Few places are tilting toward a cashless future as quickly as Sweden, which has become hooked on the convenience of paying by app and plastic.
This tech-forward country, home to the music streaming service Spotify and the maker of the Candy Crush mobile games, has been lured by the innovations that make digital payments easier. It is also a practical matter, as many of the country’s banks no longer accept or dispense cash.
Not everyone is cheering. Sweden’s embrace of electronic payments has alarmed consumer organizations and critics who warn of a rising threat to privacy and increased vulnerability to sophisticated Internet crimes. Last year, the number of electronic fraud cases surged to 140,000, more than double the amount a decade ago, according to Sweden’s Ministry of Justice.
Older adults and refugees in Sweden who use cash may be marginalized, critics say. And young people who use apps to pay for everything or take out loans via their mobile phones risk falling into debt.
“It might be trendy,” said Bjorn Eriksson, a former director of the Swedish police force and former president of Interpol. “But there are all sorts of risks when a society starts to go cashless.”
Bills and coins now represent just 2 percent of Sweden’s economy, compared with 7.7 percent in the United States and 10 percent in the euro area. This year, only about 20 percent of all consumer payments in Sweden have been made in cash, compared with an average of 75 percent in the rest of the world, according to Euromonitor International.
Cards are still king in Sweden — with nearly 2.4 billion credit and debit transactions in 2013, compared with 213 million 15 years earlier. But even plastic is facing competition, as a rising number of Swedes use apps for everyday commerce.
At more than half of the branches of the country’s biggest banks, including SEB, Swedbank, Nordea Bank and others, no cash is kept on hand, nor are cash deposits accepted. They say they are saving a significant amount on security by removing the incentive for bank robberies.
Mr. Eriksson, who now heads the Association of Swedish Private Security Companies, a lobbying group for firms providing security for cash transfers, accuses banks and credit card companies of trying to “price cash out of the market” to make way for cards and electronic payments, which generate fee income.
“I don’t think that’s something they should decide on their own,” he said. “Should they really be able to use their market force to turn Sweden into a cashless society?”
Despite the convenience, even some who stand to gain from a cashless society see drawbacks.
“Sweden has always been at the forefront of technology, so it’s easy to embrace this,” said Jacob de Geer, a founder of iZettle, which makes a mobile-powered card reader.
“But Big Brother can watch exactly what you’re doing if you purchase things only electronically,” he said.
Czech President Milos Zeman called the current wave of refugees to Europe "an organised invasion", adding young men from Syria and Iraq should instead "take up arms" against the Islamic State (IS) group.
"I am profoundly convinced that we are facing an organised invasion and not a spontaneous movement of refugees," said Zeman in his Christmas message to the Czech Republic released Saturday.
He went on to say that compassion was "possible" for refugees who are old or sick and for children, but not for young men who in his view should be back home fighting against jihadists.
Both the Czech Republic and Slovakia, former communist countries that joined the European Union in 2004, have rejected the EU's system of quotas for distributing refugees amid the current migrant wave.
More than one million migrants and refugees reached Europe this year, mainly fleeing violence in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.
The crisis has strained ties within the European Union, with mostly newer members taking a firm anti-migrant stance and some northern countries like Germany welcoming those fleeing war.
Regardless, a recent survey showed that nearly 70 percent of Czechs oppose the arrival of migrants and refugees in their country.
It is necessary to give kudos to Syrian President Bashar Assad who, in fact, stopped Washington from carrying out a coup in Syria, according to Russian political analyst Boris Dolgov.
In an interview with Sputnik, Russia's Middle East expert Boris Dolgov heaped praise on the policies pursued by Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose actions prevented the White House from staging in coup in Syria.
Washington has repeatedly tried to overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad, Dolgov said, referring to the White House's permanent efforts to undermine Assad's government from within.
"For example, when Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem visited Qatar, its authorities offered him millions of dollars to declare that he was switching sides and joining the opposition. So there were quite a few coup attempts, but they all failed," Dolgov said.
In his opinion, one should give kudos to Syria’s authorities, not least President Assad himself.
"The majority of Syrians see Assad as a national leader. They know full well that a possible alternative to the Assad regime is chaos in their country, the enlargement of Daesh, the split-up of Syria and the end of its statehood," Dolgov pointed out.
He referred to 85 percent of the Syrian population who currently live in areas controlled by the government troops. In other words, civilians flee the territories seized by Islamic militants because they realize that only the army and the Syrian government can guarantee a normal life.
A former senior administration official told The Wall Street Journal that the White House was "offering incentives for people to abandon Assad," but by the summer of 2012 this strategy of orchestrating a regime change in Syria had failed.
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