Huge Swedish demonstration against the vaccine pass

Yesterday, in central Stockholm and Gothenburg, a huge anti-vaccine pass demonstration took place. Thousands of people, assumed unvaccinated, crowded together in a public square and marched the streets.

One demonstrator was interviewed on tv and said ‘I want the right to my own body, I believe in freedom, I don’t want to be forced to take a vaccine’.

Last I checked, the vaccine was voluntary and nobody’s forcing anybody.

We have the freedom to do what we want: take the vaccine or don’t. I have had Covid and do not want to experience it again. So I choose to take the vaccine to protect myself from serious illness if I get re-infected. However, that is only a part of my choice. I also choose the vaccine to protect others in society, to try to reduce the spread of the virus and out of solidarity for our exhausted health care workers.

If somebody else does not want to get vaccinated, that is their liberty. They are in the minority in Sweden, at roughly 15%.

There is a confusion between pro- or anti-vaccine and supporting the existence of a vaccine pass. The demonstration seemed to mix up both issues. They are very different.

However, the ironic truth is that if more people got vaccinated, the fewer restrictions we would need. The more who are vaccinated, the less likely it is we need a vaccine pass.

Many people dismiss these demonstrators as ‘tin foil hatters’ – a pejorative term for people with paranoid, persecutory delusions. However, this diminishes an important and valid concern. The debate around vaccination really is a tricky one. There is a conflict between the right to make one’s own decisions over what happens to one’s body – versus the collective level of safety necessary to protect vulnerable people and the healthcare system. What we need to figure out is how to strike a balance between individual rights and the public good. The question is who’s rights weigh the strongest: a person denying a vaccine, or a vulnerable at-risk person who cannot take the vaccine?

I am sure most of us agree that safety is the basis of freedom. That’s why I see the vaccine pass as a temporary way to protect the public, while still enabling us as individuals to live a freer life.

It will hopefully enable us to protect ourselves and each other, and alleviate the burden carried by our health care workers. And it will hopefully lead to a quicker path out of the pandemic. For me, that is worth trading off against a small restriction on my personal rights.

Sweden gets its first female Prime Minister

Today is a historic day in Sweden. Magdalena Andersson has been chosen by the Parliament as Prime Minister, and as such, is the first woman to have the post in the history of Swedish politics. A great day for equality, and not a day too soon. It seems rather odd that it took Sweden so long.

Around the world, women have been politically appointed as state head since the 1940’s. However, the first woman to be democratically elected as prime minister was Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) in 1960. The first woman democratically elected president of a country was Vigdis Finnbogadottir of Iceland in 1980.

The other Nordic countries have a better track record than Sweden. Norway has had two female Prime Ministers to date, the first being Gro Harlem Brundtland in 1981. Denmark has had two – Helle Thorning Schmidt was first elected in 2011. Finland has had three female Prime Ministers with the first, Anneli Tuulikki Jäätteenmäki, elected in 2003.

With the appointment of Magdalena Andersson, four of the five current leaders of the Nordic countries are female.

Sweden’s most beautiful dialect

On the FB site New Swedes, the author writes about Swedish dialects and accents:

‘Dialekter skiljer sig väldigt mycket åt, och nästan varje stad har flera ord som är snudd på omöjligt att uppfatta om man inte kommer just därifrån.
Vilken är Sveriges vackraste dialekt tycker du 😅?

Roughly translated this means:

Dialects differ very much and almost every town has words that are virtually impossible to understand if you don’t come from there. Which is Sweden’s most beautiful dialect do you think?

Around 100 people have answered, and the most popular dialects seem to be Värmländska, from county Värmland, and Gotländska, from the island of Gotland.

I would tend to agree, although I also really like the dialects from Dalarna and Västra Götaland.

What do you think?

My book on Sweden – the Essential Guide!

My book is doing really well, which I’m very proud of. You can buy it on Amazon, Bokus, Akademibokhandeln and Adlibris amongst other online stores. Sweden, by Neil Shipley, published by Kuperard 2021.

I still have a few copies left, so if you’d like to buy a signed copy, just let me know!

Book recommendation – how to adapt to Swedish culture

I have just finished reading Mustafa Panshiri’s 2021 book ‘7 Råd Till Mustafa’. If you understand Swedish, I strongly recommend you read it.

Mustafa Panshiri came to Sweden as a child from Afghanistan. In his book, he cleverly weaves his own experience of integration with seven pieces of advice he wishes he would have been given. This makes the book not only interesting to read, but very practical and useful. He has an non ‘Western-centric’ perspective which I found fascinating to read about and reflect over.

Aimed at readers who want to understand Swedish culture, and integrate into society, the book is also relevant to Swedes. Panshiri includes sections with advice to ‘Svenssons’.

Integration is a complex issue and Mustafa Panshiri does not claim to solve all of the problems. However, with this book, and his endless youth outreach work, he will clearly make a difference.

The book can be bought on line and at good book shops.

Provocative Swedish artist is killed

On Sunday, Lars Vilks, a controversial Swedish artist was killed in a car crash on a motorway in Sweden. Police are investigating the death for suspicious circumstances. It seems as if a tire exploded causing his car to break the central barrier and crash head on into an oncoming lorry. In the vehicle with him were two policemen – his protection.

Lars Vilks had 24-hour police protection as he was living under a fatwa issued by al Qaida. The price on his head was 100,000 USD and an extra 150, 000 if the perpetrator slit his throat.

