Sweden’s Freedom of Expression – a cornerstone of democracy.

Given recent provocative manifestations, some people are starting to question Sweden’s freedom of expression laws. This criticism is even being used as a way to prevent the ratification of Sweden’s membership of NATO.

English writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote in her biography of Voltaire – ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’. This phrase is frequently used to describe the principal of freedom of speech.

Sweden’s democracy is built on the principle of freedom of expression. It is a fundament of society, together with freedom of information, freedom to demonstrate and freedom of assembly. The individual’s right to freedom of religion is also strongly protected by the Constitution. Freedom of Expression is also enshrined as Article 10 in the Human Rights Act.

There are people in Sweden with, in my opinion, disgusting views, who manifest these in public demonstrations. However, under Swedish law, they have a right to express what they believe. I don’t have to agree with what they believe – that is also my right.

Sweden’s freedom of expression is a ‘constitutionally protected right including the right to express thoughts, opinions and feelings through speech, writing or images without interference by the authorities.’

Freedom of expression does not however mean the freedom to always say practically anything at all. For example, this freedom ‘does not extend to slander or committing an act involving threats or agitation against a national or ethnic group. On the other hand, religions as such are not protected against expressions of opinion that challenge religious messages or that may be perceived as hurtful to believers.’

To be honest, I would probably prefer some conservative opinions not to be expressed, as I feel they are deliberately provocative and lead to agitation and unrest. However, without a doubt, I would rather live in a country where individuals are free to express what they think, than in a country where religious or political powers suppress this.

If we start to limit freedom of expression, and censor opinion, we are dismantling our democracy. And where does it end? We don’t have to look very far to get the answer…..

Sweden’s Freedom of Expression – a cornerstone of democracy.

Given recent provocative manifestations, some people are starting to question Sweden’s freedom of expression laws. This criticism is even being used as a way to prevent the ratification of Sweden’s membership of NATO.

English writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote in her biography of Voltaire – ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’. This phrase is frequently used to describe the principal of freedom of speech.

Sweden’s democracy is built on the principle of freedom of expression. It is a fundament of society, together with freedom of information, freedom to demonstrate and freedom of assembly. The individual’s right to freedom of religion is also strongly protected by the Constitution. Freedom of Expression is also enshrined as Article 10 in the Human Rights Act.

There are people in Sweden with, in my opinion, disgusting views, who manifest these in public demonstrations. However, under Swedish law, they have a right to express what they believe. I don’t have to agree with what they believe – that is also my right.

Sweden’s freedom of expression is a ‘constitutionally protected right including the right to express thoughts, opinions and feelings through speech, writing or images without interference by the authorities.’

Freedom of expression does not however mean the freedom to always say practically anything at all. For example, this freedom ‘does not extend to slander or committing an act involving threats or agitation against a national or ethnic group. On the other hand, religions as such are not protected against expressions of opinion that challenge religious messages or that may be perceived as hurtful to believers.’

To be honest, I would probably prefer some conservative opinions not to be expressed, as I feel they are deliberately provocative and lead to agitation and unrest. However, without a doubt, I would rather live in a country where individuals are free to express what they think, than in a country where religious or political powers suppress this.

If we start to limit freedom of expression, and censor opinion, we are dismantling our democracy. And where does it end? We don’t have to look very far to get the answer…..

Sweden’s 3 wisest men

Today is Twelfth Night, called ‘Trettondagsafton’ in Swedish. Tomorrow is Epiphany and in Sweden, like many places around the world, it is a National Holiday – ‘Trettondagen’. (6 January)

In Sweden, not a lot happens on this day. Unlike the southern parts of Europe where it is the beginning of the carnival season, in the frozen north it is just another day off.

The day celebrates the arrival of the three wise men to Bethlehem to visit the savior in his cradle. These three wise men are said to represent the three continents of Europe, Africa and Asia.

This got me thinking about Sweden’s three wisest living men. Here is my triad – a highly subjective list of names! Who would you add to this list?

Wise man number 1 – Jan Eliasson. A Swedish diplomat who has been Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Sweden’s Foreign Minister and the Chairman of the International Peace Research Institute. He has worked to resolve conflict in Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Kongo, Sudan, Israel – amongst others. Since 2017, there is a Global Leadership Prize named after him.

