All over the world, Scandinavia remains the lefty's short-hand for paradise. Personally, I never envied Adam and Eve – they seem to me to have been leading lives best described by another lefty favourite, Karl Marx, when he sweepingly condemned the "idiocy of rural life". So, if Scandinavia really is like the Garden of Eden, then I don't envy Lars Larsson and Søren Sørensson much. Innumerable numbingly boring childhood summers spent in Sweden have, in any case, long since confirmed my intuition…
But Sweden does have its positive sides (as, I suppose, must paradise). When my family was thrown out of Poland on the height of a hysterical witchhunt in 1968, only few countries offered to welcome my parents and grandparents. Foremost amongst them, for no particular reason other than their niceness, was Sweden – where part of my family has lived ever since, in unexcited Scandinavian bliss.
Since then, some things have changed in Sweden. In particular, the Swedes themselves seem rather less enamoured with their own system than my friends in the US and other places. After all, a year ago, they voted in a non-Social Democratic government for – virtually – the first time since 1932.
Yet, as a story by Ivar Ekman in today's International Herald Tribune seems to confirm, their change of government has not, so far, brought about an end to Swedish niceness. In 2005, 9.000 Iraqis fled their ravaged home for Sweden – that is over 40 % of the number welcomed in the entire industrialised world. In the current year, around 20.000 are expected to find their cold home in Sweden. Just for comparison, the United States, which, arguably at least…, has more to do with the reason why Iraquis are fleeing in the first place than pacifist Sweden, is planning to accept a mere 7.000.
As the United States and France (under Sarkozy's enthusiastic leadership) are gearing up to tighten rules for immigration, it is important to remember that the right to a safe haven must remain absolute. This is true for every country, though it is particularly shaming for a state to slam its doors in the face of the needy if its own policies – however well-intended – have contributed to the crisis.
Western democracies must be based on respect for all humans, no matter what their race, religion – or nationality. We all must thank Sweden for reminding us of this. What is more, as the US and France debate how humane to be towards those most desperately in need of their help in the future, we needn't worry about the negative aspects of paradise: both of them are too far off from Sweden's idyll to become boring anytime soon.