The fatwa was a response to a series of drawings that Lars Vilks produced in 2007 in a local art show. His pictures depicted the prophet Muhammad, something that is considered blasphemous in anti-iconic Islamic tradition. To create double impact, Vilks depicted the prophet as a so-called ‘roundabout dog’ – a type of street art in Sweden. Depicting the prophet as a dog was deemed extra offensive. It caused such a local and international response that some newspapers in Sweden printed some of his drawings in articles about freedom of speech – causing even more fury.

The whole Lars Vilks case generated huge debate around issues of freedom of speech, respect, art, censorship, religious influence and terror. Throughout the years, he was the victim of many attacks and murder attempts, including bombing and arson.

The catalyst for Vilks’ work was the ‘Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy’ which began after the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 editorial cartoons in 2005. Most of the pictures showed Muhammad. The newspaper announced that this was a debate about criticism of Islam and self-censorship. Muslim groups in Denmark complained, and the issue eventually led to protests around the world, including violent demonstrations, deaths and riots in some Muslim countries.

Vilks saw the specific response to his cartoons as part of the artwork itself. All of the consequences, all the reactions, all of the outrage and all of the violence was an integral part of the art, and a political comment. By that definition, even this blog has become a part of the artwork.

One can, however, wonder if he thought it was worth it in the end.

Lars Vilks was 75 when he died, and he produced a great deal of other work during the decades. He was always conceptual and often controversial and the debate he contributed to will continue long after his death.

Swedish attitudes to birth control

Today, 26 September, is World Contraception Day, which hopes to spread the word and raise awareness about contraception and safe sex. The aim is to help each new generation of adults make informed decisions until every pregnancy in the world is a planned one.

Contraception is Sweden is widely accepted, as there is little or no religious or social stigma around the subject of birth control. Over 90% of women have used some form of contraception in their life time. Common forms of ‘female’ birth control are the pill, the coil and hormone rings. The condom is also very commonly used.

Like in many other countries, the pill was seen as a vehicle for sexual liberation of women in the 1960’s. However, today, it is used less frequently in Sweden than in other neighboring countries as emphasis has been placed more on its negative side effects. Approximately one third of women in Sweden regularly use this type of contraception.

Contraceptive counseling is free in Sweden, although contraceptives themselves are not. You need a prescription, except for condoms and emergency contraception, such as the morning after pill, which are sold over the counter.

Controlling unwanted childbirth has been successful in Sweden, although there is still work to be done. According to the Swedish Statistics Center, 512 children were born to teenage mothers in 2020. Compare this to 6,198 children born to the same age group in 1973.

The Swedish priest who refuses to marry heterosexuals


Swedish priest, Lars Gårdefeldt, is taking a stand against discrimination in the Swedish church. Since 2009, same sex couples have been legally allowed to marry within the relatively-liberal Church of Sweden.

However, there is a loophole. Priests are not obliged to marry a couple if they have conscientious objections to the union. Under this rule, clergy can turn away same-sex couples if they are morally opposed.

Lars Gårdefeldt sees this as bigoted and discriminatory. In response, he is refusing to marry opposite-sex couples. He says that if some priests can turn away same-sex couples, then he, by the same reasoning, can turn away heterosexuals.

He is regretful that he needs to carry out this action, but he wants to highlight the reprehensibility of the situation. He believes the only way forward is that the loophole is removed and that the Church of Sweden does not recruit anti-gay priests in the future.

On social media, Lars Gårdefeldt has been met by positive comments and a fair amount of criticism. Some of the negative comments, unsurprisingly, are hateful and extremely offensive.

Heterosexuals who feel violated by his decision are experiencing exclusion for perhaps the first time. Maybe, if they could take a step back from their own outrage, and reflect on how that feels, they could use this experience to understand what it is like to be on the receiving end of discrimination. Maybe they can empathize with minority groups who have to navigate discrimination their entire lives.

To quote Lars Gårdefeldt, maybe they could actually realise ’the absurdity of refusing marriage to two consulting adults.’

Sweden: the spiritual magic of ‘joiking’

We have all experienced moments of beauty in our lives. One of mine is something I experienced on a trip to the North of Sweden in an town called Hemavan.

The resort we stayed at had a restaurant at the bottom of a ski slope. One day when we were in there, a Sami man climbed up onto the small stage and began to sing an enchanting song. He was dressed in traditional blue and red Sami dress, and through the large windows behind him we could see reindeer high up in the snowy landscape.

It is a beautiful, serene image that is forever etched in my mind.

A contributing factor to the impact this had on me is how the man was singing. In fact, he wasn’t singing, he was ‘joiking ’. What, you might wonder, is joiking ?

Joiking is not a song as such, but a melodic sound that is integral to Sami culture. It is used to express relationships to people and nature. Traditionally, joiks have no lyrics, consisting of chanting, not unlike that found in some Northern American Indigenous cultures. They can also include mimicry of animal sounds.

Like in the restaurant, joiks are often performed for entertainment. However, they can also have a spiritual function. In past times, a noaidi (Sami shaman) could perform joik whilst beating on a Sami drum with bones to contact the spiritual world.

In Sami culture, most people are given their own melody, like a signature tune. This leads to the Sami saying that they are “joiking someone” rather than “joiking about someone”. Most joik melodies are about people, but also animals and places can have their own joiks. Animal joiks are often about wolves, reindeer, or birds such as ducks.

During the Christianization of the Sami from the 1700s onwards, joiking was considered sinful and was banned. But it survived and today is included as a frequent part of Swedish cultural events. Most recently, a Sami artist was televised joiking in a celebration of Crown Princess Victoria’s birthday in July.

If you’d like to experience some traditional and modern joiking, check out the links below. You will be captured by its melancholy and immediately transported to the mountains and plains of northern Sweden.