SWEDEN: Christian Democratic Party (Kristdemokraterna) wants to abolish teaching in Syriac and other mother tongues in Swedish schools

STOCKHOLM – Sweden’s political party Kristdemokraterna (Christian Democrat Party) this week announced it wants to abolish teaching in the mother tongue – ‘hemspråk’ – in all Swedish schools. According to the Christian Democrats, the reality with Sweden’s immigrant communities has changed; mother tongue teaching does not anymore support integration in Swedish society and is no longer a door to learning the Swedish language.

The Christian Democrats say that research cannot prove the usefulness of teaching in the mother tongue. Kristdemokraterna party secretary Peter Kullgren told Swedish media; “We simply see that there are several shortcomings with regards to mother tongue teaching especially considering that some 40% of teachers are not competent and that we have a situation where one in four schools does not get approved by the Swedish School Inspectorate.”

The party believes that the system has become inefficient and that government funding can be used for better purposes e.g. Swedish language trainings for immigrants and home language study guidance outside state schools. Swedish government annually spends some SEK 1 billion on teaching the mother tongue languages in Swedish schools.

Kristdemokraterna holds 22 seats in Swedish parliament including Syriac Member of the Riksdag Robert Halef.

Syriac Orthodox St Ephrem the Syriac, Södertälje. Image: Wikipedia

Sweden has a sizable Syriac population of some 150,000 Syriacs (Chaldeans-Arameans-Assyrians). It is one of the largest ethnic groups in Sweden. Syriacs are very successful and integrated with major Syriac communities in Södertälje, Örebro, Gothenburg, and in various suburbs of the capital Stockholm. They have worked hard in Swedish factories and helped make Swedish companies big. Another example of the high degree of integration is that Syriacs have even requested to integrate part of their own history, i.e. the Sayfo Genocide of 1915, in official Swedish school books.

There are five Syriac Members of Parliament in the Swedish Riskdag: Tony Haddou (Vänsterpartiet / Left Party), Robert Hannah and Roger Haddad (both Liberalerna), Robert Halef (Kristdemokraterna), and in August 2020 Abraham Halef was nominated by the Social Democrats to the Riksdag as the fifth Syriac MP. There is one Syriac minister, Ibrahim Baylan (Minister for Enterprise). Ibrahim Baylan and his family originate from the Syriac village of Saleh in Tur Abdin, southeastern Turkey.

Whether the Kristdemokraterna’s floating of the idea to abolish ‘hemspråk’ is merely opportunistic and political signaling in an increasing Swedish right-wing political climate, or that the Kristdemokraterna are really worried about integration, is unclear. The next Swedish parliamentary elections are only scheduled for September 2022.

This is not to say that Sweden has not taken in many immigrants in the last decade and indeed struggles with increasing and more violent crime and integrating newcomers in Swedish society. Only recently was a “secret” Swedish police report leaked to Swedish media. The report stated that increasing crime rates and murders in Sweden might be related to some 40 criminal immigrant clans, and that those immigrant clans have also infiltrated the highest political levels. Kristdemokraterna MP Robert Halef and former Social Democrat MP Yilmaz Kerimo were implicated by the police report as belonging to these immigrant clans.

No evidence for their involvement in crime was published from the leaked police report. Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet talking to Södertälje mayor Boel Godner words it like this: “Robert Halef is charged, but he is not allowed to know what he is accused of and has no means of defending himself. At the same time, the police put the word “clan” on his forehead.” MP Robert Halef denies having any involvement in crime and says that he can not possibly be held accountable whatsoever for what any of his x-grade relatives might have done.

Syriac media has highly criticized attaching the names of the two Syriac politicians to ‘crime-clans’ in the leaked police report – Syriacs have big and extended families but have no tribe structure. One of the opinions which were brought forward as to why Swedish politics mentioned the two Syriac MPs, was that many of the criminal immigrant clans might be Muslim. To counter the image that Swedish politics is targeting Muslims, they made the report more politically correct and acceptable and put the Syriacs as example of how Christians and their “clans” can also commit crimes – around the turn of the decade, the city of Södertälje, which has a significant Syriac community, struggled with Syriac crime. Syriac media also found it very weird that newly nominated MP Abraham Halef received, only in August, the confidence of the Social Democrats ruling party to be nominated to the Riksdag. Abraham Halef and Robert Halef are both from Södertälje and carry the same ‘clan’-surname.

Image: Edessaskolan.se

Regardless, the Christian Democrats’ plan to officially abolish the mother tongue might even turn out for the best for Syriacs. It might emancipate Syriac public and private schooling in Sweden. So far, Syriacs in Sweden have only one official primary school, Edessaskolan. Abolishing ‘hemspråk’ could lead to Syriacs opening more schools, all within the framework of Swedish education laws.