'Sweden bashing' peaked during 2015 migration wave

5:25 min

News stories in foreign media portraying Sweden in a bad light peaked about a year ago, when many refugees were coming to Europe. But the Swedish Institute is unsure whether it has had a lasting effect on the image of Sweden abroad.

The Swedish Institute is a government agency in charge of promoting Sweden abroad. It also monitors and analyses how Sweden is perceived abroad, publishing regular studies about it.

The image of Sweden is generally positive, says Henrik Selin, head of the department for intercultural communication at the institute. But following the unusually large amount of refugees who came to Sweden in 2015, negative reports about Sweden increased in the foreign media.

"Much of the reporting was factual and true. There was a clear news story, people wanted to portray how Europe and Sweden could manage so many refugees at one time," said Henrik Selin at the Swedish Institute.

But we also saw, and we have seen since then, that there are other forces; people whose political agenda suggests they would like to tell the story of countries not being able to receive that many refugees, who seem to want to exaggerate problems." 

Last summer, the Foreign Ministry found it necessary to issue advice to its embassies on how to deal with disinformation and rumours. The paper notes that "'Sweden bashing' is used as a way to strengthen the actor's or the disinformant's own, often domestic, purposes."

Among the examples mentioned in the paper is when 'a party leader for a European government party' during a debate in parliament claimed that 54 areas in Sweden are ruled by sharia laws and Swedish police are unable to do anything about it. The debate took place in September 2015, and it was the former prime minister of Poland, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who claimed it.

Why is it important for Sweden, and the Swedish Institute, to counter some of these images?

"Sweden is a country that wants to have an influence in the world, and we do not want to be a country that is used for other political purposes. There are countries who'd like Sweden to be an element in their story about a failed state. It is not in our interest to support those kinds of stories that are not true," said Henrik Selin at the Swedish Institute.

The Swedish Institute is currently carrying out a survey of seven European countries to find out how Sweden is portrayed and perceived there. The report will be issued at the beginning of March.

This is the third part in a series about the so called 'no-go zones' and the image of Sweden abroad. Click on the blue button above to listen to the interview.