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.

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 – most commonly from the political left.

Contrary to the stereotype however, 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, meet friends and enjoy the day.

Nowadays, there is always a racist shadow over May 1st celebrations. According to the Swedish law, even their right to demonstrate is protected. This year, the extreme right-wing Party ‘Nordiska motståndsrörelse’ will also be marching in the small towns of Ludvika, Fagersta and Kungälv. This inevitably means a counter-demonstration will occur and a potentially violent exchange of opinions will develop.

If you’re in Stockholm, head to Humlegården or Medborgarplatsen around 12.00 ish to catch the start of two demonstrations.

The National Day of the Sweden Finns

In Sweden, you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting somebody Finnish or of Finnish heritage. Almost everybody knows somebody with a Finnish connection. In fact, there are so many Finns living in Sweden that they have their own commemorative day. And today is that day.

Today, 24th February is ‘Sverigefinnarnas’ Day, (Sweden Finns Day) – the day that celebrates the roughly half million people who live in Sweden and have Finnish as their mother tongue.

So why are there so many Finns in Sweden?

There has been a long history of emigration between the two countries, especially in the border regions of the north. However, a larger emigration happened when 70,000 young Finnish children were evacuated to Sweden during WW2. 15,000 are believed to have stayed and an unknown number to have returned as adults.

Then, in the 1950s and 1960s the migration from Finland to Sweden was considerable, chiefly due to economic differences between the countries. Sweden had the industry, the jobs and the housing. This caused some alarm in Finland with most of the emigrants in their most productive age — although many of them returned to Finland in the following decades.

In the year 2000, the Sweden Finns were recognised as an official national minority group in Sweden. In fact, the Sweden Finns are the largest national minority group in Sweden. Other large minority groups come from former Yugoslavia, Irak, Syria and Poland – although these do not have official national minority group status.

In 2007, a flag was designed which combines the Swedish and the Finnish colours.

If you’re in Sweden today, you may well see this flag flying proudly around the country.

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.

Swedes and their alcohol – a Swedish odyssey?

When visiting Sweden, people are often struck by the system for purchasing alcohol. In bars and restaurants everything goes as expected but if you want to buy a bottle of, for example, wine or whisky then this is done in the state-owned alcohol shops known as Systembolaget. These shops have restricted opening hours closing at 6 or 7pm on weekdays and 2 or 3pm on Saturdays. On Sundays and Public Holidays they are closed.

Sweden’s alcohol monopoly started in the 1800’s and the national company Systembolaget was formed in 1955.

Systembolaget has a retail network of circa 426 stores, around 25 in Stockholm. The company has an interesting mandate from the Swedish state – to help limit the medical and social harm caused by alcohol and thereby improve public health. This explains why access to alcohol is restricted through the number of stores, opening hours and retail rules, and why the corporation is aims not to maximise its profit. In other words, the alcohol monopoly is highly socio-political -its foremost aim is to stop people consuming alcohol, or at least to consume it responsibly.

Although strange for many visitors, it’s a concept that seems to work – Swedes consume on average 9.1 litres of pure alcohol per person annually, less than many other countries.

However, it is at times like Christmas that the restricted opening times become more obvious. This year, the shops are closed for 4 days from yesterday at 3pm. Up and down the country, long queues were reported. I saw this with my own eyes, and had a weird recollection of old pictures from the Second World War or Soviet Russia. People seemed to be in a good mood while they waited, though it meant waiting for almost an hour outside some branches.

I guess it’s the price you pay for lack of forward planning. Anyway, I hope everybody got what they wanted and that they have a boozy, woozy, snoozy Christmas worth queuing for.

Sweden’s sand box

It’s been over two months since the general election, and still no government in Sweden. This is because the 8 parties can’t find a suitable coalition that doesn’t damage egos, betray voters, let in the nationalists or destroy alliances. It’s a bit like watching a discussion between toddlers in a sand box:

  • Ulf wants most of all to play with Ebba, Jan and Annie
  • Annie doesn’t want to play with Ulf, Ebba and Jan unless Isabella is allowed in
  • Annie and Jan definitely don’t want to play with Jimmy or Jonas
  • Annie and Jan want to play with Isabella but Isabella wants to play with Jonas and Stefan
  • Jonas is happy to play with Stefan and Isabella but not Jimmy or Ulf or Ebba
  • Stefan wants Annie and Jan to join in with Jonas and Isabella
  • Nobody wants to play with Jimmy, except sometimes Ulf and Ebba
  • Jimmy doesn’t know who he wants to play with

One wonders how it all will end. Well, how does this discussion in a sand box usually end?