Wise man number 2 – Anders Hansen. A Swedish psychiatrist, doctor and brain expert. He has written numerous books on how our brain works and led several tv programs on the subject. He has been given several awards, amongst them the Mensa Prize. He is an ambassador for Generation Pep – a non profit organisation that focuses on the mental health and well-being of young people.

Wise man number 3 – Micael Dahlen. A Swedish economist, and Professor at Stockholm School of Economics. His most popular books are Kaosologi, Nextopia and Monster. Kaosologi is about how to change habits, Nextopia is about what he calls ‘expectation society’ and Monster is about his research and interviews with 5 serial killers. He is the only Swede to have interviewed Charles Manson. He is on the board of numerous organisations and has won many awards. He is a popular lecturer, and advisor.

While these three wise men wouldn’t bring gold, frankincense and myrrh, they would bring peace-keeping, mental health and mind-boggling theories.

5 ways that the Vikings impact Christmas

Long before the Christianity swept over Europe, the Norse people celebrated the Midwinter Solstice in a festival called Yòl. (Yule/jul). Eventually this festival blended with Christmas and gave us many of the traditions we have today.

So, what are 5 ways in which the Norse traditions impacted Christmas?

1) Father Christmas – Odin, King of the Norse Gods, was a bearded old man in a hat and cloak. He rode Sleipnir – an 8-legged horse – across the night sky and delivered gifts to those below. This morphed into the Christian St Nicholas, and 8 reindeer to complete the saga of Santa.

2) The Twelve Days of Christmas – the ancient Norse celebrated their midwinter festival for twelve days, beginning on the day of the winter solstice. It was believed that Odin rode the sky for these 12 days so it was forbidden to hang out laundry in case he got entangled. This was known as ‘the Great Hunt’.

3) Christmas Tree – many of us know that the indoor Christmas tree originates in Germany and was made popular in the Victorian era. However, it in fact pre-dates this. The Norse people believed that evergreens were the divine plant of their sun God Balder (the son of Odin) because they remained green though-out the winter. They took this as a sign that spring was advancing. To encourage the oncoming season, they would decorate the branches of the trees with ornaments, runes and offerings of food. With Christianity, these decorations became stars, and other biblical symbols.

4) Christmas Elf – no story of Santa’s workshop is complete without his little helpers. In Norse mythology, there is the ‘nisse’ or ‘tomte’. These little creatures were small, bearded and wore little pointy hats. They were believed to live in the barns in the farmstead and they would guard the property and the inhabitants, and even fix broken things. They were loyal and industrious but you had to treat them with respect, otherwise their vengeance would be swift and angry. They also loved playing practical jokes and mischief, rather like the elves in Santa’s workshop. The word ‘elf’ comes from the Norse word álfar, which means ‘concealed people’.

5) Mistletoe – ever kissed somebody under the mistletoe? In doing so, you have fulfilled a Norse legend. In the legend, the God Balder had been prophesied to die. His mother, Frigg, in desperation, secured an oath from everything that they would not hurt him. However, she forgot to ask the mistletoe. The envious God Loki carved an arrow out of mistletoe and killed Balder. Frigg’s tears of sorrow fell onto the mistletoe turning the red berries white, and resurrected her son. She then vowed to kiss anybody who passed underneath it, and the plant came to represent love and renewal.

Another Norse influence on our Christmas celebrations is the Christmas Goat. The goat has lost its significance in most countries, but is still a symbol in Scandinavia, where it is a decoration made of straw. The goat originates in Norse tradition from the kid goat that was sacrificed in honour of Njord, the God of the Sea, the Weather and Prosperity. Later on, in Sweden, the Yule goat was believed to be an invisible spirit that would appear before Christmas to make sure that the holiday preparations were done correctly. Eventually, the goat took on the role of the gift giver, instead of or together with Santa Claus (called Jultomten in Swedish).

Other traditions that originate from the Norse jòl are the Christmas Ham, the Yule Log, the Yule Wreath, and Christmas caroling, or ‘wassailing’.

So, while the message of Christmas is the Christian story, many of the surrounding symbols and traditions are in fact from another source altogether.

Spectacular Swedish serenity on All Saints’ Day

I remember walking around Stockholm when I had recently moved here. It was a pitch black Saturday evening in November, cold and crisp. As I approached a majestic church, I noticed that it was shimmering from the graveyard.

