Why is May 1st celebrated in Sweden?

In Sweden, and in many other countries, May 1st has been embraced as the International Workers’ Day. In 1938, May 1st became Sweden’s first non-religious public holiday and has been an important celebration of labourers and the working classes since then. When it lands on a weekend, like this year, the day off work is ‘lost’ as no public holiday is replaced in lieu.

But why specifically May 1st?

The answer is found in a massacre in the USA. On 1 May 1886, laborers in Chicago went out on strike for an 8 hour working day. On 4 May 1886, Chicago police and the demonstrators clashed and 11 people died.

The event is called the Haymarket massacre. Seven of the demonstrators were sentenced to death, despite lack of evidence. To commemorate the massacre, the socialist organization suggested that 1 May should become day of demonstrations every year.

Around Sweden, traffic is shut off, huge flag-waving demonstrations are held and people gather to hear speeches from their politicians and representatives. The demonstrations represent people from various parties. However, since most of them are from the political left, the streets are awash with bright red flags and banners.

Contrary to the stereotype, not everybody in Sweden supports 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, watch Netflix, go for a walk and enjoy the day.

World Book Day – and my book on Sweden

Today is UNESCO World Book Day, to celebrate books and promote reading. The 23 April is a significant day as it commemorates the death of many famous writers such as William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega.

Every year a World Book Capital is nominated. The first one, in 2001, was Madrid, Spain. This year it is Guadalajara in Mexico.

So today is a good day to buy a book, or to gift one. If you know anybody who is interested in learning about Sweden, or planning on visiting Sweden, then my guide book is a good match! I published it in 2021.

You can buy it on Amazon, Bokus, Akademibokhandeln and Adlibris amongst other online stores. Sweden, by Neil Shipley, published by Kuperard 2021. You can also buy it straight from the publisher at http://www.culturesmartbooks.co.uk

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

Riots on the streets of Sweden

Over the Easter weekend, there were several riots in different parts of Sweden in which participants violently attacked the police and other emergency services. Screaming, trashing, burning, destroying, threatening and killing.

The riots were in response to anti-Islam events organised by radical, far-right Danish party Stram Kurs (Hard Line). The leader Rasmus Paladan, who is half Swedish, had been given permission to hold public rallies and burn the Qur’an.

While it is not illegal in Sweden to burn a religious scripture of any denomination, it is a clear and fully-intended provocation, leading to public outcry and reaction.

Let me be clear – I in no way condone the criminal actions of the rioters. They need to be identified, and prosecuted. I also do not condone the burning of the Qur’an. It is a senseless and racist affront intended only to aggravate.

The whole situation has put Swedish politicians in a pickle. Like most democratic countries, the concept of freedom of speech is central. Everybody has the right to say what they think, even if it is heinous. As a democracy, we have to accept it. We meet our combatants in debate and not in violent action.

So, the question becomes is burning the Islamic scripture an expression of this democratic right? Or is it incitement of hate, which is illegal in Sweden?

The politicians have skilfully dodged the question and passed it on to the police, to whom Rasmus Paladan has applied for permission to continue his tour of Sweden, despite ongoing public unrest.

It will be interesting to see what happens next in this historical moment in Swedish history.

Transgender Sweden

Today is the International Day of Transgender Visibility. The day is dedicated to honouring the victories and contributions of the transgender and non binary communities while also bringing awareness to the work that is still needed to protect trans lives. During 2021, 375 trans and gender nonconforming individuals were murdered. Around 70% of these occurred in Central and South America.

Transgender in Sweden: It has been a long and rocky road for the transgender population to receive legal protection in Sweden. This road has been lined with demands on enforced divorce and enforced sterilization. In fact, it wasn’t until 2013 that the requirements to be sterilized and undergo sex reassignment surgery in order to change gender became unconstitutional. Sterilization had been in effect since 1972, and enforced on 500 to 800 transgender people.

Today, the transgender community is protected under the Anti-Discrimination Law of 2009. Additionally, in 2018, “transgender identity and expression” was added to the hate crime legislation.

It would however be naive to believe that this has eradicated this type of discrimination and crime in Sweden. In fact, many transgender people report a constant feeling of insecurity and vulnerability in society. Around 12% of the reported hate crime in Sweden has a homophobic or transphobic motive. Who knows how much happens that isn’t reported?

Days like International Day of Transgender Visibility are hugely important for breaking the negative cycle of hate. If you would like some input on how to support the trans and non binary people in your life, go to http://www.thetrevorproject.org and look under Resources.

Great Swedish Women Part 7: The Leaders

Since March 8th, I have been republishing a series to celebrate Great Swedish Women, past and present: women with strength and passion, women who create change. Today is the final day – and a new post.

Never in the history of Swedish politics have so many women had such powerful leadership positions as today.

We have come a long way since 1919, when women won the right to vote in Parliamentary elections and in 1921 when the first five women were voted in as MP’s. It took 65 years until 1986, when Karin Söder was the first female party leader to be elected.

However, today six of the eight political parties in the Swedish Parliament have a female leader. These six politicians are, as seen in the picture below: Ebba Busch (Christian Democrats), Magdalena Andersson (Social Democrats and Sweden’s first female Prime Minister), Annie Lööf (Center Party), Märta Stenevi (The Greens), Nyamko Sabuni (Liberals) and Nooshi Dadgostar (Left Party). They stretch all across the political spectrum from left to right.

In the Swedish Parliament 46.1% of the MP’s are female, making it the highest proportion of women in any European Parliament. Only four other countries in the world have a higher female representation, with Rwanda in the number 1 position at 61%.

(Source: Worldbank Data 2020)

Sweden and Ukraine – Yellow and Blue

Because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many official buildings in Sweden are flying the Ukrainian flag in solidarity. The authorities want to show that Sweden stands side by side with Ukraine in their time of need.

The Ukrainian flag, like the Swedish flag, is yellow and blue. The Swedish flag is a yellow cross on a blue background. The Swedish flag was initiated in the early 1500’s and the yellow is said to represent gold and blue represent the sea. Sweden depicted itself as a wealthy sea-faring realm.

Psychologically, the blue represents justice, loyalty, truth, vigilance and perseverance. The yellow represents generosity.

The colours on the Ukrainian flag represent something else. The blue represents the sky, and the yellow represents the wheat fields that are so important to the country’s identity and economy. The flag was first hoisted in 1848.

On a psychological level , the yellow in the Ukrainian flag is said to represent joy and the blue represents calm.

I am sure we all hope that the people of Ukraine experience both again very soon.

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.

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!