International Romani Day-Roma in Sweden

Today, 8 April, is International Romani Day. It marks the first World Romani Congress that was held in London in 1971. The day exists to shine a light on the ongoing persecution and abuse that the Roma population of the world has been forced to endure throughout history.

The Romani originate from northern India. They are dispersed, and their most concentrated populations are located in Europe, and Western Asia, since around 1007. Nobody really knows why the Roma left India in the first place, as no records were kept. However theories abound: from early persecution based on caste, to banishment from angering the king, and religious war.

The estimated 12 million Roma are consequently a nomadic people with no land to call their own. Their mobility and the fact that they lived in temporary camps contributed through the centuries to associations with poverty and accusations of high rates of crime. The discomfort that others felt about their presence led to perceptions of the Roma as antisocial, unsophisticated or even dangerous. Partly for this reason, discrimination against the Romani people has continued to the present day.

Romani have existed in Sweden since at least the 1500’s and today they are classed as one of Sweden’s five national minority groups (together with Jews, Sami, Swedish Finns and Tornedalers). Romani chib has the status of official minority language.

Over the centuries, the people of Sweden discriminated against, marginalised and excluded its Roma population. For 40 years, up to 1976, Sweden had a legal policy of enforced sterilization of people to avoid ‘unacceptable offspring’. Much suggests that Roma women were particularly subjected to this abuse.

The Pew Research Poll of 2016 found that 42% of Swedes held strong anti-Roma views (compared to 82% in Italy, and 37% in Holland).

A Romani political activist in Sweden was Singoalla Millon, who died in 2020, and spent her entire life fighting for education, housing and acceptance. Another was Katarina Taikon who dedicated herself to improving conditions for Romani people in Sweden. She tried to convince the Swedish government to see the Romani as political refugees. She died in 1995. Today, the politician Soraya Post has worked as an EU politician defending the rights of the Romani and other minorities.

In 2012, the Swedish government introduced an 20-year equal opportunities strategy for Roma people. The strategy includes objectives and measures within several areas such as schooling, employment; housing, health, social care, culture and language. Of course, discrimination and marginalization are still very real in Sweden, but this is at least a step in the right direction.

60 years of Sweden’s Sun film

Every Monday, once a week, from the beginning of the year until the Summer Solstice, the ‘Sun film’ is broadcast on Swedish TV. The film shows what time the sun goes up and down in Lund, Stockholm, Kiruna and Lycksele.

Fantastically retro, the film has been broadcast for almost 60 years.

And tonight, I recorded it for you….

Tricking Sweden – April Fool

april-fools-day-2015

Playing April Fool’s jokes on each other on the first of April is a tradition in many countries – Sweden included. In fact it is an old tradition – the oldest written reference being in 1392 in Chaucer’s ‘The Cantebury Tales’.

In Sweden, when someone is tricked, the tradition is to say ‘April, April din dumma sill!‘. This translates as ‘April, April you stupid herring!’. This is however not as weird as it might sound. In many countries, such as Italy, France and Holland, April 1st is known as “April fish”. On this day, people try to attach paper fish onto the backs of their victims.

April Fool’s pranks are common in newspapers, with classics such as:

  • IKEA is getting into the airline business. Furnishing all the flights with Ikea furniture, the name of the airline is FLYKEA.
  • Swedish supermarket chain ICA introduced toothpaste with the taste of chocolate. It might be brown, but it makes your teeth white.
  • Burger King introduced a new burger for left-handed people where ingredients were rotated 180 degrees.

I had a look this morning to see if I could identify any April Fools tricks but I failed. The papers were just full of misery – War, Death, Politics, Covid, Murders, and Shootings. Maybe the seriousness of our current times renders silly jokes redundant. If you manage to find one, please share here!

 

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.

Swedes, time change and barbecues

DST_Countries_Map

Last night in Sweden, the clocks went forward one hour to Summer Time. Despite the occasional complainer who moans about losing an hour’s sleep, this is usually received very positively in the country. Suddenly,  the light at 6pm becomes the light at 7pm. People are happier, daylight is longer, people venture outside to enjoy the burgeoning spring.

So why do we do this? The practice was first initiated during World War I to give more light for agriculture and other important societal functions. However it was abandoned shortly afterwards, only to come back during World War II.