This yellow and white light slowly flickered and cast shadows on the gravestones and the church wall. As if drawn by a magic spell, I walked up to the church and looked over the wall. The sight that met my eyes was spectacular and serene at the same time. Hundreds of candles were spread around the cemetery, decorating each of the graves. In the memory grove a bright blazing blanket of candles lit up the area. It was as if the spirits of the dead had come out to play.

In Sweden, the first Saturday in November is All Saints’ Day (the following Sunday is called All Souls’ Day to separate between the saints and the dead).

Since the 1800’s Swedes have, during this weekend, made pilgrimage to graveyards up and down the country to decorate the graves with candle light and to pay respect to the dead. It is a much more elegant and atmospheric tradition than the typical Halloween parties that otherwise have become very popular in Sweden.

It is a truly beautiful experience to walk through the churchyards this weekend. In the pitch black November Nordic darkness, it is a peaceful reminder of those who have gone before us. So head for your nearest cemetery this evening and, if you happen to be in Stockholm, go to the Forest graveyard (Skogskyrkogården) for a specifically spectacular experience (pictured below).

A New Sweden

A satirical cartoon drawn by German artist Harm Bengen shows Pippi Longstocking staring up at the Swedish flag – a flag that has turned into a Nazi swastika.

The picture is a comment on the fact that Sweden’s new coalition government rests on the support of a party founded by new nazis.

It is no coincidence that the picture shows Pippi Longstocking reacting. The beloved children’s character stands for everything that the new government isn’t – kindness, curiosity and courage. She stands up for the weak and the oppressed. The picture clearly illustrates this contrast, as well as the shift in Swedish society, and even the polarization that exists.

Sweden’s new conservative government only has 39% of the vote and are therefore reliant on support from a right-wing extreme party in order to govern. In the recent election, this party grew and have over 20%, making them Sweden’s second largest party. The new government is at their mercy – and cannot get anything done without their approval. And this is clear in many of the government’s policies.

This is the new Sweden. Pippi’s Sweden was post war – Europe had just defeated the nazis. And here we are, almost 80 years later. The majority of the Swedish people have handed power to a party that was built on nazi doctrine and is contaminated with nationalistic beliefs. I have never been more disappointed with Sweden than I am now.

But I do love democracy. And I guess this is what it is all about. Sometimes you like the result, and sometimes you really don’t.

The Swedish Armed Forces at Pride

Several advertisements appeared in today’s newspapers in Sweden. The ads, from the Swedish Armed Forces, show how they support equal rights and will be participating in Stockholm Pride which starts tomorrow. This is one of the reasons I am proud to have Swedish citizenship.

The advert reads:

”MORE IMPORTANT NOW THAN EVER. Uncertain times do not mean we stop defending human rights, everyone’s equal value and your right to live as who you are. That’s why we’re participating in Pride, this year again.”

Swedish politics week – a summer tradition

Once a year, with exception of the last two pandemic years, there is a summer politics week in Sweden. The week is happening now, the first since 2019. It takes place in a park called Almedalen on the Baltic island of Gotland, and attracts heavy media coverage.

During the week, the leaders of the eight parliamentary parties deliver speeches – their view of Sweden’s future. This year is especially interesting as there is a General Election in September. The Economy, Crime and Punishment and Education seem to be the top issues so far.

The Almedalen politics week started when legendary Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme spoke publicly, from the back of a truck, during a summer visit to Gotland. It was at the end of the 60s and there was an audience of a few hundred people. It very quickly became a tradition.

Now Almedalen politics week attracts thousands of participants and is intended to involve the man on the street in politics and to protect the strong Swedish value of democracy and free speech. The idea is that at Almedalen politics week, we meet each other in debate. And in debate and discussion, we influence each other and our environment.

However, Almedalen Politics Week has also been heavily criticized for being elitist. The event has become a popular opportunity for businesses to meet and network with each other.

In a parallel existence, some people go to Almedalen only for this purpose and not to participate in any political activities. Social media has, in previous years, been awash with images of participants mingling, drinking rose wine, partying, dancing and taking drunken groupies.

Post Covid, we all have an opportunity to make changes. We don’t have to go back to the way things were before. The pandemic was a kind of system crash. It will be interesting to see how Almedalen politics week renews itself this year.

Sweden’s most famous Gay

Today, 2 July, marks 15 years since the death of the Swedish actress, singer and femme fatale Git Gay. Born in Karlshamn in 1921, she went on to become one of Sweden’s most popular and notorious prima donnas.

