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.

And so it is Advent – Swedish style

 

Today, the first of Advent, the light shines strong in the darkness.

Swedes decorate their houses, apartments and windows with lights. From ceilings, illuminated stars are hung. On window ledges, electric advent candles are placed. On tables, four candles are positioned and one is lit every Sunday up until Christmas. Small candles, often red, are dotted about the home. Some people change curtains and populate their homes with small gnomes and flowers.

Since November is a grim month, the collective advent decoration is a welcome arrival as light is spread into the murky places. From the dark street, it is lovely to see windows lit up in every apartment.

This weekend is also the starting signal for the Swedish ‘glöggfest’. People go to each other’s homes and drink ‘glögg’ (mulled wine), eat gingerbread and saffron buns. It is a very cosy time of year.

And so it is Advent – Swedish style

 

Today, the first of Advent, the light shines strong in the darkness.

Swedes decorate their houses, apartments and windows with lights. From ceilings, illuminated stars are hung. On window ledges, electric advent candles are placed. On tables, four candles are positioned and one is lit every Sunday up until Christmas. Small candles, often red, are dotted about the home. Some people change curtains and populate their homes with small gnomes and flowers.

Since November is a grim month, the collective advent decoration is a welcome arrival as light is spread into the murky places. From the dark street, it is lovely to see windows lit up in every apartment.

This weekend is also the starting signal for the Swedish ‘glöggfest’. People go to each other’s homes and drink ‘glögg’ (mulled wine), eat gingerbread and saffron buns. It is a very cosy time of year.

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.

Sweden’s ‘Britt Summer’

Currently, many places in Sweden are experiencing warmer summer-like temperatures. The sun is shining, the air is warm but the leaves on the trees are golden brown. Known in English as Indian Summer, this brief, warm spell in the autumn is, in Swedish, called a ‘Britt Summer.’ It has nothing to do with Britain as you might assume but something completely different.

To be an official Britt Summer, the warm spell has to roughly coincide with the 7th October. This date is known as Birgitta Day, or Britt Day in the Swedish calendar – hence the name. The day celebrates the canonisation of Swedish Saint Birgitta. Legend has it that Saint Birgitta thought the temperature in Sweden was too cold so she prayed for the citizens of the country. And the Lord answered her prayer by providing everybody with a few extra days of summer!

These warm, sunny days are very welcome – the last throws of summer, before we are plunged into darkness and winter takes us in its grasp.

Interestingly, and oddly, Britt Summer is also known as ‘Fattigmanssommar’ (Poor man’s Summer) and Grävlingsommar (Badger Summer).

If anyone knows the reason why, please share it with us!

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.