Kungälv , Sweden

Rooting Out Intolerance: the Kungälv Model

Kungälvs kommun and Teskedsorden

November 27, 2014

A project that reduces racism and intolerant attitudes among young people while saving the municipality millions.

Kungalv, We walk on the same earth, can we walk together

vi gar pa samma jord, kan vi ga tillsammans? = We walk on the same earth, can we walk together?

Imagine a project that roots out intolerance, eradicates local, organized racist groups and saves millions for the economy. Sound too good to be true? Not in Kungälv, Sweden.

The Tolerance Project, also called the Kungälv Model, was born out of a crisis of violent neo-Nazi racism in this small Swedish coastal city north of Gothenberg and the failure of immediate action to resolve the deeper, long-term problem of xenophobia and racist violence. The initiative was spearheaded and led by the local Kungälv government after the assassination of John Hron, a 14-year-old Swedish boy of Czech origin who was murdered by four young Nazis in the summer of 1995.

Deeply resolved to prevent such a terrible crime from ever happening again, the municipality made a commitment to long-term action and coordinated efforts “to change the structures that cause extremism in the local community from their very foundation [and] eliminate the conditions for intolerance to set root.“

The Tolerance Project focuses on “young people with an intolerant world view.” At first glance, the model is exceedingly simple: identify local youth in or at risk of joining neo-Nazi gangs and then provide them with alternatives.

The path to success is, of course, much more complex. For the city of Kungälv, not taking action was not an option.

Out of crisis, tolerance

The City of Kungälv launched the Tolerance Project in 1995 on the fundamental premise: intolerant ideas exist in our society and with this, the conditions for racism and other forms of intolerance. As long as these attitudes exist, racism and intolerance among young people have scope to grow.

The city found a passionate partner in The Order of the Teaspoon, a foundation established by Israeli writer Amos Oz that’s works to prevent people from being discriminated because of “political or religious beliefs, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.” Its motto, “For tolerance. Against fanaticism.”

Tolerance is a loaded word for many who work on anti-oppression. The Tolerance Project defines tolerance in a way that actively promotes inclusion:

“The human ability to coexist beyond ethical, cultural, religious and other individual borders is a key for survival, throughout history. Tolerance then becomes the individual’s ability to meet persons that are different from oneself and find the necessary and reciprocal compromises that reduces friction and promotes just coexistence.

Throughout history we have learnt that we cannot ask for more than simply living side by side, sharing space, respecting individual choices that do not reduce other people’s freedom of choice. A community that meets this is tolerant and will promote diversity… all people have the right to define who they want to be.”

How the Kungälv Model works

The Tolerance Project looks to the future. It takes time to develop a culture of resistance to destructive and intolerant behavior patterns. The project model targets youth but includes a wider spectrum of stakeholders committed to on-going and persistent efforts to influence society’s attitudes. This includes challenging anti-democratic ideas and values and getting young people to see the value in participating in democratic processes. Research shows a connection between education and leaving destructive environments, so another important long-term project goal is to ensure that the participating student complete the compulsory nine-year school system, and continue onto upper secondary school.

Local issues require the analysis and insight of local actors. Teachers, social workers and community youth workers in Kungälv work together to identify high-school teenagers in or at risk of joining neo-Nazi gangs. They map local social structures and interrelationships to identify trouble spots and at-risk youth. As Christer Mattson of The Order of the Teaspoon reflects: “Without this basic analysis we will never be able to understand how the structure chooses its victims. And we will not be able to identify and understand the driving forces in this destructive structure.”

Once youth are identified as at-risk, the project works with them to disassemble toxic activities and connects them to more positive relationships, activities and influences.

Recognizing the value of social investment.

One of the challenges faced by Kungälv was getting decision makers to see the importance of  a long-term social investment approach on these questions of prevention. Curbing extremism is essential, but cities also need to see the real financial savings that investing in tolerance brings:

“Our common hope is that more municipalities and schools see the importance of the prevention and long-term work against intolerance. It’s an investment for the future, both for society and for individuals” (Erik Ullenhag, Integration Minister, Sweden; Anders Holm Shield, Councillor, Kungälv municipality; Christer Mattsson, Teacher and founder of Tolerance project, Kungälv municipality).

The Order of the Teaspoon, along with the Expo Foundation and the Kungälv municipality, engaged economist Ingvar Nilsson (SEEAB) and behaviourist Eva Lundmark to develop an economic model that calculates the financial impact of taking preventive measures against intolerance.

The result of their study “The Price of Intolerance” shows that a white supremacist group could cost the municipality over 290 million SEK over a 15 year period (43 million USD). The cost of running “The Tolerance Project” over the same period is about 13 million SEK.

Doing the math is easy. The “price tag of violence” is high. The cost of doing nothing, unsustainable.


As Kungälv leaders and citizens will admit, their work is not finished, “nor will it ever be.” However after 30 years it is showing results. Today, there are no active Nazi or white supremacist organizations in Kungälv and no informal gangs. There is an increased sense of security, less vulnerability, and most important of all, less hatred. However, the greatest success of the Kungälv Model is its ability to get students of widely different backgrounds ”to sit down together, learn together, live together.”

The efforts of Teskedsorden and Stiftelsen Expo to promote Kungälv’s success is paying off. The Kungälv Model is being replicated in other cities. For the 2015/2016 academic year, with $1 million in government investment and partner support (from Ministry of Labour, the National Agency for Youth and Civil Society Affairs, Natur & Kultur Foundation, and Skandia Ideas for Life), 20 other cities in Sweden will implement the Kungälv model and teachers will be trained to run their own Tolerance projects locally.

“Work against xenophobia and intolerance must continue constantly. Each new generation must be won for the idea of human equality. Xenophobic beliefs that are contrary to the principle of equal value are very much a challenge to the entire set of values which our democracy is based. Our common hope is that more municipalities and schools see the importance of the prevention and long-term work against intolerance. It’s an investment for the future, both for society and for individuals”

The Kungälv model has been highlighted by the UN as a viable and appropriate strategy to counter extreme intolerance among youths.

Making it Work for You:

  • Make youth a focus of your efforts to change social attitudes and behaviours. Early interventions close to home are more likely to result in culture shift.
  • Work smart - find out where youth are most accessible and engage related stakeholders; in this case, school institutions, teachers, parents and social workers.
  • Reaching youth means working collaboratively across sectors with organizations and groups who come into contact with youth in their daily lives.
  • Work hard to make a commitment to “tolerance” more than respect for diversity and leads to inclusion.
  • Show me the money! Anti-racism and inclusion initiatives have a local financial impact. Make your business case as strong as your advocacy