Book Review: Reza Banakar, the Doorkeepers of the Law

5 Colum. J. Eur. L. 519 (1999)

reviewed by Gil Lahav

Company Limited and Ashgate Publishing Limited: Aldershot, England, 1998. 161 pages.

Reza Banakar’s book begins with Kafka’s famous sketch of the man from the country seeking access to the courts, who encounters an infinite series of ever-mightier guards, each impeding entry more formidably than the one before. It is a fitting metaphor with which to commence an inquiry into how effectively the law can protect those who have the least access to legal institutions. The Doorkeepers of the Law examines the extent to which Swedish law has successfully addressed the problem of ethnic discrimination in Sweden by focusing on how complaints of ethnic discrimination are processed and handled by the Swedish Ombudsman against Ethnic Discrimination.

In the first chapter, Banakar provides an informative and statistically-grounded overview of ethnic discrimination in Sweden. This chapter may surprise some readers, given the humanitarian legacy left by the Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, and the tolerant national ethos that is popularly attributed to Sweden. Banakar’s litany of Sweden’s de facto discrimination problems is sobering indeed and suggests that The Doorkeepers of the Law is a timely response to some of the social problems it describes. To illustrate this discrimination, Banakar points out that only four out of 350 (i.e., 1. 1%) Swedish Parliament members are of an ethnic minority, even though “almost 6% of the whole population are foreign citizens [and] more than 12% are foreign born… or have one or both parents born abroad.”2 Banakar discusses how this pattern of under-representation is repeated in other prominent groups in Swedish society, from union leadership, to corporate control and ownership, to mass media journalism, and-perhaps most importantly-to the very institution intended to correct ethnic discrimination in Sweden, the Swedish Ombudsman against Ethnic Discrimination.