Who will really take responsibility for Sweden?

Sweden’s Prime Minister today resigned after losing a vote of no confidence last week. This vote, and his subsequent resignation, throws the country into political chaos in the middle of a pandemic and just one year before a scheduled general election.

The sad thing is that this could have been avoided if it wasn’t for political positioning. This chaos is the main responsibility of three small parties who hold the balance of power and who cannot drop their prestige. They all say they do not want an new election, but have acted in such a way that a new election is now inevitable. And the worse thing is that they all use the same argument that they are ‘taking responsibility for Sweden’. BULLSHIT. Responsibility would be to resolve this issue and keep us on a stable path for one more year.

After a Prime Minister resigns in Sweden, the speaker of the House has an opportunity to find a new constellation of government. If that doesn’t succeed, then it is a new election. This is the most likely to happen given the make up of the parliament at the moment. Whatever government comes out of this new election will rule for less than a year. It is very unlikely they can achieve anything in this period of time so it is essentially toothless. And pointless. And expensive.

So another period of unrest lies ahead. And a costly one. The 400,000,000 Swedish crowns that an election costs could better be spent elsewhere.

But hey, if we elect politicians that decline to cooperate with each other and they refuse to drop their prestige for the stability of the country – this is the shit show we end up with.

Swedish nationalism

In the paper today, the leader of Sweden’s right-wing party claimed that some of the other conservative parties are ‘getting closer to our form of nationalism’. This made me think about the concept of nationalism, and how it impacts Swedish society.

What is nationalism? Nationalism is an idea that says each nation should have the power to govern itself, without outside influence or interference. It aims to build and maintain a single national identity on shared characteristics of ethnicity, language, religion, traditions and culture. It promotes national unity, and seeks to preserve a nation’s traditional cultures. It rejects ‘foreigness’. National symbols, flags, songs, languages and myths are highly important in nationalism.

Nationalism often goes hand in hand with Authoritarianism. This means the rights of individuals can be sacrificed for the good of the majority. As a result, nationalistic parties tend to be authoritarian, with authoritarian rhetoric.

What is patriotism? Patriotism is closely related to nationalism, but crucially different. Also called ‘national pride’, patriotism is the feeling of love and sense of attachment to a homeland and alliance with others who share the same sentiment. The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that patriotism does not include a desire for power.

What about Sweden? So, how do these manifest themselves in Sweden? Flag waving, snaps drinking and supporting Sweden in ice hockey or Eurovision are all examples of patriotism.

When politicians place increasing demands on immigrants to culturally integrate and learn Swedish, it is nationalism. When politicians say that Jews and Sami are not Swedish, it is also nationalism. When political parties gain votes on arguments of preserving Swedishness and protecting against ‘foreign criminals’, it is nationalism. And there is one motivation behind it all – power.

Is nationalism bad? Is nationalism positive or negative? Well, in practice, it can be both – depending on context and your point of view.

Nationalism can give people a meaning. It provides people with a purpose in a world which is increasingly meaningless. This means that if people have a meaning larger than their lives, they are more likely to do, or fight for, something.

For example, nationalism was instrumental in independence movements such as the Velvet Revolution, Greek and Irish Revolutions, the creation of modern Israel, the dissolution of the USSR and even Brexit.

So nationalism wins wars and conflicts – but it is also the creator behind them. It has been the foundation of terrible human atrocities such as the genocides in Rwanda and Armenia, the Yugoslav wars and the Holocaust. So what makes the difference?

A factor that unites all of these latter cases is that nationalism was combined with racial hatred. Is this when nationalism turns into something more horrific?

So let’s go back to the original quote from Sweden’s leader of the right wing party – they are getting ‘closer to our form of nationalism’. Notice he didn’t say ‘patriotism’, he said ‘nationalism’. And that tells us it’s all about one thing, and one thing only – the lust for power.

Why should we in Sweden care about today’s US election?

There’s been a lot of media coverage about the US election in Sweden, so much that many of us are sick of it. However, today the day is finally here. Millions upon millions of votes are counted and a winner will hopefully be announced. So, why should we in Sweden care what the outcome of the election is? Here are 5 reasons why.