A classically trained concert pianist, Git Gay made her name as an extravagant review artist and larger-than-life tv host. She was given her stage name in 1949 by review artist Karl Gerhard, who undoubtably thought it was more showbiz than her real name Birgit Agda Carp.

By the end of her career, she had appeared in many films and shows as well as recorded numerous records, and the name Git Gay was synonymous with glamour and glitz. In fact, the word ‘kalaspingla’, roughly meaning party babe, is said to have been of her making.

After her death, in accordance with her will, a foundation was set up in her name to give cash awards to working Swedish musical and theatrical artists. The last award was given in a grand gala, Git Gay style, in 2018.

11 hacks for surviving Swedish midsummer

With Midsummer arriving tomorrow, it is time to start planning for your survival. Midsummer’s Eve is the craziest custom in the Swedish calender and the time of the year when Swedes go a little bonkers. As a non-Swede, get ready to brace yourself.

Since we are not fully out of the pandemic, it is important to wash hands regularly and keep a physical distance. Apart from these guidelines, here are a few more hacks to make sure you make it to Midsummer’s Day in one piece.

Greet like a Swede. In Sweden it is considered polite to greet everybody individually, even if you plan to never speak to them again or remember their name. The appropriate way is to stand 1-2 meters away, look directly in their eyes, say ‘hej’ followed by your name. They will do the same. You might even give a small wave or shake hands if you are comfortable doing so. If you are feeling adventurous, follow up your ‘Hej’ with a ‘trevligt’ or even a ‘Glad Midsommar’. Job done. Now you can hit the booze.

Snaps is not the same as a shot. A lot of alcohol gets drunk on Midsummer’s Eve, especially beer and snaps With the popularity of shots in recent years, it’s easy to make the mistake that Swedish snaps is the same thing. Believe me, it is not. Snaps can be up to 40% proof, considerably more than your normal shot. So, go easy and sip the snaps or see yourself slipping sideways off your chair before the strawberry dessert has even been put on the table.

Take tissue. Midsummer’s Eve is a looong day and you probably will need the loo at some point. The trouble is, so will everybody else – to the detriment of the supply of toilet paper. There’s a big chance you will be seeking relief in the woods so come equipped with the appropriate amounts of paper for your needs.

If shy, bring swimwear. Bathing in the icy June waters is a common activity at Midsummer. Swedes generally are not afraid of skinny dipping when they do this. If you are, then come prepared with swimwear and a towel.

Shelve your maturity. Part of Midsummer is dancing around the maypole, playing silly games, pretending to be a frog, participating in competitions. To survive these activities, it helps to conjour up your inner child and forget you are an adult for a while.

Protect yourself. Given the amount of alcohol consumed at Midsummer, it is no surprise that the many babies in Sweden are made on this day. It you don’t want to join the ranks of parents, remember to put it on before you put it in.

Throw in the thermals. It looks like it might be super sunny and warm this Midsummer’s Eve. One of the warmest ever! But it is good to be prepared. It is not unusual that temperatures fall into single figures and that pesky rain pours down onto the smorgasbord. So bring a jumper, a rain jacket and even thermals to enhance your experience.

Don’t expect culinary miracles on Midsummer’s Eve. The food is exactly the same as is eaten at Christmas and Easter, with a few small summery exceptions – strawberries, cream, dill and new potatoes. Remember to use hand disinfectant before you attack the buffet.

Learn a drinking song. On Midsummer’s Eve, food and alcohol is accompanied by Swedish drinking songs. Learn one in advance and shine at the table. Even better sing one in your own language and you are guaranteed to use those rubbers you packed just for the occasion. For me, ‘what shall we do with the drunken sailor’ works every time.

Argue over the rules. At Midsummer a popular Swedish garden game is called kubb. Involving the throwing of sticks, everybody seems to have their own understanding of the way to play. If you want to feel really Swedish, make sure you start an argument about the rules.

Take pills. Of varying types. Allergy pills are good because there are flowers everywhere: on the table, in the maypole, on peoples’ heads. Pain killers are good as a lot of snaps is consumed. Indigestion pills are good as the food is oily, fatty, acidic, smoky and rich. The after day pill is good, well… because…

That’s it! Follow this guide and you are sure to have a wonderous Midsummer’s Eve in Sweden.

Glad Midsommar!

Please share this post to help others get ready for the big day!