What have Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland had – but Sweden hasn’t?

To date there is something that Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland has had, but that Sweden hasn’t. And it’s quite intriguing as to why. The UK has had two. India has had one. Norway has had the most of any country. Currently 27 countries have one. In fact, 76 countries in the world have had one.

Do you know what I’m talking about?

Elected and appointed female heads of state and government.

In the long history of Swedish politics, there has never been a female Swedish Prime Minister. There are female party leaders, mostly of the smaller political parties. Sweden currently has a female Deputy Prime Minister and a female Foreign Minister. But never the head of state.

According to Wiki, ‘Khertek Anchimaa-Toka, of the Tuvan People’s Republic, is regarded as “first ever elected woman head of state in the world” in 1940. The first woman to become prime minister of a country was Sirimavo Bandaranaike of present-day Sri Lanka in 1960. The first woman to serve as president of a country was Isabel Martínez de Perón of Argentina, who as vice-president succeeded to the presidency in 1974 after the death of her husband. The first woman elected president of a country was Vigdís Finnbogadóttir of Iceland, who won the 1980 presidential election and three others to become the longest-serving female head of state in history (exactly 16 years in office).’

So why not in Sweden? I don’t have a theory I’m afraid, but I do think it’s strange that a country that prides itself on leading the politics of equality has only had men as Prime Minister. White, middle-aged, assumably straight, men.

And it doesn’t look like there’ll be any change to that in the coming years. Not unless one of the three largest parties elects a female leader to replace the three men who currently hold those positions.

It’s been almost 100 years since the first woman was elected as a Member of Parliament in Sweden and currently, in the Swedish Parliament, 46% are women. Isn’t it time for a woman to also hold the highest elected political office in the country?

Then Sweden could show its equal par with Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland – and 72 other countries around the world.

Bad Swedish summer

Last week I was in the Swedish county of Dalarna – where it was 3 degrees and hailed! That was extreme, but also fairly typical of this summer so far.

After last year’s mega warm and long summer, expectations were high for this year. These expectations have been crushed. Cold winds, low temperatures and rain have been the melody of summer 2019 and people are not happy.

There’s a great Swedish expression – ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes’. I wonder how many people agree with that saying at the moment. Summers like this are filled with reluctant book-reading and crossword solving and not so much sunbathing and swimming.

I guess it’s early days still. The weather can change and August could be amazing. That’s what we all keep telling ourselves.

And that takes us to another great Swedish expression -‘Hope is last thing to abandon us’.

Why fascists should be allowed no platform in Sweden

The trouble with being empathetic‘, somebody once said, ‘is that you also feel sorry for assholes.’

But I have had enough! I have had enough!

I’m sick of being liberal and accepting and allowing. I’m done with it. Although far from everybody, Sweden and Europe is full of assholes.

Yesterday in Sweden, a left wing politician was physically attacked by members of the nazi party on the street. This is only one of many anti democratic incidents we are witnessing in our society.

After the EU election, it is abundantly clear that a climate of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant racism is being stoked in Europe and Sweden.

There are many examples. In Sweden, like in many other countries, the main nationalistic party (called SD) gained ground. White supremists demonstrate openly on the streets of Sweden. Last week, in Sweden, RFSL (The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Rights) said they would not participate in Sweden’s politics week due to threats from a nazi party.

Enough!

The democratic dilemma

As liberals, we have a dilemma on how to handle this spiraling situation. As self-identified beacons of democracy, we believe that freedom of speech should apply to everybody – even if their ideas are heinous. Banning opinion is, in itself, a fascistic move. Or is it?

I am a democrat. I believe in freedom of speech. But for me the solution is simple. The fascist opinion is not like any other opinion. It is filled with violence and hatred and should be allowed no platform in an open society.

No platform for fascists

When I say that there should be no platform for fascists, I mean that pro-democratic legislation should be stricter. I mean far right supremist groups should be criminalized in Sweden. I mean fascist meetings should be shut down, their attempts to rally and march should be prevented, counter-picketed and blocked.

It is not just because what they say is offensive. It is not a question of whether I like or agree with what they have to say. It is because hate speech does not end as speech. It is a call to violence, a tool to organize attacks on vulnerable communities.

When fascists get a platform, violence against minorities goes up. This we know. This we are seeing.