It was never very popular and by the 1950’s it had again been cancelled. However come the 1960’s, it was reintroduced in many countries due to the energy crisis – the lighter evenings required less electricity.  In 1981, the EU legislated Summer Time in Europe requiring member states to decide particular start and end dates for Summer Time which varies in the different countries. In Sweden, summer time occurs on the last Sunday in March and ends on the last Sunday in October.

In Europe, there are 4 countries that do not switch to and from summer time. They are Belarus, Russia, Iceland and, since 2016, Turkey.

In 2019, the EU Parliament decided to remove the annual time changes with March 2021 suggested as the last occasion. However, each country could decide if they want permanent summer time or permanent winter time. As yet, the decision has not been made by the individual member countries – so it remains.

Around the world, there are various countries observing the switch. In the picture above, blue and orange represent the countries that switch to and from summer time (nothern hemisphere summer and southern hemisphere summer). Dark grey have never used daylight saving time and light grey have formally used daylight saving time.

Remembering when to turn the clocks back and forward is sometimes a challenge to remember. In English, the saying ‘Spring forward, Fall back’ was developed to help jog people’s memories. Even the expression ‘March forward’ is used as a reminder.

So what do they say in Swedish? Well, they refer to the popular summer activity of barbecuing. Many Swedes who live in houses, or have a summer house, own a barbecue. In the summer they use it, and in the winter it is safely kept in storage.

So the Summer Time saying?

‘In spring we put forward (English: out) the barbecue, in the autumn we put back the barbecue’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

Great Swedish Women Part 6 – The Activist

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.

aleksa

Part 7 – transactivist, journalist and actor Aleksa Lundberg.

Aleksa Lundberg was born with the wrong body. She was born with a boy’s body and at the age of 22, she underwent corrective surgery and became physically a woman. She is the first actor in Sweden to have undergone gender reorientation. She is a strong, proud Swedish woman. But her transition hasn’t necessarily been smooth sailing – as a transwoman, she has experienced hate, disgust, rejection and ridicule.

Today Aleksa is a transactivist and works hard to change society’s view about transgender men and women and to reinforce the trans perspective in society and politics. She is a vocal representative and a fierce, sometimes provocative, oponent who is frequently seen in debate programs on television and in other media.

Aleksa’s political message is actually very simple. She wants to strengthen the rights of transgender people and also change the whole of society. Everybody, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, handicap should feel accepted, needed and loved. In a recent interview, she says:

‘Our sexuality doesn’t choose men or women. In the end, it’s about choosing a person. For me, it’s more about politics than romance that love is the the meaning of life. I hope that we can have a world where everyone actually understands that.’

Who can argue with that? Love is the key. Long live Queen Aleksa.

 

Great Swedish Women -Part 5 – The Legend 

Since March 8th was International Women’s Day, I  am republishing my series on Great Swedish Women, past and present. I hope you want to join me in celebrating them.

Part 5 – the vengeful Viking Blenda.

In the county of Småland in Southern Sweden, there is a legend about a brave Viking woman named Blenda.

According to legend, the menfolk of Småland were at war in Norway, leaving the women and children alone and defenceless. The Danes learned of this and chose this moment to invade and attack the region.  Blenda was a woman of noble descent and she decided to rally the hundreds of women from Albo, Konga, Kinnevald, Norrvidinge and Uppvidinge. The women armies assembled on the Brávellir, which according to Smålandish tradition is located in Värend.

The women approached the Danes and told them how much they were impressed with Danish men. They invited the men to a banquet and provided them with food and drink. After a long evening, the Danish warriors fell asleep and the women killed every single one of them with axes and staffs.

When the king returned, he bestowed new rights on the women. They acquired equal inheritance with their brothers and husbands, the right always to wear a belt around their waists as a sign of eternal vigilance and the right to beat the drum at weddings and to wear armour.

There have been various disputes about the validity of this legend, if and when it happened. One theory is that it happened around the year 500. At this time, female soldiers existed in Sweden. Called Shieldmaidens, three hundred are known to have fought during the great Battle of Bråvalla in 750. If you’ve seen the successful series ‘Vikings’, you will be familiar with these women.

Blenda is perhaps the first known woman in a long line of strong Swedish women who defend themselves from aggressors and contribute to better equal rights between the sexes.