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POLITICS

OPINION: Sweden’s emerging debate on dual citizenship is terrifying

When Richard Orange became a Swedish citizen after the UK's Brexit vote in 2016, he never doubted for an instant that he would be allowed to remain British. Now he's not so sure.

OPINION: Sweden's emerging debate on dual citizenship is terrifying
A citizenship ceremony at Stockholm town hall in 2017. Photo: Lars Pedersen/TT

The institution of dual citizenship is under attack in Sweden from both left and right. First, the parties backing the current government agreed that dual citizens who commit certain crimes should be able to have their Swedish citizenship stripped away. Now the veteran journalist Peter Kadhammar has asked whether allowing dual citizenship is even appropriate in today’s more conflict-ridden, less globalised world.

“Dual citizenship all sounds very nice in a world where we are all pushing for open borders,” he wrote in an article in the left-wing Aftonbladet newspaper. “But what about when times are harsher?”

“A person with dual citizenship,” he warns, “can be put under pressure to serve the regime in his or her other homeland.”

As well as questioning the loyalty of people like myself, Kadhammar also suggests that citizens of foreign governments could already be in place in all sorts of key positions without anyone even knowing about it.

The Swedish authorities, he warns, “have no record of which of our own citizens also has a duty towards countries like Turkey and Russia.”

“Not even the Säpo security police,” he adds, “have the faintest idea”.

For me, as a dual citizen, the logic of Kadhammar’s article is terrifying. Yes, he’s primarily talking about Swedes who are dual citizens of countries like China, Russia, Turkey or Iran – countries with which Sweden enjoys strained diplomatic relations, to put it mildly – but if dual citizenship ever becomes a subject for political debate in Sweden, I find it hard to see how a law could be framed to forbid dual citizenship for them alone.

Such a debate now doesn’t seem at all unrealistic.

The Tidö Agreement showed just how far the current coalition parties are willing to go to win the support of the far-right Sweden Democrats, and, while I’m not planning on committing any “system-threatening” crimes, the fact that under their proposals, I could lose my Swedish citizenship if I did, makes my citizenship worth a little less.

It’s worth remembering that the Sweden Democrats only dropped their call to abolish dual citizenship in Sweden as recently as 2019. It’s far from impossible that in the run-up the the 2026 election, the 2030 election, or 2034 election, they could take it up again. If, as Kadhammar warns, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine escalates into a full-scale European war, it could come sooner than that.

If I were forced to choose, with Britain out of the European Union, I would probably have to become fully and unambiguously Swedish, but in doing so I would lose a part of myself and I’m sure many Swedes with, say, Iraqi, Iranian, Turkish, Palestinian, or Afghan citizenship feel the same.

For those born and brought up abroad, shedding your original citizenship involves a painful loss of identity. Our children, many of whom are born in Sweden, probably wouldn’t be so concerned, but I would certainly want them to keep a tie to Britain. 

It’s not only us foreigners who would lose out. If Sweden were to abolish dual citizenship, it could prevent people from becoming Swedish citizens who might have enriched the country. In purely practical terms, it is an asset for Swedish businesses to have a set of citizens who can live and work elsewhere without having to get visas or work permits, who have a foot in two cultures.

Kadhammar argues that Sweden has a “remarkably careless approach” to dual citizenship, but this is not really true.

When The Local surveyed the dual citizenship rules in the countries where it has sites, Sweden hardly stood out.

Dual citizenship is permitted in France, Italy, Belgium, Ireland, Switzerland and the UK. Denmark and Norway passed laws allowing dual citizenship in 2015 and 2020 respectively, and Germany is planning to do so.

Kadhammar’s article may have forced the Centre Party’s new leader, Muharrem Demirok, to give up his Turkish citizenship (he claims he had already started the process). 

I think this is a shame, not least because no one raised a murmur when the party’s MP Nils Paarup-Petersen renewed his Danish citizenship recently, and few editorials have been written to express concern over Business and Energy Minister Ebba Busch’s Norwegian nationality.

The times may be, as Kadhammar suggests, getting harsher, but that shouldn’t make Sweden more closed. The longer we live here, the more Swedish we become, but please let us keep the link to our past that comes with dual citizenship.

Member comments

  1. China I’m told doesn’t allow dual citizenships. Some of my Chinese friends had to turn-in their Chinese citizenship when securing their new citizenships aboard. And I’m sure we could quickly draft up a long list including other countries that do not.

    Perhaps a solution is to limit dual citizenship with certain nations, but not others that are friendly with Sweden. This might be a reasonable approach.

  2. I hold both a GB&NI passport and an Irish passport, both countries allow “dual citizenship” which is actually and incorrect phrase as both countries allow multiple citizenship. Maybe there should be a limit?

    As for only allowing countries that are friendly, im sure a couple of years back Russia was seen as friendly. So what happens when they become unfriendly? What do you do to the people that entered the country and the “friendly point in time”.

    I always think, how big is the problem and how big would it be to create the solution be so is it worth it? The phrase… using a sledgehammer to crack a nut springs to mind.

  3. I left the UK after Brexit and have zero intentiob of going back.
    The Swedish passport is better for visa privileges and Sweden itself beats the UK in virtually every respect.
    If I had to chose then I know the one I’d lose. My wife and son are Swedish and now, so am I.
    Being so close to Russia and Belarus makes me determined to stay here and support Sweden’s values. It is the country I chose to come to and didn’t appear in by a chance of birth.

