Digital Stockholm Pride

Today is typically the day that the LGBT Pride parade takes place in Stockholm. Up to 500,000 fill the streets making it the largest event in Scandinavia. However, this year it has been cancelled due to the pandemic. Instead it is being carried out digitally, with an opening speech by Crown Princess Victoria. If you are interested, you can view the live stream here: http://www.stockholmpride.org

It runs 12.00-14.00.

The whole concept of LGBT Pride has taken strong root in Sweden. LGBT Pride resonates well with the societal Swedish values of equality, tolerance and acceptance.

Sweden’s history of LGBT rights is a comparatively progressive story. Changes didn’t happen automatically however. Thanks to the hard work of campaigners, lobbyists, and politicians, society can enjoy one of the most egalitarian legislations in the world.

According to wiki: ‘ Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in 1944 and the age of consent was equalized in 1972. Homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in 1979. Sweden also became the first country in the world to allow transgender persons to change their legal gender post-surgery in 1972 whilst transvestism was declassified as an illness. Transgenderism was declassified as a mental illness in 2008 and legislation allowing gender change legally without hormone replacement therapy and sex reassignment surgery was passed in 2013.

After allowing same-sex couples to register for partnership in 1995, Sweden became the seventh country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage countrywide in 2009. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression has been banned since 1987. Also, since 2003, gay and lesbian couples can adopt children, and lesbian couples have had equal access to IVF and assisted insemination since 2005.

Sweden has been recognized as one of the most socially liberal countries in Europe and in the world, with recent polls indicating that a large majority of Swedes support LGBT rights and same-sex marriage.’

So, enjoy Pride today!

Sweden the pariah

It is well known that Sweden has taken a different approach to the pandemic, one that didn’t involve totally locking down society and enforcing quarantine and curfew. Instead, the Swedish way relied on the responsibility of the population to go about life, with some restrictions and be careful. Time will tell if this was the right choice in the long run.

In the short run, we see that Sweden has a relatively high incidence of death from Covid-19. It is of course hard to compare figures, because it depends on what and how you are counting. Sweden cross checks against the death register and counts every death, in every location. Not just in hospitals, or in intensive care units. Because the virus got into care homes, the vast majority of deaths is unfortunately found in the over 80 age group.

It seems like Sweden is now paying a price for the more relaxed corona strategy. With countries around the world slowly opening up, they have released lists of approved countries from where tourists are allowed. Sweden is not on many of these lists. Swedes are perceived as plague-carrying high risk tourists.

Sweden’s neighbours Finland, Norway and Denmark have opened up for travel after their lockdowns. But the borders to Sweden remain closed. Sweden has become the social pariah of Scandinavia. Norway released an interesting decision this week. No traveling to Sweden, except to the Swedish Baltic island of Gotland. However, domestic travel is allowed in Sweden, so the popular holiday island of Gotland will be packed with Swedes, mostly from Stockholm, crammed in together with Norwegian tourists. Not sure how Norway was thinking on that one.

Of course, as time goes on, Swedish tourists will be welcome again around the world. As Sweden’s death toll reduces, and the virus ebbs out, borders will open again. It’s just an usual situation right now for Swedes to find themselves unpopular.

So, staycation is the melody of summer 2020. My plans include a socially-distanced trip to lake Vättern, and a road trip up north. I’m also going to explore my hometown of Stockholm more.

If you’re staying in Sweden, what do you plan to do?

The end of a Swedish murder mystery

At 11.21 pm on 28 February 1986, Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was shot by a lone assailant. He was killed in cold blood on the street after visiting a cinema with his wife. A second shot injured her. Lying in a pool of blood, in the cold Swedish winter, Olof Palme died.

The assassination of Olof Palme (to the left above) has caused headlines around the world. Theories abounded on who had assassinated this very popular and very hated politician. During the last 34 years, the police have investigated the case and failed to identify the murderer. The unsolved case of Olof Palme has gaped like an open wound in Swedish society.

However, today the prosecutors responsible for the investigation announced that they know who the assassin is. In making this claim, they have ended the decades-long mystery. No conclusive evidence was provided, no DNA and no weapon, but prosecutors believe they have the man. They have pointed to Stig Engström, a graphic designer working at a nearby company, pictured to the right above. Stig Engström committed suicide in 2000, so cannot be charged. Therefore the case is closed after 34 years!