In tears!

Have you been wondering who votes for Sweden Democrats?

I was at an interesting lecture this week with researchers Kirsti Jylhä, Jens Ryding and Pontus Strimling. They were presenting the results from their research at the Institute of Future Studies into who are the Sweden Democrat’s (SD) voters, why do they vote for SD and where are they from? It’s taken me a while to mentally process and summarise what they said, but here is my take on it.

The research was carried out in the form of questionnaires on several thousand voters. The research tried to look at attitudes, origins, demographics and world views.

Fluid voters

The majority of the SD voters have moved from Socialdemocratic party (S) and conservative Moderates (M). 62% of the supporters are more likely to vote M in the future, if they don’t vote SD.

Critical to immigration

The majority of SD supporters have immigration as their main issue. They are critical of immigration in general and see immigration as a threat to society. Some of the voters, but far from all, have a deeper resentment or dislike for foreigners. The main driver is fear and criticism of a ‘failed’ immigration system. Almost 100% of SD voters believe immigration costs too much. Over 80% believe that immigrants weaken the Swedish culture. Over 90% believe that immigrants are responsible for increased crime rates.

Trust Swedes

The SD voter has a higher level of trust towards other Swedes than to those born outside of Europe with almost 70% saying they would prefer a native Swede as a neighbour rather than a foreigner. This was 19% for S voters and 37% for M voters.

Skeptics

The vast majority of the participants in this research were highly skeptical towards the government and other authorities. They have an innate, higher suspicion of politicians, media and the legal system than M or S voters. They also have a larger tendency to believe in conspiracy theories.

Feeling good

Previous research suggests that supporters of populist parties tend to be dissatisfied and marginalised by society. This research does not support that. Quite the opposite, SD voters are satisfied with their lives and their current situations and they do not perceive their quality of life has been reduced during the last four years. However, a common concern they have is that their standard of living with get worse in the future due to costly changes in society. In comparison to S or M voters, they have a much weaker optimism about the future.

Tolerance and respect not important

In comparison to S and M voters, SD voters tend to think tolerance and respect are not important qualities. In the raising of children, obedience is seen as a more important quality. However, the research could not prove a larger lack of empathy amongst SD voters compared to others.

Lower education

37% of SD voters in the research had a higher education (eg university). Amongst S voters this is 44% and 57% amongst M. The majority of SD voters are working class.

Conservative and authoritarian

SD voters in much higher numbers have a conservative and authoritarian view of society. For example, over 70% think that feminism has gone too far and it is the role of the man to support the family. Over 60% believed that a strong leader is necessary to control unwelcome behaviours in a society.

So, are SD voters stupid, racist and irrational? Judging by this research the answer is no. They are skeptical, critical and fearful.

And they are highly rational. It makes rational sense for them to navigate towards a party that resonates most with their attitudes.

Today is Election Day and soon we will see the result. What will win in Sweden? Will it be skepticism, criticism and fear? Or will it be pragmatism, openness and optimism?

To see the full report, go to http://www.iffs.se and look under publications.

Sweden’s politicians are slut spurting

I know, i know. It sounds gross doesn’t it? ‘Sweden’s politicians are slut spurting.’ However disgusting it might sound, it is exactly what they are doing.

With one week to go to the election, all the parties are in the final throws of their campaigning. In this final week, they try to get their message across by turning the gear up a bit. This final sprint to the finishing line is called a ‘slutspurt’ in Swedish. It’s often used to describe the final hurried days of a sale.

And it’s what they’re all doing.

They’re slut spurting on the tv, in the streets, in the media. It’ll be a relief when it’s all over I expect. That much spurting can’t be good for you.