Swedes on the march

Around Europe, May 1st still contains many ancient pagan spring rites festivities, such as dancing around maypoles, drinking, reveling and welcoming the spring. In Sweden, these festivities have been moved to the festivity of ‘Valborg’ on April 30th, and May 1st has been embraced as the International Workers’ Day.

Since 1938, May 1st has been a public holiday and an important celebration of labourers and the working classes in Sweden. Around the country, traffic is shut off, huge flag-waving demonstrations are held and people gather to hear speeches from their politicians and representatives. Today is especially important for politicians on the left side of the political spectrum, and Sweden’s current government the Social Democrats. For decades, they have held their rally in a square in central Stockholm, known as Norra Bantorget, where the Swedish Trade Union Federation is located.

May Day celebrations are of course not unique to Sweden – many countries around the world have similar events. The day is also a public holiday in many countries – though interestingly not in Sweden’s neighbouring Denmark.

Contrary to the stereotype however, not everybody in Sweden supports the left wing political groups. Many Swedes lean towards the centre or the right. For them, today is just a day off work – an opportunity to perhaps nurse hangovers from the festivities of the previous evening or to relax, meet friends and enjoy the day.

Nowadays, there is always a populist shadow over May 1st celebrations. This year, the nationalistic extreme right-wing Party ‘Nordiska motståndsrörelse’ will also be marching in the small towns of Ludvika and Boden. This inevitably means a counter-demonstration will occur and a potentially violent exchange of opinions will develop.

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