Finally, the mystery can be resolved. Or can it? with any lack of clear evidence, it is a very frustrating finale to a very drawn out drama. For a country searching for an answer, this will probably not give them it. And as Stig Engström took his story to the grave, I guess we will actually never know the truth.

Trump’s obsession with Sweden

In his recent statement, Trump yet again criticized Sweden. This time it was about Sweden’s approach to the corona pandemic. Not only was his statement bizarre, but it was factually wrong. But, hey, who’s surprised?

What’s more intriguing is Trump’s interest in Sweden. This isn’t the first time he’s negatively commented on what’s happening in this relatively small country. From making false claims about everything from immigrants and refugees, to riots and rappers, the man seems obsessed. He even tried to interfere in Sweden’s legal system and accused the Swedish Prime Minister or ‘letting the USA’s African American community down’ when he didn’t get his way.

So why the obsessive focus on Sweden?

Film-maker Ami Horowitz, who made a documentary about Sweden, believes Trump periodically brings up the country in his speeches and tweets because it represents a “liberal bastion that in a lot ways is very different from the United States … Democratic socialism, open immigration policy, high taxes, welfare state, there’s no question Sweden is a paradigm of things the president doesn’t like.

Although he claims to have a friendly relationship with Sweden, the country is a thorn in the President’s side. In other words, a constant reminder that there are other ways to run a country. It scares him. Sweden consistently trumps USA in research on quality of life, equality, opportunity, happiness, safety, entrepreneurship, education levels…..oh the list is long. This must really trample on Trump’s toes. In 2019, Sweden was ranked ‘the most reputable country’ in the world. USA came in at number 17. Ooh, that must sting someone with an enormous ego.

Part of Sweden’s reputability comes from the quality of its politicians. Here, we have a long line of Prime Ministers who behave in a dignified manner. While the USA is important to Sweden, Trump really isn’t. Like most politicians, he is temporary. His days are numbered. But Sweden’s positive relationship with America will continue long after the country has said goodbye to their presidential man child. And hopefully their next leader will be one who respects differences rather than one who fears them.

The Swedish ‘recommendation’

In the wake of covid-19, the National Agency of Public Health has provided the Swedish population with recommendations and advice. However, it seems that these very words ‘recommendation’ (rekommendation) and ‘advice’ (råd) are causing problems for many people.

How do you understand the word ‘recommendation’? Maybe it’s a friend who is making a suggestion to you? Or a family member who is promoting a certain behaviour? Or a respected critic who is letting you know what restaurant you should eat at? For most of us, the words ‘recommendation’ and ‘advice’ imply a suggestion that we can decide to listen to or not, act on or not. This is how we understand it.

But it doesn’t always mean this and this is where linguistic confusion is arising. As I understand it in Swedish, when ‘recommendation’ or ‘advice’ is used by a government authority it is not something to be taken as a suggestion – it is a serious instruction that has to be followed. It is the strongest action an authority can take. The next step is a law change decided by the parliament.

So when the Swedish Agency for Public Health recommends that we stand 2 meters apart, it is not a recommendation as we might understand it, it is a strict instruction, and does not include a high level of individual choice. It is the step before criminalising something.

In his press briefing today, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said ‘allmänna råd från myndigheter är ingen lösa tips. Det förväntas att (alla) som omfattas av råden följer dem. Inte ibland, utan varje dag och varje minut.’ This translates roughly as ’general advice from an authority is not just a tip. Everybody who is covered by this advice is expected to follow it. Not just sometimes, but every day and every minute.’

This confusion between colloquial terminology and governmental terminology can explain a lot of the behaviour and attitudes we see around us. People are not defying the authorities, they just think that recommendations are elective.

But the bottom line is this – we do not have a choice, even though we might interpret it so. We are obliged to all follow the instructions we are provided with. Zealously.

If we do this, we avoid criminalization and curfew and hopefully can together quickly crush corona.

Sweden under attack

I put out a picture of my local cafe yesterday and got the reaction from a friend in Germany ‘what!? Are cafes still open?! Everything’s closed here!’ It seems like most places in the world are on lock down. But not in Sweden yet. The Swedish authorities have chosen another route, and are being attacked for it from the international community.

Media in the UK and USA are calling Sweden’s approach ‘Russian roulette’ with the lives of the population. One neighbouring country said Sweden is making its worst decision throughout history. Italian press have said it’s beyond comprehension why Sweden doesn’t follow the way that Italy has gone.

