MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We want to spend a few more minutes on the migration crisis in Europe. I spoke with Sweden’s minister of foreign affairs, Margot Wallstrom, earlier today about her meeting with President Obama and leaders of the Nordic countries. The minister famously said last year that Sweden was facing collapse due to the mass influx of migrants. Her Danish counterpart, Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen, told NPR on Friday that Denmark’s border controls were in response to Sweden’s border control measures. But Minister Wallstrom defended Sweden’s measures.
MARGOT WALLSTROM: No, I will not argue with my dear colleague Kristian Jensen. I will just explain that what happened was that we had, of course, an enormous influx of refugees to Europe. We were among the countries that welcomed per capita most refugees to our country and I would say almost – more than 30 percent of all unaccompanied children, for example, came to Sweden. We did so because we could see what was going on in Syria and other places. We believe in the right to seek asylum and we respect the international law.
What we then experienced was that the other EU member states, the other European countries, did not receive or welcome refugees to the same extent. And of course, this has to be a shared responsibility. It became untenable for us in the end.
And I don’t mean that the whole country was facing a collapse. I said that some of our systems, our social systems, could not deal with hosting and welcoming so many children. It was necessary, in the end, to actually take those measures, to have border controls – internal border controls.
MARTIN: I was going to actually say that, you know, I think that most people understand that any country would have difficulty absorbing a large flow of people in a short period of time in a moment of crisis. But looking back at it now, was there a more humane response or could there have been a better response? Is it your view that the real issue was that this was – there was a lack of coordination among the most effected countries and that therefore everybody was scrambling to keep up, or…
WALLSTROM: You know what? I think it was unforeseen to all of our countries that we suddenly would have such a huge flow of refugees coming to Europe. I must say that I admire the Swedish people because they did their best to do this in the most humane way with showing solidarity and helping these people as well as they could.
MARTIN: Along those lines though, and this is apart from your portfolio as foreign affairs minister, but I did want to ask a bit about the environment in Sweden at the moment. Your country has been known for decades as one that is tolerant, has a welcoming atmosphere for people of different backgrounds, but you know, just the other week a photo went viral of a Swedish woman standing in front of hundreds of neo-Nazis marching through her town.
There have been reports of attacks on buildings that house migrants and also people who are not migrants but who are expatriates. For example, there’s a story about an African-American banker who was, you know, beaten up at a bar and people are saying, you know, what’s happening here? And I wondered if you share a similar concern that there’s something sort of happening to the fabric of the society, particularly in regard to its welcome toward people of different races.
WALLSTROM: We must be aware that, first of all, our country has, in a few decades, changed a lot from having a very small percentage of people of another region coming from other countries to 17 percent, around 17 percent as it is today. So that changes our society but to the better. It has enriched our society.
MARTIN: Is that a widely shared view?
WALLSTROM: I believe so. But we also see the same phenomenon in Sweden, as in many other countries in Europe, where we have extremist groups, where we have those who believe that it is possible to turn in another direction or to keep the sort of strangers out.
So they have their parties in Sweden as well, and this is true also for other European countries. And we are we are still proud over our long Democratic tradition, over the right to free speech and also to to keep a lively debate going on.
MARTIN: And I can’t let you go without asking about the upcoming U.K. referendum. Britain will soon decide if they’re going to stay in the European Union. A couple of questions there. First of all, what would an EU without Britain look like and does this stimulate discussion within Sweden? I’ve seen the word Swexit tossed around. Is that actually a possibility?
WALLSTROM: I do not believe that that is visible in Sweden yet, or that there is no movement for that at all. We need the European Union. We are a player everywhere in the world. We have brought 28 countries together. What was once divided in east and west and new and old member states are now a European Union, as I call it, a solutions united.
MARTIN: Are you worried?
WALLSTROM: So we worry. Yeah, we worry.
MARTIN: Are you worried?
WALLSTROM: Of course we are worried because if you look at the opinion polls it’s an even game at the moment, and we can only present our best arguments why we want the U.K. to stay in the European Union.
MARTIN: Before we let you go, I cannot help but mention that the biggest song contest in the world is happening tonight in Sweden – the Eurovision Song Contest.
MARTIN: So you will actually be flying back home…
MARTIN: …At the time. If we could invite you to stay, you could watch it here. I don’t know whether…
MARTIN: …That’s an appealing…
WALLSTROM: …It has definitely – it’s been an option.
MARTIN: Is it a big deal?
WALLSTROM: It’s a big deal in Sweden…
MARTIN: Well, Eurovision gave us ABBA, which is a…
MARTIN: …From Sweden, you know…
MARTIN: …Of course.
MARTIN: Is it…
WALLSTROM: Thank you for the music.
MARTIN: (Laughter) So are you sad to miss it because you’ll be flying?
WALLSTROM: Yeah. I understand that I ought to be there, but…
MARTIN: You want be there.
WALLSTROM: I will have to live through this also. Thank you.
MARTIN: Margot Wallstrom is Sweden’s minister of foreign affairs. She was kind enough to join us here in our studios in Washington, D.C., at the conclusion of the visit to Washington with five Nordic countries. Minister, thank you so much for speaking with us.
WALLSTROM: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: And we guess that you’ve been anxiously awaiting the results of the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest going on in Stockholm, Sweden, but now we have a winner. It is Jamala from Ukraine for her song “1944.”
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “1944”)
JAMALA: (Singing) When strangers are coming, they come to your house.
MARTIN: The win is already sparking some commentary in the European press because the Eurovision Contest, going on for six decades now, is promoted as a display of European unity. And the artist says it’s about the deportation of Crimeans by Russia in World War II. And she says it could also be seen as a commentary on recent Russian relations with Ukraine.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “1944”)
JAMALA: (Singing) Our souls (singing in foreign language)…
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