1. Swedish economy. Sweden is a small, export-dependent country, heavily dependent on trade with USA. If Trump gets re-elected, he may very well continue to apply protectionist import restrictions on foreign goods. If Biden gets in, global trade agreements are probably safer. This will have a deep financial impact on Sweden’s economy.

2. Swedish jobs. Reduced trade with USA means fewer jobs in Sweden. It will be harder, and take us longer, to recover from the devastation of the pandemic and create employment.

3. Global health crisis. USA is one of the largest financial contributors to the WHO. Trump is a sceptic and wants to withdraw. Should this happen, the WHO will not be as effective in fighting future pandemics and world health crises.

4. Political quality. Trump’s divisive style of presidency sets a standard for the national stage. He normalizes hateful language, bullying and arrogance. This has ripple effects in Sweden, where some of our elected representatives imitate his style and, in my opinion, lower the quality of politics. Trump certainly has entertainment value, but I would like to see a resurgence of dignified, respectful debate both in the USA and Sweden. Hopefully Biden as president can pioneer its return.

5. Trust and security. There is a trust deficit in the world today. This has been exacerbated by Trump, with his unabated attacks on science, journalism and research. He is a fact denier, whose presidency has been characterised by lies, and more lies. The trust deficit is not Trump’s fault, it existed before he was elected, but he has fanned its flames. A global reduction in trust makes the world an unsafe place, and this affects us in Sweden. It increases the chance of conflict, of instability and in worse case, war. The leader of USA has a major influence on how trust develops or declines in the rest of the world.

So, USA is a deeply split country, and whatever the result, the large rifts will remain. The soul of the country will not be healed after this. We can probably expect a long period of chaos, civil outrage and refusal to accept the result, regardless of what it is. Without a doubt, what happens in USA affects us in Sweden. There is no getting away from that. Today’s election is crucial for setting the stage of how our world, our economy and our humanity develop.

What have Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland had – but Sweden hasn’t?

To date there is something that Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland has had, but that Sweden hasn’t. And it’s quite intriguing as to why. The UK has had two. India has had one. Norway has had the most of any country. Currently 27 countries have one. In fact, 76 countries in the world have had one.

Do you know what I’m talking about?

Elected and appointed female heads of state and government.

In the long history of Swedish politics, there has never been a female Swedish Prime Minister. There are female party leaders, mostly of the smaller political parties. Sweden currently has a female Deputy Prime Minister and a female Foreign Minister. But never the head of state.

According to Wiki, ‘Khertek Anchimaa-Toka, of the Tuvan People’s Republic, is regarded as “first ever elected woman head of state in the world” in 1940. The first woman to become prime minister of a country was Sirimavo Bandaranaike of present-day Sri Lanka in 1960. The first woman to serve as president of a country was Isabel Martínez de Perón of Argentina, who as vice-president succeeded to the presidency in 1974 after the death of her husband. The first woman elected president of a country was Vigdís Finnbogadóttir of Iceland, who won the 1980 presidential election and three others to become the longest-serving female head of state in history (exactly 16 years in office).’

So why not in Sweden? I don’t have a theory I’m afraid, but I do think it’s strange that a country that prides itself on leading the politics of equality has only had men as Prime Minister. White, middle-aged, assumably straight, men.

And it doesn’t look like there’ll be any change to that in the coming years. Not unless one of the three largest parties elects a female leader to replace the three men who currently hold those positions.

It’s been almost 100 years since the first woman was elected as a Member of Parliament in Sweden and currently, in the Swedish Parliament, 46% are women. Isn’t it time for a woman to also hold the highest elected political office in the country?

Then Sweden could show its equal par with Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland – and 72 other countries around the world.

Why fascists should be allowed no platform in Sweden

The trouble with being empathetic‘, somebody once said, ‘is that you also feel sorry for assholes.’

But I have had enough! I have had enough!

I’m sick of being liberal and accepting and allowing. I’m done with it. Although far from everybody, Sweden and Europe is full of assholes.

Yesterday in Sweden, a left wing politician was physically attacked by members of the nazi party on the street. This is only one of many anti democratic incidents we are witnessing in our society.

After the EU election, it is abundantly clear that a climate of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant racism is being stoked in Europe and Sweden.

There are many examples. In Sweden, like in many other countries, the main nationalistic party (called SD) gained ground. White supremists demonstrate openly on the streets of Sweden. Last week, in Sweden, RFSL (The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Rights) said they would not participate in Sweden’s politics week due to threats from a nazi party.

