
 
It’s partly because Sweden’s media, unlike that of many other countries, sees its public information role as at least as important as entertaining or interesting readers, so an editor is likely to choose a potentially useful story over a heart-warming one. 
 
This is the aspect of the Swedish media beautifully captured by the singer Lou Reed when talking about how he’s more scared in Sweden than in New York in the film Blue in the Face
 
“You turn on the TV, there’s an ear operation. These things scare me. New York, no.” 
 
But it is also reflects the puritanical streak that runs straight through Swedish society, leading to a powerful temperance movement, which meant that by 1908, a staggering 85 percent of Socialist parliamentarians in Sweden were teetotallers.
Sweden is now a liberal country where you can get good food and drink, and enjoy a decent nightlife, but sometimes that old puritanism bubbles up.

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IMMIGRATION

Politics in Sweden: The migration paradigm shift we need isn’t the one we’re getting

Malfunctioning bureaucracy at the Migration Agency is the single biggest hurdle to Sweden's ability to attract international talent – and yet it receives shockingly little attention in the political debate, writes The Local's editor Emma Löfgren.

Politics in Sweden: The migration paradigm shift we need isn't the one we're getting

Earlier this month, the Migration Agency in a press release cheered that it had been able to shorten the processing time for receiving Swedish citizenship last year.

It felt rather like the passively polite automated voice in a phone queue. “You are number 10,549 in the queue. Thank you for waiting. Your call is important to us.”

Because although cutting the median waiting time from 330 to 256 days is a step forward, it’s not good enough.

Elsewhere on its website, the agency regularly updates the current expected waiting times for cases to be processed (based not so much on the actual expected waiting time, because such an estimate does not exist, but instead on the maximum time that 75 percent of “recent applicants” had to wait for a decision).

At the time of writing, they show that if you’re applying for citizenship, you may have to wait 40 months, an increase of one month since September 2022.

If you’re a doctoral student applying for your first permit, five months. Renewing your permit, six months. Applying for permanent residency? Congratulations, 14 months.

If you’re a work permit holder renewing your permit, brace yourself for a wait of anything between half a year to almost two years, depending on which industry you work in and whether or not your employer is certified with the Migration Agency.

Run your own business? Get comfortable, you’ll be in the queue for 28 months.

Thank you for waiting. Your call is important to us.

Meanwhile, several industries are crying out for workers.

The booming tech scene – the crowning glory of modern Sweden – will have a shortage of 25,000 game developers in ten years if the industry’s current growth rate continues, according to a recent report by the Swedish Games Industry and the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth.

Yet getting your foot on the ladder has become near-impossible after a law change last year, which shortened work permits for trial periods from two years to six months. This means the applicant might still be waiting for a renewed permit when their existing one runs out, and risks losing the right to work, they argue.

Squeezed out before their career in Sweden has even begun.

“The processing times are so long and the permit times so short that the [Migration Agency] can’t keep up. (…) If the current situation is not resolved, Sweden’s entire image is threatened and it will be harder for companies to recruit staff to the country,” they continue, calling for simplified rules and automated processes.

In a new opinion piece for the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, the chair of SULF – the trade union for people working in academia – writes about highly qualified researchers who simply packed their bags and quit Sweden after being stuck in a never-ending loop of permit bureaucracy.

One was rejected after Migration Agency delays meant that once it finally gave them a decision, they no longer had enough time left on their contract to qualify for a permit.

“Sweden’s talent intake is being throttled,” writes SULF chair Sanna Wolk.

There are a few caveats to consider, not least that talent is a strange concept by which to measure people’s worth – awkward at best, dehumanising at worst.

The current right-wing government, and the left-wing government before it, are so busy trying to perform a balancing act of cracking down on some migrants while attracting other migrants, that long processing times gets shockingly little political attention.

There will always be routes for international talent to come to Sweden, they insist. But out of 2,255 applications for a shiny new talent visa since it was launched in June last year, only 20 percent have so far received a decision. Of those, only 10 percent were successful. Polishing the hood doesn’t fix a broken engine. 

And amid all the talk about paradigm shifts, they fail to understand that we exist in the same paradigm. That long waits, language tests, tightened citizenship rules – or even just taking it for granted that people will always want to come to Sweden, no matter how high the barriers – affect most migrants, and affect all who care.

Time and time again, the Parliamentary Ombudsman – the top watchdog in the country – has criticised the Migration Agency’s long processing times, put down both to the agency’s own flawed administration and a lack of resources from the government.

Cutting queues and red tape may not be as politically sexy as cracking down on refugees, not as headline-grabbing a word as paradigm shift. But it’s the single biggest hurdle right now to Sweden’s ability to attract the international talent it claims to need.

In other news

One of Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson’s top aides resigned from his post after it emerged that he had been fined by police for illegally fishing for eels and had twice lied to the authorities about what happened.

In a joint press conference last week, Moderate Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard and Sweden Democrat parliamentary group leader Henrik Vinge announced the campaign, which they hope will discourage refugees from coming to Sweden.

Muharrem Demirok is expected to be voted in as the new leader of the Centre Party at a party conference on Thursday. The newly elected member of parliament and former deputy mayor of Linköping will take over from leader Annie Lööf. Here’s The Local’s guide to why his role matters.

What’s next?

Kristersson has invited the leaders of Sweden’s eight main parties to a meeting at 5pm on Tuesday to discuss national security, in the wake of protests against Sweden in several Muslim countries.

Politics in Sweden is a weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in Swedish politics. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive an email alert when the column is published. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.

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