In Sweden there is no lock down, or curfew. It seems like the government want to protect the nation – without totally destroying the economy. Restaurants and cafes are open. Shops are open. Schools are open. However, sport and cultural events have been cancelled, theatres and cinemas are closed, as are sports centres, swimming pools, many work places, some museums, universities and colleges. Sweden’s largest gym chain was closed, and has now reopened. Meeting in groups of more 50 people is illegal.

I’m not here to defend or criticize Sweden’s approach. I am not a doctor or a virus expert, and I am certainly not an epidemiologist. However, as a citizen, I am obliged to follow the recommendations put forward by the authorities:

Work from home if you can, avoid large groups, stand two meters away from other people, socially distance yourself, limit your movement, wash your hands and crucially – stay home if you show the slightest symptom: cough, sniffle, temperature, sneezing.

It seems like many people are following these recommendations, but some are not. For me, it’s about individual responsibility for yourself and the collective. If we all follow the recommendations now, the quicker it will be over. Makes sense, right?

But some people still crowd into public transport, or sit on busy restaurant terraces. Some old folks, the most at-risk in our community, still mingle amongst people and still go shopping. The ski resorts are still open, but not the after ski. With Easter approaching, swarms of people will descend upon these resorts. God forbid that they should miss out on their holiday.

Experts believe this is of little consequence as the virus already exists in society and cannot be eradicated. They are focusing instead on flattening the curve and not on preventing the spread of the virus. They are ramping up health care services and trying to delay the inflow of patients needing care. It seems like it is a question of when, rather than if, we all get infected. The vast majority of people will not be affected with more than mild flu-like symptoms. The main concern at the moment is our elderly. They need to stay home, and many aren’t. How the Government will approach this is the next big question.

When all this is over, we can look back and judge. Whose approach was the best?

With the benefit of hindsight, we might see that Sweden did the right thing, lives were saved and the economy survived.

Or we might see that not enforcing a lock down was the most devastating decision Sweden ever made.

Dear Swede – does this shameful act represent you??!

Currently at the border between Greece and Turkey, there are thousands of desperate refugees. Greece cannot cope with such a new massive influx of people and so, with support of the EU, the country is strengthening and protecting the border. Fortress Europe is a reality.

As a member of the EU, Sweden supports this approach and hopes to arrive at a new agreement with Turkey to cope with this humanitarian catastrophe. The aim is to find a solution that is manageable for both Turkey and the EU, and that is a responsible way to handle mass migration and immigration.

But one Swedish political party has taken matters into their own shameful hands. Literally. The leader of the right wing party Swedish Democrats has mustered up the energy to travel to the border. Here, he is facing the refugees eye to eye. He is looking into the fearful faces of men, women, elderly people and children. And he is handing them a flyer. The flyer has the following words on it:

Sweden is full. Don’t come to us! We can’t give you more money or provide any housing. Sorry about this message.’ The flyer is then signed ‘The Swedish people, Swedish Democrats’

I cannot imagine the lack of empathy that is required to be able to this. I cannot imagine how cold and hard this man’s heart must be. To stand at the border and hand out these fliers as part of a political caper is both callous and cruel.

He claims to represent Sweden in this matter. His party has only 17.5% of the vote. A massive majority of 82.5% of the electorate do not support him or his political ideals. He does not therefore represent Sweden or the ‘Swedish people’. And he certainly does not represent me. I absolutely and unequivocally reject him and condemn his beliefs and actions.

The Swedish Democrats claim to be patriots – true lovers of Sweden. What they have actually done with this action is drag Sweden’s good name down into the gutter with them. Shame on them.

And you, dear Swede, does this action represent you? If not, I ask you to react strongly and without hesitation.

Swedish politics for the uninitiated

For those of you unfamiliar with the Swedish political system, here is a quick crash course.

Sweden is governed by a democratically elected government, led by a Prime Minister. Legislation is proposed by the government and decided by a multi-party parliament. The system of election to parliament is one of proportional representation. This means that there are several smaller parties, and sometimes they end up holding the balance of power. To hold one of the parliament’s 349 seats, parties must have a minimum of 4% of the vote. This barrier was put in place to prevent very small parties getting in.

Every four years, in September, a General Election is held in Sweden. At the same time, elections for the 290 local council authorities, and 20 county authorities are held. Sweden had a 87.18% voter turn-out in the last election in 2018, which shows a strong democratic interest from the electorate.