Enough!

The democratic dilemma

As liberals, we have a dilemma on how to handle this spiraling situation. As self-identified beacons of democracy, we believe that freedom of speech should apply to everybody – even if their ideas are heinous. Banning opinion is, in itself, a fascistic move. Or is it?

I am a democrat. I believe in freedom of speech. But for me the solution is simple. The fascist opinion is not like any other opinion. It is filled with violence and hatred and should be allowed no platform in an open society.

No platform for fascists

When I say that there should be no platform for fascists, I mean that pro-democratic legislation should be stricter. I mean far right supremist groups should be criminalized in Sweden. I mean fascist meetings should be shut down, their attempts to rally and march should be prevented, counter-picketed and blocked.

It is not just because what they say is offensive. It is not a question of whether I like or agree with what they have to say. It is because hate speech does not end as speech. It is a call to violence, a tool to organize attacks on vulnerable communities.

When fascists get a platform, violence against minorities goes up. This we know. This we are seeing.

Fascism is a disease

Fascism is a disease in Swedish society. It aims to destroy our democracy and concentrate power in the hands of a “racially superior” minority. To succeed, it requires the destruction of freedom of speech. It requires destroying mass organizations of working people and unions. It requires the dismantling of free press, as SD has suggested the privatisation of public service radio. It uses an army of internet trolls. Fascism uses the blinkered limitations of liberalism to destroy itself.

Today’s fascists in Sweden and Europe try to re-brand themselves as something less threatening than their past incarnations. They are “alt-right” and pretend to be champions of free speech. They are not. They wear suits and smile into the camera. They claim they are anti-establishment and present themselves as scapegoats. They pander to the sick and the elderly by offering them more money. They pretend they aren’t racists or homophobes, just champions of white people and Swedish culture and “values”. They try to keep their real ideas and aims in the dark.

Freedom of speech

Freedom of speech is not absolute. When thugs disrupt Pride parades that is not free speech. When fascists demonstrate during the May 1st celebrations, it is not free speech – it is intimidation and an attempt to incite violence. We have a right and a duty to prevent it, through the law, superior numbers and organization.

Unfortunately, racism cannot be defeated by logical argument. Racism, and fascism, grows by an appeal to the irrational, fear and hatred. It has to be smashed.

You might think I’m a drama queen who is making a mountain out of a mole hill. But I have had enough! I’m sick of allowing undemocratic people access to our democracy.

We cannot under-estimate the threat fascism poses in Sweden, our communities, schools and workplaces. Pro-democrats must make it a top priority to expose it and organize to stomp it out wherever we find it. We must unite in saying – not here, not on our watch, not in Sweden.

Sweden, that means: no platform for fascists.

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.

How SD is seducing you

sd affisch

Standing on the train platform this morning I was confronted by a huge poster from nationalistic party the Sweden Democrats, asking me to vote for them in the approaching election. The poster consisted of men and women, all white, smiling down at me in a welcoming unthreatening manner. ‘SD 2018’ – the simple slogan emblazoned across the poster – intended to show me that those who support SD today are not nazis, criminals, sexists or homophobes (as proven time and time again in the press). On the contrary they are presented as ordinary, happy people who just want a change of government.

As I stood there, I understood how clever SD’s PR and Marketing people are. They have a strong understanding of influencing techniques – and they’re not afraid to use them to seduce the unsuspecting general public.

Psychologist Robert Cialdini is considered the guru of influencing skills. In his ground-breaking book, ‘Influence’, he introduced six key principles on which influence is based. Based on his extensive research, he found that if we apply these principles, we are able to persuade others more easily. Used positively, they can help move us towards agreement with each other, used negatively they can be applied to manipulate and even coerce people into making decisions that might be bad for them.

As I stood on the platform and absorbed SD’s poster, I realised how artfully they are using two of Cialdini’s principles. The principle called ‘Social Proof’ and the principle called ‘Liking’.

Social Proof
This principle relies on people’s sense of “safety in numbers.” If we see that others are doing something, we are more likely to do the same. It somehow feels validated. For example, we’re more likely to work late if others in our team are doing the same, put a tip in a jar if it already contains money, or eat in a restaurant if it’s full of guests. We assume that if lots of other people are doing something, then it must be OK. We’re particularly susceptible to this principle when we’re feeling uncertain, and we’re even more likely to be influenced if the people we see seem to be similar to us. That’s why commercials often use parents to advertise household products and why SD uses smiling, happy Nordic people.