Fascism is a disease

Fascism is a disease in Swedish society. It aims to destroy our democracy and concentrate power in the hands of a “racially superior” minority. To succeed, it requires the destruction of freedom of speech. It requires destroying mass organizations of working people and unions. It requires the dismantling of free press, as SD has suggested the privatisation of public service radio. It uses an army of internet trolls. Fascism uses the blinkered limitations of liberalism to destroy itself.

Today’s fascists in Sweden and Europe try to re-brand themselves as something less threatening than their past incarnations. They are “alt-right” and pretend to be champions of free speech. They are not. They wear suits and smile into the camera. They claim they are anti-establishment and present themselves as scapegoats. They pander to the sick and the elderly by offering them more money. They pretend they aren’t racists or homophobes, just champions of white people and Swedish culture and “values”. They try to keep their real ideas and aims in the dark.

Freedom of speech

Freedom of speech is not absolute. When thugs disrupt Pride parades that is not free speech. When fascists demonstrate during the May 1st celebrations, it is not free speech – it is intimidation and an attempt to incite violence. We have a right and a duty to prevent it, through the law, superior numbers and organization.

Unfortunately, racism cannot be defeated by logical argument. Racism, and fascism, grows by an appeal to the irrational, fear and hatred. It has to be smashed.

You might think I’m a drama queen who is making a mountain out of a mole hill. But I have had enough! I’m sick of allowing undemocratic people access to our democracy.

We cannot under-estimate the threat fascism poses in Sweden, our communities, schools and workplaces. Pro-democrats must make it a top priority to expose it and organize to stomp it out wherever we find it. We must unite in saying – not here, not on our watch, not in Sweden.

Sweden, that means: no platform for fascists.

6 reasons why Swedes take Eurovision so seriously

We are in the middle of the Eurovision qualification rounds (known colloquially as ‘Mello’) in Sweden – three weeks in, three weeks to go. This extended selection period occupies every Saturday night for 6 weeks, and results in the song and artist who will represent the country in the big final in Israel.

People gather up and down the country to have ‘Mello’ parties. Social media and traditional media are full of comments about the bad quality of the contestants this year (and every year). People are raging that the wrong songs are voted to move on in the league table.

Nobody, and I mean nobody takes their Eurovision (ESC) more seriously than the Swedes.

But why is that? Here are a few theories:

Brightening up the winter blues. Mello comes during the deepest, darkest, dreariest time of the year. The glittery colourfulness of Mello brightens up February and early March, when nothing much else happens.

Reliving the glory days. ABBA’s legacy is a constant reminder to Swedes that they once reached long-lasting global fame and it all started at ESC. Every year is a hunt for the next big thing, when the international light will shine once more on this little country in the north.

Organized ‘religion‘. Sweden is, relatively speaking, not a religious country. So the human need for organising ourselves into a collective manifests itself in other ways. Hockey and football become a form of organized religion. And ‘Mello’ is another variation on the same theme. Ask Swedes why they like Mello and many use the word ‘folk fest’ – a ‘national party for the people.’

Swedish traditions. Sweden is a country that is good at holding on to traditions – crayfish parties, snaps songs, semla cream buns, Easter trees – to name just a few. Therefore it is easy for this society to absorb, and structure, new traditions. Halloween is now a thing here. So is Valentine’s Day. So Mello becomes another tradition and slots nicely into the national calendar.

Vicarious extrovertism. Swedes are not generally known for being outgoing and extroverted, although there are of course exceptions. This means that Mello becomes so attractive, as it’s an opportunity for Swedes to live vicariously through the ‘crazy’ performers who dance around in sequins and funny outfits. It’s also an opportunity to push your own boundaries and wear a glittery hat or a pink feather boa. And all under organised, acceptable conditions.

Love of music. Because some Swedes actually like the music.

Which theory is most accurate do you think? Do you have another theory?

A young Swedish hero who puts us to shame

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade, the imminent threat of climate change can not have escaped you. Many people the world over are concerned, if not terrified, about the future of our planet. The word ‘klimatångest‘ has popped up in the Swedish language – climate anxiety – to reflect the growing stress people are feeling as the weather changes and the earth burns.

In contexts of concern, unlikely heroes often rise up, and many of them are women. Women who sit in the white section of the bus, women who attack neo nazis with their handbags, women who protest school shootings in USA, women who bite back against haters and mysogynists on social media. Women who take no shit.

