7.3.1 The Invention of a Media Cover-Up
The first reports of the Cologne events appeared in Swedish press on 6 January 2016. In its first article, Dagens Nyheter wrote about “mass sexual harassments” involving around 1000 men, citing information from German police that the “perpetrators are supposed to be young men from North Africa and the Middle East” (Lund and Sundberg 2016). Expressen, Aftonbladet, and Svenska Dagbladet, already in their initial news coverage, mentioned the ethnic origin of the suspected perpetrators (Järkstig 2016; Larsson 2016; SvD 2016). Nonetheless, it was repeatedly claimed in Swedish press that the involvement of migrants in the events was silenced. A Dagens Nyheter op-ed on 8 January entitled “Silence is not gold” mentioned the German police’s and media’s “unusually long wait” before reporting about the events, and the fact that the first article about the events on Swedish Television’s webpage had had the headline “Disorder in Cologne”, as indications of media silencing: “There is sometimes a tendency among the media to be extra careful with news risking to ‘strike against vulnerable groups’ (…) To be silent or to mumble is a big betrayal of the victims of the crime” (DN 2016).
The debate about media silencing intensified further after the reports from Kungsträdgården. According to Dagens Nyheter, which was the first newspaper to report about the case, during the most recent “We are STHLM”-festivals in 2014 and 2015, there had been a large number of incidents of sexual harassment of young women and girls. While only around ten formal charges had been filed–it had been difficult to identify the perpetrators as the attacks were made in the crowds–during 2015 the police had identified a group of 50 suspected men, described in an internal police report as “so-called refugee youth, primarily from Afghanistan” and 200 young men had been removed from the festival. However, in their press reports the police had stated that there had been “relatively few crimes and apprehensions in relation to the number of visitors”. A head of police admitted that the police had acted improperly in not reporting the Kungsträdgården incidents to the media, saying that “we sometimes do not dare to tell it like it is because we believe it will benefit the Sweden Democrats” (Wierup and Bouvin 2016).
For some, the aftermath of Cologne and to a greater extent Kungsträdgården were indicative of a general reluctance to discuss problems associated with immigration. An Expressen op-ed described Sweden as a “culture of denial”, with “a long history of sweeping serious problems connected to values and immigration under the rug” (Kronqvist 2016a). A Norwegian professor of International Migration, interviewed in Dagens Nyheter, described the Swedish debate climate as “anxious” and “so afraid to speak of difficult questions that one does not even dare to take up and discuss different possible reasons for criminal actions” (Letmark 2016).
The characterization of Sweden as a particularly “politically correct” country where uncomfortable views on immigration cannot be expressed is a long-standing theme in Swedish far-right fringe media as well as in neighboring countries, where Sweden is often used as a warning example. However, the idea that the truth of immigration is silenced is not specific to descriptions of Sweden but a recurring narrative across Europe. Studying immigration and integration debates in different countries, Lentin and Titley (2011) show that insistent calls for “honesty, maturity and openness”–always taken to mean a more skeptical approach to immigration–is a constant feature of this genre. The fact that the debates, for all their popularity and intensity, are never held to be sufficiently “open”, point at a paradox: “always ongoing, they are never really happening” (2011, p. 128). Lentin and Titley suggest that such debates are never felt to be satisfactorily open because their function is mainly ritualic. Immigration and integration debates, they argue, are “screens for the projection of profound and emotionally involving questions about social and national futures” (2011, p. 129), whereby the figure of the immigrant functions to temporarily compress anxieties, but the discussions never fully capture or reduce these anxieties, nor provide any political possibilities for their resolution.
7.3.2 Immigration, Cultural Conflict and Gender Equality
A recurrent idea in the Cologne and Kungsträdgården reporting was that immigration meant that patriarchal attitudes were imported from countries where oppression of women was widespread. A Svenska Dagbladet op-ed argued that: “This is where we need to start: there is a denigrating view on women in several of these countries and as people have moved to Europe, this has also become a concern for us” (Ivanov 2016). In an analysis piece in Dagens Nyheter by a crime reporter, it was asked if the Cologne events marked the beginning of a new wave of sex crimes and an “attack on Western gender equality” (Wierup 2016). An Expressen op-ed argued that a debate on “values and views on women connected to immigration” was needed: “As wrong as it is to overgeneralize about all individuals in a group, it is equally naïve to think that all who come to Sweden become good feminists as soon as they pass the Öresund Bridge” (Kronqvist 2016a). The framing of Cologne as representing a gendered clash of cultures recurred in debates across Europe (Wodak 2018).
