Starving children in a Stockholm museum 

Stockholm’s Photography Museum is, in my opinion, one of the world’s best museums for seeing photographic art. If you haven’t been, I recommend one of the current exhibitions called ‘What’s on the Plate’ by Magnus Wennman and Erik Wiman. I saw it today and it is no easy exhibition to see. In fact it is very difficult to stomach. 

In picture and text, you see very recent depictions of starving children around the world and what they are forced to eat in order to survive. The exhibition asks for donations towards Save the Children. It is well worth a visit and runs until 13 August 2017. 

It is a sobering and humbling experience and a reminder of the overindulgence of our daily lives and the vast gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. 
For more information:

When Stockholm becomes a ghost town 

With the summer holidays in full swing in Sweden, many urbanites leave their cities and head for their country houses, their boats and further abroad. As a result, Stockholm empties out and turns into a ghost town. Fewer cars and fewer people contribute to a calm environment. Many establishments are closed for business and back in August. Most of the people you see are tourists or unfortunates who have to still go to work. 
Although it has changed over the years, Sweden is still affected by the so-called ‘industrisemester‘ when companies used to completely shut down production for the whole month of July. Even though this has changed now thanks to globalism, July and August are the times when most employees take their holidays and it is noticeable how vast numbers of people disappear from the cities and towns. According to Swedish law, employees are entitled to 5 weeks holiday and can take 4 of these in July-August and there is a right for these to be conjoined.  

How I have been Swedified 

After my last blog about Swedish geography, somebody commented that it is hysterical that there is a place in Sweden called Norrbotten. 
This got me thinking. 

When first moving to Sweden and learning the language, I saw all sorts of funny words which made me giggle. Now, some two decades later, I don’t even see those funny words any more – I have been Swedified. 

  • ‘Plopp’ to me is a chocolate bar, and nothing else
  • ‘Puss’ is a kiss and not a little kitty or a body part
  • ‘Kiss’ isn’t a romantic exchange between consenting people. Kiss is urine
  • ‘Slut’ is simply the end of something
  • ‘Avfart’ on a motorway is just the exit 
  • ‘Rea’ is a sale and not an old British singer 
  • ‘Kök’ and ‘kock’ are the kitchen and the chef, not a body part
  • I don’t even see the squidginess of the ‘slutspurt’ any more. All I see is that it’s the end of the sale. 
  • I don’t titter any more when someone says ‘shit’ to describe the putty around the window or the number six is the same as ‘sex’. 
  • ‘Prick’ is a dot and not an insult 

It is with a smidgen of regret that I guess I have been integrated – at least linguistically! 

Dividing up Sweden 

Today I thought I was in one region of Sweden, but I was reminded by a Swedish friend that I was in fact somewhere else. This dividing up of Sweden is not easy to get a grip of. 
Sweden is divided into 3 regions: Norrland, in the North, Svealand in the middle and Götaland at the bottom. These regions have no official purpose, except making it easier for weather readers to present their forecasts. 

Within each region, there are many counties (landskap). Sweden has in fact 25 counties, with Lapland being the most northern and Skåne being the most southern. These counties have their own coats of arms, flowers, and often traditional clothing. 

In 1634, the administrative responsibilities for justice, roads, hospitals etc were removed from the counties and given to an organisation of ‘län’ – administrative counties. There are 20 of these in Sweden. There can be more than one county in the area covered by a ‘län’. For example Södermannsland ‘län’ includes the counties of Södermannland, Uppland and Närke. Each ‘län’ has a main city of residence, where the county government (länsstyrelsen) is based and the governer (landshövding) has his/her residence. For Södermannland, this is Nyköping. 

Within each administrative county there are local councils (Kommun) who are responsible for social services on a local level. There are 290 of these in Sweden today. 

So when traveling through Sweden, you will be in a region, a county, an administrative county and a council at the same time. No wonder it’s hard to know where you are sometimes! 

Why Nazis are welcome to Gotland 

When I went to university in the U.K., there was a policy called ‘no platform’. This meant that students were allowed to demonstrate, hold rallies and meetings about any subject they liked except with one agenda – racist. The university claimed it was democratic but also allowed ‘no platform for racists’. I personally do not hold right-wing views, but this policy never sat easily with me as I saw the clear paradox that it created and it raised the question of what a democracy is. This is a question that raises its head very frequently in today’s culturally and politically polarized society. 

One very recent example in Sweden is the annual politics week that finishes today on the Baltic island of Gotland. This is a week where political parties gather and debate the current political landscape of the country. It’s a tradition that started in 1968 under the initiative of legendary leader Olof Palme. This year, for the first time, a Nazi group were allowed to participate  with a tent and speeches. They, course, were condemned by all parties and many voices to ban them were heard – ‘no platform for Nazis’. 

This is the dilemma for any modern democracy. If democracy means that everybody has the right to exercise their own ideas and beliefs, then society can not ban or intervene when people have the ‘wrong’ beliefs. We can’t just stop somebody from participating because we don’t like their point of view. It is different of course if they are breaking the law. But being a nazi is not breaking the law in Sweden, just as it is not illegal to be a civil rights activist, a communist or a feminist campaigner. 

We shouldn’t forget the very foundation of a democratic society means the right to hold whatever belief we want and go wherever we want with whoever we want. That is our liberty. If we start to infringe on it with bans, or ‘no platform’ policies, we are heading down a slippery slope of state control, elitism and autocracy. 

For me, Nazis should not be forbidden to go to Gotland. To ban them is to undermine our democracy. Threatening behavior, nazi symbolism, Hitler salutes, encitement of violence are however illegal and should not be accepted or allowed. 

It is in the shadow that their presence casts that a counter balance can be demonstrated. And exactly that happened on Gotland in the form of a well-visited Diversity Parade. Thousands of people marched for a plurastic society and in protest of the views propagated by right wing parties. This was a fantastic manifestation representing the majority of Swedes. And this could only happen in a democratic society. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am not undermining anybody’s discomfort or fear. I am sure that the presence of the Nazis was horrible to experience. But if history has shown us anything it is that we cannot put our heads in the sand and ignore these destructive forces. We must face them head on in debate, in demonstration, in democracy and in massive, massive resistence.