City of Lead

Joe Slater, Going Postal
Malmö main square

or A City in Metamorphosis

Who now remembers that Helsinki was a mainly Swedish-speaking city 100 years ago, known as Helsingfors to the rest of Europe? In this case, only the language was replaced. But a city’s people can be replaced just as easily. Wroclaw, Szczecin and Gdansk were German cities in living memory. Bratislava was both a German and a Hungarian city before it became Slovakian. Today, there is almost no trace of Bratislava’s German or Hungarian past. In most parts, you would never guess that anybody but Slovaks ever lived here.

Malmö’s language remains Swedish, but its people are rapidly being replaced. About one-half of the population is non-Swedish already. And most are not from neighbouring cultures and peoples. Around half of the immigrants in Malmö are from Muslim countries and the rest are from the non-Muslim Third World, former eastern Europe and Greece. No single nationality predominates, though the “vibe” on the central streets is Middle Eastern and the largest single group is Iraqis. I have no figures, but the school populations have probably fallen well below the 50%-Swedish threshold now, going by the current rate of “avsvenskning,” a new Swedish word that means “de-Swedification.” That is a loss of about ten percentage points every ten years, for this was an almost entirely Swedish city in the 1960s.

Joe Slater, Going Postal
Employment agency, showing immigrants placed by them in jobs

What this has meant for Malmö is well-known and easily researched. Googling the phrase “skjutning i Malmö” (shooting in Malmö) this morning, I saw on the first page of hits that 3 people were wounded by gunfire (July 2), shots were fired at Holma torg (July 14), one person was shot to death (June 10), and another guy was arrested on suspicion of murder (August 9). The major regional daily Sydsvenskan helpfully lists the shootings in 2017 to date in the city at this URL: You don’t need to read Swedish; the pictures tell the story. There are dozens of pictures, each connected with a shooting. When I first stayed in Sweden, all this was unimaginable.

It’s worth bearing in mind that some Swedes think it’s funky having a crime-ridden “un-Swedish” city in a corner of the country, and some Swedes in Malmö embrace it all out of local pride and also anger at their reputation, for Malmö is undoubtedly singled out for mockery and criticism, in all Scandinavia. Deservedly, perhaps, but it still rankles.

But others are not so keen about the situation. A few years ago, I found a fascinating website (ö) containing essays on life in Malmö by students and schoolchildren. Unfortunately, it seems to have been taken down now, but here are a couple of excerpts I saved and translated. They are from opposite ends of the opinion spectrum. I should say with respect to the second that I agree with the writer, Rosengård is not that dangerous. I have walked all around it and never worried about my safety—partly because it is a spacious complex of big apartment blocks without narrow alleys and other crime-friendly features. But it is still a forbidding place.

Anyway, here they are, two views of Malmö.

November, 2013

Female college student in western Malmö:

“I would like to remain anonymous, given what could happen if someone finds out what I write here. As a Swede, Malmö is pure hell, every day it feels like I’m sent to hell and back. Each damned day you hear epithets like ‘damn svenne [immigrant slang for Swede],’ ‘you disgusting Swedish whore’, ‘we blattar [slang for non-Nordic immigrant] will take over your poor Swede land,’ etc. I dare not walk alone in the streets of Malmö any longer. Several times I have been the victim of foul language or been molested by immigrants. I do not think that this text will be published as I am speak about immigrants, and in Sweden today, it is strictly forbidden to speak badly about immigrants.

I want to move far from Malmö and far from Sweden, to where I will not be insulted for being Swedish in my own country. Malmö is a dangerous city if you’re not the right person. The right person means that you are part of a gang that protects your back or you are a criminal, and are respected for being a criminal by people who fear that you will harm them. There are times when I wish I were not Swedish, in the hope of being respected and treated as well as non-Swedes.

I’m afraid that something dreadful will happen when I’m walking home from a friend at ten in the evening. I no longer dare to walk alone at night. When I was molested by immigrants (I’m not saying that all immigrants in downtown Malmö are uncivilized, I have many friends who are immigrants, and that are wonderful people who do not deserve to be tarred with the same brush that immigrants are bad people), it happened at 12:00 in broad daylight too. I want to walk alone as a girl without being bothered, move FREELY and not have to worry! Of course there are bad Swedes but no fellow Swede ever did anything bad to me; it may have happened to others, but this text is MY story. In schools, teachers treat immigrants with greater respect than Swedes, because the teachers think that the immigrants would be offended if they are also nice to us Swedes.”

Suuz, aged 28:

“When we got to Sweden, [we] were really happy because here it’s safe country, because we thought that a country without war is safe, but now I know that a country without war need not be secure, it’s not about war or someone who kills people, but it is about whether one is comfortable with one’s life and being treated in a good way and not feeling like a stranger …

In Malmö and especially in Rosengård, I feel really safe! It is rumoured that there are a lot of criminals who go and kill people and that everyone is afraid to come to Rosengård. But it is not that dangerous. I mean if you want to come to Rosengård nobody will eat you or hurt you, you need not fear for anything, believe me, if you go to Rosengård you will certainly feel the difference, as what it says in the mass media is not true, they have only given a negative image of Rosengård, they forget the positives! I love Rosengård and always will, because it’s the only place I can see how people care about each other!”

© Joe Slater 2017

This article is based on my free book, Kebabville, which can be downloaded here.