Those who argued that a cultural conflict was the main explanation for the attacks in Cologne and Kungsträdgården differed in how they described this conflict. In a debate article in Svenska Dagbladet, a philosophy professor highlighted archaic tribal cultures seeing women as “prey to take advantage of” (Bauhn 2016). Others stressed, with varying emphasis, the importance of cultural and religious norms in countries of origin as a key factor behind the attacks, contrasting these norms to the values about gender equality supposedly prevalent in Sweden. In a debate article in Expressen, a well-known theologian wrote that she refused to “sacrifice the freedom of her daughter and all other women”, describing the home countries of the Cologne attackers as
…countries with an extremely patriarchal morality. It is countries where the values fundamentally differ from ours. Women are ascribed lower value than men–and women regarded as sexually active are whores (…) Values are persistent, they take time to change, but we have done a good job in Sweden. Sweden is a relatively gender equal country. There are problems, not least with sexual violence, but we have come a good bit on the way. Other cultures have other values and norms about male, female and sexuality. This must be discussed, substantially, not trivialized and relativized (Heberlein 2016).
The discussion about immigration and “Swedish values”, to which I return to later in this chapter, illustrates what Mahmood Mamdani describes as a “culturalization of politics”: the reduction of conflict to culture in a way that conflates religion, ethnicity, culture, race, and sexual norms into a tangible essence that is assumed to explain the actions of its members, glossing over political economy, history, and global relations. Liberal societies, Mamdani argues (2004, p. 18), think of themselves as masters of culture whereas “premodern” societies are seen as merely passive conduits of culture.
The framing of Cologne and Kungsträdgården as primarily a problem of cultural conflict was challenged by feminists highlighting the omnipresence of sexual violence across cultures (Fahl 2016; Wirtén 2016). Similarly, some argued that the focus on immigration led to the neglect of women’s own experiences of sexual violence, lamenting that the events were being kidnapped by political forces who had never before cared about gender equality or women’s safety (Björkman 2016; Pettersson 2016). While the latter representations offered important counterarguments challenging the anti-immigrant interpretation of Cologne and Kungsträdgården, when considered from the perspective of Sara Ahmed’s ideas of the cultural politics of emotions, their significance become more complex to estimate. According to Ahmed, emotions have a “sticky” effect as they move between figures, the characteristics of one figure being transferred or displaced onto the other. When figures are put in proximity to each other, even though the connection is not explicitly articulated or is explicitly repudiated, such sticky associations may still be created. When those links have become established, open allegations become unnecessary; as Ahmed puts it “the undeclared history sticks” (2014, p. 47). In our case, the repeated placement of “sexual violence” in proximity to the figure of “male migrant”–also in those cases the link was denied–had a similar dynamic, sticking the two figures together with the effect that the supposed link (as later shown) became intuitive and unnecessary to spell out.
7.3.3 “Migrants’ Sexual Violence” as Motivating a More Restrictive Border Regime
On several occasions, the reports of migrants harassing women in public spaces were used to argue for concrete changes in migration policy. The political reactions in Germany after the Cologne events provided a backdrop for such discussions. An Aftonbladet news columnist described Cologne as a potential “watershed” in immigration debates in Germany and the rest of Europe, leading to what was called a “turning of thumbscrews”, such as the Merkel government’s proposals to expel asylum-seekers who commit crimes, and restrict the right for refugees to decide their location of residence. Alluding to the Swedish government’s turnabout on immigration in November 2015, it was said that: “Sweden has already pulled the emergency brake. There is an increased risk that Germany will do the same to drastically decrease the refugee inflow” (Hansson 2016).
Several political parties in Sweden explicitly took the events as an argument for a further tightened border regime. Interviewed in Expressen, the party secretary of the Sweden Democrats argued that “the events in Kungsträdgården make more and more people aware of the effects of the outrageous immigration policy that has been pursued by the other parties” (Svensson 2016b). In a debate article in Svenska Dagbladet, the Christian Democrats, referring to Cologne and Kungsträdgården, proposed that asylum-seekers who commit sex crimes should have their asylum applications rejected and quickly deported, and that it should be easier to deport also sex offenders who have residence permit in Sweden (Busch Thor and Carlson 2016). A Svenska Dagbladet op-ed described proposals to expel asylum-seekers who “do not respect the bodily integrity of women”, as a welcome reevaluation of the right to asylum, arguing that the Geneva Convention should be abandoned in favor of a quota system, which would not only decrease the number of deaths in the Mediterranean, but also make it possible to prioritize women and children before young men (Lönnqvist 2016).
