The Swedish Condition
In recent years, Sweden has seen a stark increase in gang-related violence, with deadly shootings and explosions being part of daily news reporting. The current situation is characterised by the recruitment of increasingly younger individuals to commit violent acts, with kids getting recruited before reaching their teenage years. The result has been an increasing risk of bystanders ending up getting hurt or in some instances, killed. This growth in gang violence, labelled “The Swedish Condition”, has alerted Sweden’s Nordic neighbours, which has largely been spared from the same faith. In recent years, people's view of Sweden in the Nordics has gotten worse, citing, among other things, the rise in crime.
Spill-overs of gang violence to the other Nordic countries
One concern is that the gang violence problems that Sweden is facing are not restricted to Sweden. Instead, there is a gradual increase in gang violence cases in the rest of the Nordic countries. Finland has seen an influx of gang-related activity. The Helsinki metropolitan area, the country’s capital, is estimated to have around 200 members of at least a dozen different gangs according to Finnish police. Gang-related activity is also said to be present in other urban centres. Adjusted for population size, Finland has almost double the amount of cocaine use and MDMA related crime, and amphetamine related drug dosages similar to that of Sweden. To the west, gang networks are active in all Norwegian police districts except for one, establishing drug and weapons centres. There are an estimated 1 200 gang-related criminals in the country according to the Head of the Norwegian Police. Swedish gang criminals are also being called in to commit acts of violence in Norway according to the former head of the Swedish police Anders Thornberg. Although these numbers are small compared to Sweden where the figure is said to be over 8 000 – many of them minors – the development of gang violence is following a similar trajectory to that of Sweden’s beginnings.
Several instances of criminal activity have already been registered. Recently, a shooting in the Cristiania freetown, located in the Danish capital Copenhagen, notorious for its open selling of narcotics, has been said to be sparked by a conflict between Hells Angels and another local rival gang. At the end of November, a Swedish man with connections to a Swedish gang was shot in the Norwegian town of Moss. The recruitment of young, new members across the Swedish-Norwegian border is said to be ongoing, with the gang Foxtrot targeting young boys in so-called HVB-hem, housing institutions for youth suffering from different forms of mental or physical trauma, many with a history of drug-abuse and criminal records. Just last October, after a long investigation by the Finnish Investigation Bureau, members of Stockholm's Dödspatrullen (Death Patrol) gang were arrested in Helsinki after large drug and firearm stocks were seized.
Learning from Sweden's Mistakes
Actions are being taken to prevent a similar development as Sweden has been experiencing, with the Finnish police commissioner saying in an official statement that his Swedish counterpart has been warning him to take measures to prevent ”becoming like Sweden”.
Two topics are recurring in the debate, the illegal drug market and immigration (the majority of the gang members being 1st or 2nd generation migrants of Finnish citizenship). The drug bust in Finland was enabled thanks to the collaboration between the Swedish and Finnish police, allowing them to shut down a major drug distribution channel on Finnish streets. Earlier this year, the Finnish police force introduced two special task forces to combat gang violence both on the streets and preventatively. As a consequence of the cross-border movement of gang-related activities between Sweden and Norway, a new police station is being built on the border, signifying the increasing joint cooperation between the two countries' policing activities.
Like in Sweden, gang violence in Finland is mainly characterised by youth crime and to combat this, the Finnish police is studying the Danish model of penalization. In September the Danish government implemented 39 new measures to curb rising gang violence in the country. These measures focus on stricter sentences and responsibilization of families and tougher penalties on young people in gangs to prevent the desire to join a gang. It also allows for double sentences for weapon use and humiliation violence which entails the emotional violence that gang members use to recruit young members. Lastly, there will be stronger pressure and ability from the police to take measures to combat crime. Most gang members are from minority backgrounds and their resort to gang violence comes from inadequate integration into Denmark. The Danish government wants to appeal to their families to sensibilize them on their reason for coming into Denmark and their responsibility in the raising of their children into an integrated Denmark.
The Nordic countries are experiencing an increase in gang violence related to a lack of successful immigration policy to integrate immigrants into society. As the Nordic countries notice this trend, there is an increased call for better immigration integration. However, these calls for help could prove unsuccessful without effective policy to support them. Often the Nordic countries focus on more stringent penalties for the offenders, however, the problem will persist if it is not tackled at its roots.
The actions taken to tackle the violence in Sweden has often been considered to be too little and too late. Being wary of similar developments, the rest of the Nordic countries are determined to not let their countries suffer the same faith. However, these calls for help could prove unsuccessful without effective policy to support them. Joint cooperation is needed to find a solution. As long as the problem persists in Sweden, there is the possibility of it existing in the other Nordic countries as well.