The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump asked people to ‘look at what’s happening … in Sweden’ earlier this year. Now, Sweden responds.

Over the past 12 months, President Trump has made controversial remarks about a number of European countries, including France, Germany and Sweden. The comments may long have been supplanted by other news in the United States, but they are still very much on the minds of many Europeans.

In one of the most widely covered comments that baffled Europe, Trump caused confusion at a rally in February when he asked his supporters to “look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?” Although Trump did not explicitly say it at the time, his remarks were widely perceived as suggesting that an attack had occurred the preceding night in Sweden. The truth, however, was that the night had been relatively uneventful.

It later emerged that Trump was probably referring to a Fox News segment that drew a connection between rising crime rates in Sweden and the influx of refugees into the country. Swedish criminologists rejected the notion, but search interest immediately spiked after Trump's remarks.

In Sweden, some still worry that Trump's comments painted a false picture of their country. In a long-planned response to the comments, a group of Swedish photographers launched a book on Tuesday that is “conceived as a cultural rebuttal to President Trump’s false claims about terror attacks in Sweden,” according to the publishers.

“We felt we had to react because we didn’t recognize Sweden at all in his words,” photographer and publisher Jeppe Wikstrom told the Associated Press.

Titled “Last Night in Sweden,” the photo book aims to “depict the country as it really is” and will be sent to the White House, members of Congress in Washington and the European Parliament in Brussels. All photos featured in the book were taken after 6 p.m., according to publisher Max Strom.

The photos feature different aspects of life in the Scandinavian nation. Although they do not ignore the challenges the country has faced in recent months, the photographers say, their project is an attempt to provide a more holistic view of Sweden's culture and society, eschewing generalizations or assumptions.

The day when terror really did strike Sweden

Months after Trump's remarks, an Islamist extremist hijacked a truck and drove it into a Stockholm shopping center, killing five people and injuring more than a dozen. Some saw the attack as a validation of Trump's criticism of Sweden's open-door policy on refugees. Others urged the country to remain united.

After the April attack, it became “hard to claim that ‘nothing happened last night in Sweden,’” the book's foreword acknowledges.

In the picture below, Erik G. Svensson captured a boy reading notes posted at the site of the attack.

Adapting to a new life

Although criminologists continue to dispute the notion that the influx of refugees has made Sweden more insecure, crime rates widely differ between districts and cities, creating varying threat perceptions across the country.

Photographer Anette Nantell followed a group of 40 women — many of them immigrants — through two Stockholm suburbs where shootings and rock-throwing at police made headlines this year. The women, who call themselves “Night Walkers,” patrol the streets every Friday and Saturday.

“If we see anything happening, we call the police,” participant Fatma Ipek told Nantell. “We’re strong, and we’re never afraid.”

Elsewhere, refugee children are growing up mostly removed from the tensions that have seeped into Sweden's welcoming culture. Photographer Anna Simonsson took this image, below, of refugee children at their first practice as drummers in a gym locker room in the town of Orskolan.

Music has also become part of daily life for older newcomers. In the photo below, Mazen Bahe gets ready for a rehearsal of the St. Petrus’s Band. About 50 members below age 21 are part of the band.

“Our goal? Simply to help them to learn new things in life,” band leader Noel Tappo told Simonsson.

Last night in “the other Sweden”

The photo project also depicts life in the Scandinavian country seemingly unrelated to the direct effect of immigration, such as fantasy-world role-playing in a glade north of the town of Vasteras.

For five days, Swedes dressed as orcs and elves, among other creatures, take part in hugely popular games for young adults.

Depicting Sweden as a country that builds a sense of community through associations open to everyone, the photo book features a number of nonprofit initiatives. This photo below shows a pool in the Rosenlund Bath House where about 30 members dress up to “swim like mermaids” every week, according to the publishers.

Finally, the photo book also features the Sweden that many tourists may know best.

On a late May evening in Naimakka, Magnus Sundberg captured Simon Siikavuopio driving his snowmobile on a frozen river. The ice was about 20 inches thick.

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Trump asked people to ‘look at what’s happening … in Sweden.’ Here’s what’s happening there.