Andreas Schönström is gemeentelijk secretaris namens de sociaaldemocratische partij, vergelijkbaar met wethouder in Nederland. We spreken met hem over de integratie van de vluchtelingen in zijn stad.

Andreas Schönström
Gemeentelijk commissaris voor werkgelegenheid, voortgezet onderwijs en volwassenenonderwijs
28 februari 2016

Malmö’s identity

‘We are proud so many people wanted to come to Malmö and find their home here after they fled from something as awful as the war in Syria. Unfortunately we of course also have big problems in our city. But we think we can solve these problems.

With this kind of diversity in a small area, you need to find a common identity, you need to have a common ground. You can’t build your politics, build a city, on seeing all the different nationalities and the differences in culture and traditions. Instead you have to create a common identity which everyone can share and at the same time can be themselves.

People living in Stockholm or Gothenburg, they have a sceptic view on Malmö. But there is no city in Sweden today where the citizens of the city like their own city as much as in Malmö. There is a lot of pride in being part of Malmö. It is Malmö against the rest of the world.’


‘Our identity used to be that of an industrial city. We had one of the largest shipyards in Europe with Kockums as the biggest employer. But in the 1980’s Kockums was closed down, because the government stopped all the subsidies. This meant that about 8000 people were suddenly out of a job. This affected about 25% of Malmö’s population.

The deputy mayor of finances back then wanted a replacement for Kockums and found it in Saab, who build their second automobile factory in Sweden here in Malmö. But then General Motors came and bought parts of Saab and the first decision they made was to close down the factory in Malmö. So you can understand that the industry in Malmö went downhill quickly and we got a huge unemployment rate in just a couple of years.

People were starting to move out of Malmö to find employment elsewhere. When the war in former Yugoslavia escalated and people started to flee to Sweden, the refugees could easily stay in Malmö because we had a lot of houses and living spaces available. That was the one thing we had a lot of at the time.


But we decided we could turn this bad situation around, it was not a crisis but a challenge to create a climate of creativity. We had a blank canvas and could try really everything, even ideas which would be unthinkable in other situations. So when the labour party came back in power in 1994, they decided to create a new identity with its foundation in knowledge, not industry.

Malmö University was founded and the bridge to Copenhagen was planned. In the same area where there used to be 8000 workers in the harbour for one company, nowadays we have 8000 people working for 390 different smaller companies instead. We wanted to change from this industrial town to a modern city where the main industry is knowledge.

We never in our history had so many people working within the city Malmö. We’ve had the largest increase in workplaces in Sweden.  In a very short time, we really changed the identity of the city. The problem is that the companies don’t find their workforce within Malmö, they find it in municipalities around the city. It is the main problem of Malmö. We have this high unemployment. We have the workplace, but we don’t have the education to match. There is a huge mismatch between employment and education.’

Sustainable Malmö

‘In 2011 we started a commission for a Socially Sustainable Malmö. Social inequality has a real and high price. If we look at the statistics, almost 13% of six-year-olds in Malmö who start their education will not finish their education and won’t find work. They will cost the Swedish society over 6 billion Swedish Krona until they are 65 years old.

Each year another group of six-year-olds will have these costs, building up a huge responsibility for next generations. Why don’t we, as a society, do early investments in these children. We know otherwise is not only bad for social equality, it is also bad for economics. The costs are much higher in the future if we don’t invest now. This includes both Swedish and immigrant children.

The commission had to find out what investments are the right ones to make. The scientists in this commission looked at everything, not just healthcare or education. They presented facts you wouldn’t realise were so important for life expectancy of children.

First we have our legacy, our genes, age sex, things we can’t do anything about. Then the individual lifestyle factors, this includes alcohol consumption, drugs, sleeping, sporting etc. The third influence are our social networks, which people do we meet, friends, family etc. Then living and working conditions, which is our agricultural tradition, our healthcare, education, culture and leisure. And lastly the general socio-economic, cultural and environmental conditions of Sweden and Malmö. We wanted the commission to look at everything from a Malmö point of view. This created a whole new understanding of our city.

The commission also looked at the different areas of Malmö. In one area about 11% lives in poverty, while in others it is 62%. The worst conclusion is on life expectancy, where in one area people were expected to live until they’re 81 and in another area it is only until they’re 75 years old. So this is why, when I say “integration”, it is actually the goal we have as a city.’

The two main things the commission recommended to us politicians was to establish a social investment policy to create more equal citizens and to change processes by creating knowledge alliances and democratised management.

The first advise means to change the way we think about economics and invest earlier in children. The second advise says we need to rule the city in a different way, more democratic and more inclusive. It is not about cultural or ethnic backgrounds, the integration we need to have in this city is about solving social inequality, education and economics.’


‘A few years ago the deputy mayor of Malmö decided that we needed to change the way that we look at integration. We made a statement saying, integration is nothing in itself, it is the result of a progress to economic and social equality. Integration is the result if we as a city do everything right for our citizens.

If everyone has work, if all children go to school, there is healthcare for everyone, etcetera. You cannot start with integration when someone comes to Sweden, because being integrated is a result of a process when all these things are available to them. You have to do everything else first. This has been a major change for us. We think integration is when people feel part of our city, when everyone shares a common identity as a citizen of this city.

We actually have many Muslims living in Malmö. So one would expect there would be great problems, huge problems. Nowadays every Muslim is considered a suspected terrorists and is at risk of going to Syria to fight for Daesh. In Malmö we’ve had about five people leave to join Daesh out of  three hundred total from Sweden. So now the question is actually, why are there so few going from Malmö?

There were problematic groups from Copenhagen that tried to establish here in Malmö, but it was actually the Muslim community of Malmö that stopped them. I believe this is because of the new alliances. We created a city with a common ground which supports the good forces in the city.

We have a big Islamic centre for the Muslim community. There is a language café for newcomers who arrive to Malmö and want to learn the Swedish languages. This café is actually run by the Christian, Muslim and Jewish community together. So new people can learn Swedish, but also talk about the values that we have as a city and as a community.

Common ground

It is not interesting to just talk about the differences, we need to create something everyone has in common. And we probably won’t convince every Muslim who arrives to Malmö as an adult. But I believe we will be able to convince their children and then their children and these cultural problems will decrease within a generation.

If we keep acting as every other country in Europe is doing right now, where we are playing on the same field as the right winged extremists and discuss the problems on their terms, then we will never solve this problem.

Social equality, education and economics are our focus points. A lot of Swedish research show that values are not that deep and that they actually change quite easily. Values aren’t very deep when we look how they change over a generation. 80 years ago poor people or women were not even allowed to vote, because men thought they weren’t intelligent enough for politics.

It is our experience that religion is not very important when it comes to social economic integration. And if you don’t make it important, it won’t be important. Now there are more people voting for right wing parties than back in the nighties.

People don’t have a common ground anymore, they are scared. Religion now is made important, but they are discussing all the wrong things. What matters is your education, employment, money to sustain yourself. I don’t care about where you are from.’

Gesprek gevoerd op 28 februari 2016.
Foto: Werry Crone