Liking
Cialdini says that we’re more likely to be influenced by people we like. Likability comes in many forms – people might be familiar to us, we might just simply trust them or they might physically look like us. We have an inherent feeling of liking when we see them. Companies that use sales agents from within the community employ this principle with huge success. People are more likely to buy from people like themselves, from friends, and from people they know and respect. Facebook, for example, builds its business model on ‘liking’. SD uses this principle to manipulate us into thinking they are just like us. They think like us. They would never do anything to harm us. We can trust them.

As in previous posts, I am trying to shine a light on how SD is manipulating us, society and the election. They are masters of manipulation – spreading fear and uncertainty in the minds of the susceptible electorate, when in fact Sweden is currently booming and economically very stable. There are problems in society, no doubt, but these are not best solved by giving power to a party that we know is manipulative and devious. Judging by the level of scheming we see when they are trying to gain favour, just imagine how this will escalate if they have power.

A vote for SD is not a vote for a better Sweden.

Do not be duped into falling for the deceit.

You are being manipulated.

Do not be seduced.

 

The dark side of Sweden

Sweden is my spiritual country.

Moving here has shaped me into the person I am today. When I moved here, I fell in love immediately with this modern country in the north. I was impressed by Sweden’s strong belief in equality, democracy, human rights, acceptance and tolerance – and it moulded me. Like Sweden, I believe in an open society where everybody is of equal value and has the right to live how they want. I believe in humanity where people respect each other. I believe in a social contract where we take care of the weaker members of society when they need it, and they take care of me if I need it. For me, this is Sweden. This is what it means to be Swedish. Swedes should be so proud of this legacy.

But is this Sweden still there? 20 years ago, it clearly was. But today? Is this Sweden just a Utopia? Just a distant memory of something good? Is my open Sweden actually shutting down?

Cold winds are sweeping over Europe yet again. Sweden is no exception. The Sweden Democrats – a right wing conservative nationalistic party, dressed in sharp suits, is spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of Sweden’s citizens. And they are gaining ground. Approximately 20% of the population now support them.

These 20% are willing to vote for a party that is openly xenophobic and clearly sexist. Members of this party have, in recent memory, stated that gays are animals, that Jews are not Swedes, that women should have their abortion rights restricted. I don’t understand why they think this is ok.

These 20% are willing to vote for a party that have a shaky understanding of Economics, whose budget lacks 30 billion Swedish crowns to cover all of their election promises and who have no policy for the environment – as it’s ‘not that important’. I don’t understand why they think this is an acceptable future for the country.

These 20% buy into the idea that this party is anti-establishment. The ‘gang of four’ men who run the party are former university students who earn salaries in the millions and furnish their homes with designer furniture. They may come from humble backgrounds, as do many Swedes, but today they are elites. I don’t understand why their supporters don’t see this.

These 20% are willing to vote for a party they do not know much about. Nobody knows what their actions will be. Many of their voters are dissatisfied with the current state of Sweden, and they want a change. This may well be justified. However, they are willing to throw everything out, and place their bets on a dark horse. They clearly don’t feel threatened. But they probably should.

Have these 20% always been there? Was the Sweden I moved to just a lie? Was the openness and tolerance just bullshit? Was it just a neat and well-orchestrated fantasy that in fact had fear of foreigners, sexism and homophobia lurking just beneath the surface? Lurking and waiting and ready to leap out. That is a frightening thought.

I don’t believe these 20% are all racists, I really don’t. But they are willing to allow nationalists to take power in Sweden. I don’t believe they’re all stupid. But they are willing to disregard glaring faults in SD’s policies. I do believe many are disenchanted. And they are willing to gamble the safety of their country and fellow citizens just to prove a point. They are willing to literally throw many people to the sharks.

After this article, I expect to be trolled. I often am. These trolls will abuse me, they will tell me to go home yet again and they will say I am a bleeding-heart liberal.

And they are so wrong.

I am already home. Sweden is my home. And my heart is not bleeding, it is breaking.

Please do not vote SD in the coming election.