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‘Too much salt’: Czech Swedes, Journalism and (Anti)Xenophobic Discourse

‘Too much salt’: Czech Swedes, Journalism and (Anti)Xenophobic Discourse

Srđan M. Jovanović, Media and Communication Studies, Department of Communication and Media, Lund University, Sweden,

ISSN: 1335-3608


According to the Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX), Sweden is at the top of world ranking when it comes to successful integration of immigrants and refugees. However, during the last few years, there have been xenophobic discursive attacks on Sweden, in which it is commonly claimed that Sweden is ‘failing’ when it comes to immigrant integration. Such was the case of Kateřina Janouchová, a Czech-born journalist from Sweden, who was recently in the media spotlight after producing xenophobic rhetoric. Her discourse was countered by Hynek Pallas, another Czech-born Swedish journalist, as the debate (and surrounding textual and video production) spread from Sweden to the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom. This article approaches both the xenophobic and anti-xenophobic discourse of Janouchová and Pallas from a discourse analytical perspective.

Even though it can be said with certainty that accepting large amounts of immigrants and refugees (such as Sweden have done) can be somewhat problematic on the political, societal and economic levels, the xenophobic discourse about Sweden tends to be exaggerated, which will be shown in Janouchova’s rhetoric. On the other hand, the liberal media has a tendency to ‘soften’ the debate, which was seen in the rhetoric of Pallas. Tackling the issue through the theoretical and methodological lens of discourse analysis, we have engaged the diverging discourses of xenophobia and its opposition, and found that the rhetoric of ‘concern’ and ‘fear’ was used to promote an anti-refugee sentiment. Conversely, a more sombre, fact-checking approach was used to alleviate alleged fears. The discourse-oriented perspective is used due to the fact that political viewpoints are primarily promoted via text and talk, and the concentration on the spoken production of the two journalists (based on several hours of their video recordings), as well as their textual production (and consequently, textual production about them) has the potential to be politicized. From a discursive perspective, there is relevance in going beneath the first layers of text and talk in order to show the connotative elements of a particular type of rhetoric.

We have thus tackled the topic via the use of a discourse analytical perspective, wherein the rhetoric of the two journalists was analysed through taking a closer look into the type of discourse they produced. From such a perspective, it is of relevance to identify the common ways of framing an issue, i.e. how it is presented, and via what type of wording. This is why Janouch’s rhetoric is described as essentially declarative, whilst Pallas’ is followed by more corroboration.

The topic was chosen for several reasons. First is the fact that Sweden increasingly serves as a hub of mostly Right-wing discursive attacks as a country with a ‘failed’ immigration system. Having in mind the recent upsurge in xenophobia in Europe, choosing Sweden as a case study is currently of high relevance to the issue. Second, the two journalists figure as a central node in this research due to their difference in opinion and the way they presented the same issue. While most research tends to be conducted in a more global fashion (macro-studies), we have chosen to engage what is essentially a micro-level study, as an increase in quantity of micro-level studies can contribute to macro perspectives. Third, the debate between Janouch and Pallas resonated at an international level, and could be seen in Sweden, the Czech Republic, and the UK. Both Pallas and Janouchová have appeared on Swedish and Czech Television, and were reported by the UK media. The resonance of the debate could arguably be put down to the salience of the issue of immigration on a Europe-wide level, especially when the discussion is about Sweden.

In summary, Janouch’s rhetoric focused on two instances: one was worded as ‘concern’ for the future of Swedish society, through which refugees were presented as a danger to Sweden; the other concentrated on ‘potential’ danger, when real troublesome issues were not found. Allegations of an increase of no-go zones in Sweden were stressed, even though it is a common instance in urban development – however despondent it may be – that larger cities will contain zones with more criminal activity. Through the use of broad generalizations such as claiming that immigrants are ‘terrorizing’ Sweden, Janouch paints a much grimmer picture than the one corresponding to reality, which gets further distorted in nationally-oriented UK outlets that reported on the controversy, and where it was claimed that ‘streets were no longer safe’ in Sweden, which is a verifiable falsehood.

Pallas’ discourse drew directly on the spoken and textual production of Janouch. Nevertheless, his rhetoric was different, wherein he drew upon ideologies such as cosmopolitanism, through which a humane approach is not reserved for a single people/nation, but for anyone. He dubbed the rhetoric on immigration as seen in Janouch’s production as ‘shameful’, and maintained that even though problems do exist, they are far from being that widespread and not connected to refugees exclusively.

The larger ramifications and implications of the micro-level study we have presented here on the topic of immigration and opposition to it are multi-faceted. On one hand, xenophobia has become an issue of high salience on a wide European level. Sweden is often used as a go-to country for alleged examples of how integration policies are failing, commonly reported by xenophobic outlets in Central Europe, from the Czech Republic, via Slovakia, to Poland. Due to the large number of refugees arriving who are fleeing the conflicts in the Middle East, refugee integration, together with other immigration-related issues, has come into the spotlight, and has been widely used by the Right for the promotion of their own agendas, discourses and policies. From a media perspective, most vitriol against refugees stems directly from the media, via which xenophobic political players tend to promote their agendas, including journalists and editors who assist them. Future studies should not cast aside micro-level studies, not only in Sweden, but in any European country that tackles the same or similar issues. As the arrival of refugees does not seem to be nearing an end in the near future, there is ample material for scholarship to tackle.

Bibliografické informácie (sk)

JOVANOVIĆ,  Srđan M. ‘Too much salt’: Czech Swedes, Journalism and (Anti)Xenophobic Discourse. Človek a spoločnosť, 2018, roč. 21, č. 1, s. 47-61.

Bibliographic information

JOVANOVIĆ,  Srđan M. ‘Too much salt’: Czech Swedes, Journalism and (Anti)Xenophobic Discourse. Individual and Society, 2018, Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 47-61.

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