Also noting the over-representation of young men among asylum-seekers, an Expressen op-ed cited the American political scientist Valerie Hudson’s argument that immigration is creating a male surplus in Europe comparable to China’s, which according to her leads to higher crime rates and more violence. Arguing that Sweden’s migration policy could hardly be called feminist, the op-ed pointed at several possible solutions such as focusing on quota refugees instead of asylum-seekers, and prioritizing women and children (Kronqvist 2016b).
Wendy Brown (2006) argues that civilizational rhetoric designating certain populations as violent and barbaric functions to gloss over or legitimize liberal states’ own violation of international liberal norms in its treatment of such populations. As seen here, Cologne and Kungsträdgården were interpreted as constituting evidence that certain illiberal measures–aimed at keeping out or expelling people who do not respect the freedom of women–were not only compatible with the liberal state, but necessary to protect it from illiberal incursions.
7.3.4 The Pedagogy at the Border and the “Good Refugee Man”
Borders (widely understood) have a doubly constitutive effect, producing both the subjectivities of bodies “at the border”, and of the societies they are meant to protect (Brambilla 2015; Brown 2010). Nowhere was this duality clearer than in the repeated calls for “sex education” of migrant men. In the previously mentioned debate article, the Christian Democrats, in addition to calling for deportation of asylum-seeking sex offenders, stressed the importance that migrants are informed about which rights and obligations are prevalent in Sweden:
People who seek protection in our country, who have been welcomed here and can take part of our resources for their sustenance, must know that even if women in Sweden dress in another way, move around in society without male company, go to concerts and maybe drink alcohol, they are not legitimate targets of sexual attacks (Busch Thor and Carlson 2016).
When interviewed in Aftonbladet, the minister of interior and the minister of gender equality, both social democrats, also stressed the importance of informing migrants about “issues of gender equality, openness and sexuality”, while admitting that the problem of sexual harassment did not arrive with refugees, but has for long been a domestic problem in Sweden (Nordström 2016). A news article in Svenska Dagbladet entitled “Swedish views on women on the schedule” (Thurfjell 2016) described the task of high schools to educate newly arrived pupils in what was called “Swedish values, including the view on women”. Some boys and girls taking part in the classes were interviewed, one of them saying that the differences between Sweden and the Middle East concerning gender had at first come as a shock to him, but after a few months he adapted. However, the interviewed kids all expressed worries about all refugee men being seen as potential sex offenders, one boy describing how people chose not to sit next to him on the subway after the Cologne events.
The newspaper interviews with migrant boys and men taking part in sex education point at a recurrent pattern in the reporting: efforts to identify and showcase the figure of the “good refugee man”, characterized as a someone who denounces the oppressive views on women prevalent in his country of origin, and affirms his commitment to the gender equality norms of his host country. An Expressen columnist argued that the best way to educate migrant men was to take help from the majority of migrant men who “quickly accepted one of Sweden’s fundamental rules: men and women are equal, and no woman should be the target of any form of sexual harassment”, continuing that “[t]heir words will weigh heavily. Like a father raising a son” (Cristiansson 2016).
According to several researchers, the foregrounding of gender equality and sexual rights in integration programs, a shift that took place during the first decade of the twenty-first century throughout Western Europe, serves not only to delineate “good” from “bad” diversity by defining the right (i.e. gender equal) kind of migrant subject, but is also itself part of producing the national identity of the host society (Farris 2017; Lentin and Titley 2011). By depicting migrant subjects as possible to include only to the extent that they renounce the oppressive views on women of their home country in favor of the gender equal values of the new country, the nation is reimagined as a progressive, modern, and always superior community in contrast to the “backwards” and “static” non-European cultures. Integration, Lentin and Titley argue (2011, pp. 204–206), has become a border practice working beyond and inside the territorial border, a way of securing that inside the national home, invited guests must learn the house rules or be removed. However, whereas the literature has primarily pointed at the centrality of migrant women in such integration measures–studying efforts to “emancipate” migrant women by reeducating them into national/European models of femininity (Farris 2017, p. 103)–the measures that were called for after Cologne and Kungsträdgården targeted primarily migrant men. This suggests the emergence of a second figure of good diversity, next to the emancipated migrant woman: namely the “gender equal migrant man”, who by embracing the gender equal culture of their host country, is conditionally included while also reproducing the geopolitical imaginary of the national/European border as a boundary between oppression and freedom.