Sour Sweden


A new global survey ranks Sweden behind only Australia (the United States is sixth) among developed countries on such quality-of-life measures as employment, income, the environment, and public health. But recent rioting in the Scandinavian nation suggests that not everyone may be happy there.

Sweden is known for its cradle-to-grave social services. It generously welcomes immigrants and asylum seekers from world trouble spots such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria.

Yet last week, Sweden endured six days of rioting and property destruction. Some suburban schools near the capital, Stockholm, were badly damaged. The rioters were largely young immigrants, although some were Swedes.

Europe watchers wondered whether there was any relationship between the unrest in Sweden and the killing of a British soldier by two men of immigrant origin in London and an attack in Paris on a French soldier. Anti-immigrant sentiment is growing in other parts of Europe. One theory is that immigrant disorder is based on discontent caused by discrimination and poor living conditions, but this appears not to be the case in Sweden. The country has 8 percent unemployment overall, about the same as in the United States.

As in America, Sweden’s joblessness is substantially higher among young people. Wealth is unequally distributed in Sweden, but not as extremely so as in the United States.

Sweden is led by a center-right coalition government. A far-right party seeks to exploit last week’s troubles in advance of next year’s elections.

Mostly, the Swedes — and everyone else — are trying to make sense of the rioting. How could it happen in a supposed social paradise? Why are some inhabitants wrecking their new home? The answers remain unclear.