Once a year, at the beginning of July, there is a politics week in Sweden. The week takes place in an open-air park called Almedalen on the Baltic island of Gotland, and attracts heavy media coverage. Every day of the politics week belongs to a specific party that has a seat in the parliament – there are 8 of them.
The Alemdalen politics week all started 40 years ago when legendary Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme spoke publicly. It was at the end of the 60s and the Social Democrats on the island took the initiative and asked Olof Palme to make a speech in Almedalen. Palme and his family had spent their summer holidays on the neighbouring island of Fårö for many years. The stage was a lorry platform at Kruttornet and there was an audience of a few hundred people.
Now Almedalen politics week attracts thousands of participants and is intended to involve the man on the street in politics and to protect the strong Swedish value of democracy. However, the concept of democracy has never been so strongly challenged as it is this year. Right wing, nationalist party Sweden Democrats are gaining in popularity and are now the second largest party according to the opinion polls. This is a party that has its roots in nazism, sits in the parliament, focuses on ‘Swedishness’ and, even today, categorizes people according to their ethnicity. Some of their representatives are simply racist.
Democracy is a double-edged sword. Giving an open platform to racist ideas is a difficult thing to stomach, but it does strongly reflect the Swedish belief in freedom of speech. We don’t all agree with each other, but we have to defend the right for each other to think differently – as long as we are not inciting violence.
If we don’t do that, what’s left? What kind of a society do we have then? I am sure it would be a society that we wouldn’t want to live in.
At Almedalen politics week, we meet each other in debate. And in debate and discussion, we influence each other and our environment. And it is then, and only then, we can possibly change our society.