By Tim Mansel
News of a secret police register in Sweden containing the names of 4,000 people, most of them Roma, has tarnished the Swedish reputation for tolerance and resulted in anti-Roma prejudice being described as the last “acceptable racism” in the country.
“When I saw this I got scared,” says Adam Szoppe, a journalist with Swedish national radio.
He’s talking about the story which was splashed across the front page of one of the country’s leading daily newspapers, Dagens Nyheter, in September, which revealed that a police force in southern Sweden had compiled a register of more than 4,000 names, most belonging either to members of the Roma community, or to people closely connected with it.
More than 1,000 are the names of children, some of them as young as two. Others belong to people who have been dead for many years.
The police have defended themselves by saying the register was drawn up to help them fight violent crime in southern Sweden, and that despite the register’s title – Kringresande or Travellers – it had no ethnic basis or intent.
It is illegal under Swedish law to process information about someone based solely on their ethnicity.
The next day, Dagens Nyheter published further details, including a photograph of part of the register with the details blurred out, but enough of it was legible for Szoppe to recognise his home address.
“And there you could see written ‘girl born 2010’ and where I live there are only three Romany families and I am the only one with a three-year-old daughter,” he says. It turned out that Adam Szoppe, his wife, and three of his four children were on the police register.
The reporter who broke the story, Niklas Orrenius, describes discrimination against the Roma as “the last acceptable racism in Sweden”, though the revelations have caused widespread shock and anger across the country.
“I have met many Roma people on the list,” he says, “and they said they don’t believe the police is preparing ethnic cleansing or something like that, but they’re scared because this is a state-controlled register of thousands of Roma, and who knows who’ll be in charge of Sweden in 20 years and what they will use it for.”
The former leader of Sweden’s liberal Folkpartiet, Maria Leissner, says the register represents a “hate crime”.
She led a government-backed investigation into the treatment of Roma which concluded in 2010 that “Roma today are almost completely excluded from mainstream society.”