Such a young woman is the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. At 16 years old, she has made headlines for her bravery, her directness and the fact that she calls us out – the older generations who are failing her generation. Currently in the snow topped village of Davos, she is attending the World Economic Forum. She attacked, in a speech, the wealthy who continue to earn money at the expense of the earth’s resources. She criticised them for flying in on private jets instead of travelling the train, as she did, for 30 hours. It was like seeing David defeat Goliath. Listening to her, the powerful audience gave a weak, unconvinced round of applause. It’s clearly uncomfortable to be called out by a 16 year old Swede.

What’s amazing about Greta Thunberg is her conviction and her single-mindedness. She puts it down to her Aspergers diagnosis saying she can focus on what’s important instead of focusing on the ‘social game that seems to be so important for so many people’.

It’s wonderful to watch her, and listen to her as she continues to tear a hole in the establishment with her wit and uncompromising fierceness. And it’s a reminder that we don’t need to look to our elders to find inspiration. It can certainly be found by looking at the generations behind us. Tomorrow’s heroes are there. They want change and they have a sense of urgency.

Greta Thunberg wants us to act as if the house is on fire.

Because, in her words, the house is on fire.

What exactly is a quisling?

Sweden might have a government soon. Months after the general election, an unconventional middle coalition seems to be forming, which includes former opposition parties from left and right. All of this is an attempt to keep an extreme right wing party out of the government. However, it’s not without its critics.

One party in particular – the right-oriented Center Party- have been strongly criticized for being turncoats and traitors. One disgruntled politician called the leader of the Center party a quisling. While we use this term in English, I was curious to check into where the word comes from and why it is such a serious insult.

According to Wiki, quisling is a term originating in Norway, which is used in all the Scandinavian languages and in English for a person who collaborates with an enemy occupying force – or more generally as a synonym for traitor. The word originates from the surname of the Norwegian war-time leader Vidkun Quisling who headed a domestic Nazi regime during the Second World War.

Interestingly, the use of the word quisling predates the war though. In 1933, the term was used to describe the followers of Quisling who was in the process of starting a national fascist party based on the German nazi model.

In 1940, Quisling attempted to seize power in Norway, as he wanted to collaborate with Hitler. His coup d’etat failed, and he and his followers were declared criminals. In the British Times the headline was ‘Quislings everywhere’, and the term became synonymous with traitor – a word to ‘carry the scorn of mankind throughout the centuries’, to quote Winston Churchill.

So there we have it. A word taken from a pitiful, slithering fascist who was a traitor to his country and collaborated with an enemy power. Sounds more like a description of Trump if you ask me.

It seems then definitely out of proportion that the word is currently being used to describe the leader of Sweden’s Center party.

Of course many people are disappointed, and she has had to make some difficult compromises. But there is one promise she has not backed down on, however difficult it might be – to never give fascists a position of power in Swedish politics. And though not ideal for her, she has moved to the middle to prevent this.

The irony then is in the fact that she is being called a quisling. She is not a quisling, she is in fact the complete opposite.

World Aids Day in Sweden

Lying here in the middle of the night, the sound of the rain beating on the windows and the wind howling around the rooftops. During these dark nights, my mind often wanders.

And right now, it is reminding me that Saturday is World AIDS Day.

My mind circles around the memories of friends and acquaintances I lost in the peak of the crisis in London. I remember all the talented celebrities who died, such as Freddy Mercury, Rudolf Nureyev, Arthur Ashe, Derek Jarman. I ponder the unnecessary number of beautiful young people, unknown to most of us, who succumbed to the disease over the last 30+ years. An estimated 35,4 million people have died from AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic, to quote the grim statistics.

Today, in Sweden about 10000 people live with diagnosed HIV and Sweden has become the first country in the world to achieve the UN goal for identification and treatment of people with HIV.

But that’s not the case on many other countries, where HIV continues to devastate communities and families. In East and Southern Africa, an incomprehensible 19 million people are believed to live with the infection, and an additional 25% don’t know their status.

World AIDS Day (WAD), designated on 1 December every year since 1988, is an international day dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection and mourning those who have died of the disease.

In Stockholm, Noak’s Ark has a day of lectures, meetings and performances to commemorate the day. Check out their web page.

Tomorrow night, Friday 30 November, there is a WAD concert at Maria Magdalena Church on Bellmansgatan on Södermalm. I will be there to sing with my choir and to show respect for those who are living and who have died.

It starts at 17.30 and is open to all.

Please come along.