  4. Hi Ty,

    Thanks for responding. I guess one can always throw a spanner in the works by posing questions that at first appear difficult but are actually easy to answer. If a country were to transition from the “friendly list” to an unfriendly list, then Sweden could ask people holding citizenship in the recently unfriendly country to make a decision. Given them six or nine months to make a decision by forfeiting one citizenship (Swedish?) or the other (Russian in the case of your example). It’s not hard at all.
    Such terms could be part of a the new law. Easy.

    J,

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INTERVIEW

INTERVIEW: ‘Like before the Swedish financial crisis only the numbers are bigger’

Andreas Cervenka, the author of the hit book Girig-Sverige, or Greedy Sweden, is, you can safely say, not the cheeriest of economic commentators.

INTERVIEW: 'Like before the Swedish financial crisis only the numbers are bigger'

The situation the country is in, Cervenka explains in this week’s Sweden in Focus podcast, out this Saturday, is in some ways worse even than what it was in the run-up to the 1990-1994 Swedish financial crisis. 

“In the beginning of the 90s, we had a huge real estate and housing bubble that burst and sent Sweden into the deepest financial crisis since the Second World War, and we’re still actually feeling the effects of that,” he says. “What’s happening now is roughly the same, only the numbers are bigger.” 

Girig-Sverige, which won Cervenka Sweden’s most prestigious journalism prize last year, tells the story of how the decision to scrap a string of taxes on wealth and assets combined with years of zero or negative interest rates to make Sweden dramatically more unequal as a society, while turning its people and companies into the most indebted in the world after Hong Kong and Luxembourg.

For Cervenka, the Riksbank bears a lot of the blame for this depressing development.

“All parts of the state should be evaluated on their results. And the result is: have they fulfilled the target of inflation? No, in practically no period over the last 15 years have they been able to stabilise at around 2 percent. Has something else happened in society? Well, we have become the most indebted country in the world.” 

The bank, he believes, has been wrong to turn a blind eye to the extreme inflation in assets like property and equities, while focusing exclusively on consumer prices. 

“There’s obviously a lot of talk about inflation these days. But in fact, we have had inflation in Sweden for quite a long time, not in consumer prices, but in assets,” he explains.

“That’s rising prices of property, stocks, land or all kinds of financial assets, and that’s been quite explosive for a long time, which benefits people who own assets, and specifically people who own assets that they financed with debt.”

Normally, central banks only use negative interest rates as a last resort when the economy is in a deep recession, but the Riksbank has had them in place while the economy has been booming and unemployment low, changing the balance between rich and poor in Sweden.

“The central bank is supposed to be an apolitical institution. But low interest rates do create inequality in the way that they actually transfer money from people who don’t own things, who don’t have mortgages, to people who do. And that’s been a huge transfer of wealth.” 

The central bank has not acted alone, however. Parties of both left and right have acted to reduce the taxation on assets. 

“Sweden is still a very high-tax country when it comes to taxation of labour. We’re not number one in the world, but we’re still in the top five. But when it comes to taxes on assets and property, we’ve been abolishing a lot of taxes,” he explains.

Someone making a million kronor from dividends and rising stock prices would only have to pay about 7 percent tax on that income, he estimates, whereas someone making a million kronor in salary would pay about 35 percent. 

For Cervenka, it is not only the indebtedness in society which is a problem, but the way gross inequality slows economic growth and leads to rising crime and health disparities, while the near-impossibility of getting rich through earning a salary skews people’s choices. 

“The difference between a very high taxation of labour and relatively low taxation on assets definitely alters your incentives as a citizen,” he says. “It’s been much more profitable to own a house over the last 10 years than to work.” 

Soaring house price inflation has also led to segregation, with the young, immigrant populations, and other groups priced out of upmarket parts of Sweden’s cities. 

“If you look at the centre of Stockholm, you can almost have a sign saying, ‘If you’re young, don’t bother coming here, because you can’t afford it’,” he says. 

“It also affects, you know, ‘can you afford to have kids?’, ‘What kind of job should you be looking for?’ If you’re living in Stockholm, if you are a teacher, a nurse or a policeman, it’s almost like an economic sacrifice because the cost of living is so extremely high.”

“In the US, they talk a lot about gated communities, and in Sweden, we have that, but we have something much more effective than walls or barbed wire, we have high square metre prices.” 

Those who haven’t managed to get a mortgage or benefit from the low rates have ended up crammed together in the same segregated areas, he adds, fuelling some of the problems Sweden has had with gang crime. 

“The people who don’t own anything, they all stay in the same area and that creates some social problems and just this crazy tension in the fabric of society.” 

So will the economy have a hard landing? Cervenka believes the high level of indebtedness, both in the population and in the corporate sector, makes Sweden vulnerable. 

“I would say we are one of the most rate-sensitive economies in the whole world,” he says. “The Swedish state has very low debt, but the private sector is very highly indebted, so the rate increases have much more impact on Sweden than on a lot of other countries in Europe.” 

A huge proportion of many people’s income already goes to paying off their mortgages, he adds. 

“A lot of people in Sweden are practically working for their banks now, because that’s where the the lion’s share of their income goes. We talk a lot about how the price of eggs or butter has increased 20, 30, 40 percent. But interest payments have maybe gone up by 300 to 400 percent – four or five times what you used to pay – and a that’s a huge increase.” 

In the near future, Cervenka predicts, we will discover whether Sweden’s economy is in for a soft landing or a devastating crash.

“Right now, the markets are betting that we can avoid the worst-case scenario. But the jury’s still out, and I think the next six months will be quite crucial.” 

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