There are currently 8 parties in the Swedish Parliament. In the last election, the Social Democrats (left of center) gained the largest percentage of the vote – 28.26%. The next largest party was the Moderate (Conservative) party with 19.84%. Since proportional representation is the method, no single party receives their own mandate in Swedish politics. This means a process of discussion, negotiating and wheeling-dealing with smaller parties is required to gain majority, come over 50% and to gain a position of government.

Sweden’s current government took a very long time to finalise. After each general election, the Speaker of the House announces the preliminary Prime Minister, initially the leader of the party with the most votes. This person then has the task of forming a government and getting it passed through parliament. After the last election, the government was finally approved after an enormous 129 days of negotiation. It is a minority government led by the Social Democrats and containing the Greens (4.41%). It is supported by 3 opposition parties – the Left Party (8%), the Center Party (8.61%) and the Liberals (5.49%). This is a very unusual coalition which has shuffled around the political map and brought together parties with many opposing views. Some people think of it as an unholy and unsustainable grouping. However, despite their different political ideologies, this middle-ground alliance are united in one ambition – keeping the right-wing nationalistic party Sweden Democrats (17.53%) out of government.

It remains to be seen how long this alliance will hold, and indeed what will happen in the next election in 2 years time. It seems that Sweden might be caught in the jaws of political populism. In a recent opinion poll, the nationalists Sweden Democrats came out as number 1.

So is Sweden in a conservative renaissance – will the next coalition government be conservative-right wing?

Time will tell.

Buying sex in Sweden

In a recent police raid, over 40 men were arrested at temporary brothels in Stockholm. They were charged with buying, or attempting to buy sex. The brothels, which are also illegal in Sweden, were shut down.

So what is Sweden’s policy on prostitution? Well, it is criminalized and in fact Sweden has a trail-blazing approach to prostitution. In 1999, the Sex Purchase Act came into existence. This Act makes it illegal to purchase “sexual services” but not to sell them. So the purchaser is the criminal and not the prostitute. The rationale for criminalizing the buyer, but not the seller, was stated in the 1997 government proposition, namely that “…it is unreasonable to also criminalize the one who, at least in most cases, is the weaker party who is exploited by others who want to satisfy their own sexual desires”.

This law has since been copied and put in place in various other countries, such as Canada, Norway and Iceland. According to the statistics, the law has seen a huge decline in prostitution and trafficking, although it is by far not eradicated.

According to journalist Meghan Murphy, who has written extensively about prostitution- ‘The Swedish model is about more than just changing the law. It is also an idea — it is about changing the culture, and the culture is what needs to change as well as our legislative approach. What the model and its proponents are saying is that men are not entitled to access the bodies of women and girls, even if they pay.”

However, the law is controversial and is not without its critics.

Those who criticize it claim that the law isn’t as effective as people think and that sex work in Sweden is just driven more dangerously deeper underground. They also claim the law strips women of their control and their rights to do with their body as they wish to. An article on mic.com says ‘Sweden’s belief that prostitution is the most brutal expression of patriarchy has engendered a kind of paternalism about commodified sex that holds men responsible for their actions while assuming women can’t be. It wipes out the possibility of gray areas for men and women to be equal partners in exchanging money for sex.’ In other words, according to them, the feminist-driven Sex Purchase Act is entirely unfeminist.

So, the age old debate carries on. The discussion about if prostitution is inherently exploitative. Should it be criminalized, or can it be developed to maximize equality for everyone involved? In Sweden, the buyer is criminalized. In most other countries, the seller is criminalized. In Germany, Holland, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey, Hungary and Latvia prostitution is legal and regulated. Different approaches to the same situation.

What do you think?

Sweden’s Swexit?

In the aftermath of Brexit on Friday at midnight, I now cherish my Swedish passport even more. It is the Swedish passport that provides me with the free movement and international access that I so strongly believe in. And it is the membership in the EU that, in my opinion, gives us strength, community and a chance for peace. From living in Sweden, I have learned an important lesson – ‘tillsammans är vi starkare’ – together, we are stronger.

Watching the officials remove the Union Jack from the EU Parliament display, I noticed that it was positioned next to Sweden’s blue and yellow flag. It got me thinking that if Sweden was to leave the EU, it would be called a Swexit. But what could it be called in Swedish? Which one sits most comfortably on the tongue?

  • Svutgång
  • Svorti
  • Svutträde
  • Svupplösning
  • Svavgång

Hopefully, it will never happen. It would be truly swawful.