Amineh Kakabaveh is an Iranian Kurdish ex-peshmerga fighter who sought asylum herself in Sweden in the 1990s and has been a member of parliament since 2008. She has been a vocal critic of Sweden’s handling of the 400,000 asylum seekers taken in since 2012, including 160,000 in 2015 alone, the highest number in Europe per capita.
Sweden is “increasingly divided”, said the 40-year-old politician, whose views have earned her enemies among her own formerly-communist Left Party who accuse her of stigmatising immigrants. Yet Kakabaveh is ruthless in her criticism of Sweden’s shortcomings on integrating immigrants, giving it a failing grade.
“We have been naive. We have not been brave. We had no plan,” she said, adding that this has enabled a rise in “fundamentalism” in Sweden’s suburbs that has fuelled the far-right.
“Sweden has been having integration problems for 20 years,” Kakabaveh tells AFP in an interview just days before the election. “This is why the Sweden Democrats, a racist party, is now [poised to be] the second biggest party.”
The Sweden Democrats (SD), an anti-immigration party created in 1988 by ex-neo-Nazis, is tipped to win around 20 percent of votes, according to an average of seven polling institutes in the final weeks of the campaign. That would put SD just behind Prime Minister Stefan Löfven’s Social Democrats, and neck-and-neck with the conservative Moderates Party.
Kakabaveh is worried about all the asylum seekers who have fled “from war, dictatorships, Islamic dictatorships, and regimes like Daesh [the Islamic State group also known as Isis].”
Sweden is “increasingly divided,” she says, clad in a red dress, red cardigan and high heels.
“All red — I’m a socialist!” she says with a laugh.
“This multicultural society has been poorly constructed over the past two decades, and that has led to a separation of communities.”
The issue is so infected that it’s taboo to talk about, she says.
“SD has occupied the public debate even though it has ideas that have nothing to do with wanting to help the most vulnerable in society. Now they’re heroes because the others don’t dare rise to the challenge,” she says.
Kalashnikovs and social work
Kakabaveh is not a household name in Sweden. But she’s been threatened by “racists and fundamentalists” and says she lives under the protection of Sweden’s security service Säpo, in charge of intelligence gathering and counter-terrorism.
Despite her disillusionment with Sweden, she still thinks the Scandinavian country that prides itself on being a “humanitarian superpower” and model of tolerance is “a land of opportunity.”
“I arrived here illiterate. Six years later I was at university and now I’ve been a member of parliament for 10 years,” she says.
A peshmerga fighter in Iran, she was sentenced to death and fled to Sweden in 1992 where she was granted refugee status. In a picture on the cover of her autobiography published in 2016, a younger Kakabaveh is seen wearing typical peshmerga clothing, a Kalashnikov slung over her shoulder and a firearm on her hip, a leather cartridge belt around her waist.
In Sweden, she earned a degree in social work before starting a Swedish branch of the French feminist movement “Neither Whores nor Doormats” in 2005.
Women’s liberation is her main focus, fighting for bans on minor girls wearing the Islamic headscarf and on religious schools. She is known for her vehement opposition to “religious extremism” and “the oppression of women because of honour codes” in Kurdish and Arab circles.
But her outspokenness has come at a price: the Left Party refused to put her on their list of recommended candidates for Sunday’s election. She nonetheless made it onto the list in Stockholm when other party members voted for her, though she is so far down she’s unlikely to get elected. And what will she do if she’s not re-elected?
“Something else,” she says, not missing a beat. “Maybe some social work for oppressed women in another country, on another continent.”