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.

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.

Great Swedish Women Part 6 – The Feminist

Since March 8th was International Women’s Day, I  am writing a series on Great Swedish Women, past and present: women with strength and passion, women who create change. For seven days, I am writing about these women, one per day. I hope you want to join me in celebrating them.


Part 6 – Swedish Foreign Minister and Feminist Champion – Margot Wahlström

Like all Cabinet Ministers, Margot Wahlström has come under fire for questionable decisions. This aside, I would like to focus on her acheivements as a politician in Sweden, Europe and the world. Margot Wahlström is a woman who works tirelessly for the rights of women and champions Sweden’s ‘feminist foreign policy.’

Born in the north of Sweden, Margot Wahlström has had an impressive career, working both in Swedish and European politics. A Social Democrat politician, one of her significant roles has been at the United Nations where in 31 January 2010, she was nominated the first ever Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. She was dispatched to the Democratic Republic of Congo to investigate claims that rebel fighters raped more than 150 women and baby boys over four days within miles of a UN base. She later addressed the UN Security Council on the use of sexual violence as a weapon by both rebel and government soldiers. In her speech, she demonstrated that the rapes “were not an isolated incident but part of a broader pattern of widespread systematic rape and pillage.”

In 2014, Margot Wallström was appointed to the Swedish government as Minister of Foreign Affairs. In this role, she has not been afraid to say what she thinks, something which is often not appreciated from a woman. But she does not let this prejudice dissuade her. She was the first EU Foreign Minster to acknowledge the state of Palestine, leading to Israel removing their ambassador in Sweden. On another occasion, she summoned the Russian ambassador to criticize them regarding questionable flights in the Nordic region and threats over Sweden possibly joining NATO. Recently, she commented on Saudia Arabia’s flogging of a human rights blogger calling it a “cruel attempt to silence modern forms of expression”.

Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy

As Foreign Minister, Margot Wahlström leads Sweden’s ‘feminist foreign policy’. She describes it in the following way:

Sweden’s feminist foreign policy aims at ensuring women’s rights and participation in central decision-making processes. Gender equality is not just the right thing to do. As research is consistently telling us, it is the necessary and smart thing to do if we want to achieve our wider security and foreign policy objectives. We know for a fact that increasing gender equality has a positive impact on food security, extremism, health, education and various other key global concerns.

Feminist foreign policy is an integral part of the activities of the Swedish Foreign Service. Our methodology can be summarised in four words, all beginning with the letter “R.”

Reality check is about getting the facts right from the outset. If we look to the needs and aspirations of 100 percent of the population, what is the situation on the ground? How should we then prioritize?

Rights. The fact is that human rights are also women’s rights. Here, two fundamental tracks must be followed when pursuing a feminist foreign policy. Firstly, there are areas where we must aim for prohibition, such as gender-based discrimination, domestic violence and forced marriages. Secondly, there are areas where the aim is progress, for example equal rights to inheritance and access to education, employment and health, including sexual and reproductive health and rights. These areas are key to women’s empowerment.

Representation, which includes influence over agenda-setting and starts by asking a simple question: who conducts policy? Whether it regards foreign or domestic policy, whether in Sweden or Tunisia, we see that women are still under-represented in influential positions in all areas of society. I am proud that the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs might be an exception: five top positions – all three ministers and two out of three state secretaries – are held by women.

Resources refers to Sweden’s ambitious international work, for example in development cooperation. The starting-point here is the need to apply a gender perspective when distributing aid and resources. To give an example: today, only one per cent of spending in security sector reform is allocated to initiatives which consider gender equality a significant objective. This is unacceptable. Global gender equality goals must have financial backing.

Sweden’s feminist foreign policy aims to respond to one of the greatest challenges of this century: the continued violations of women’s and girls’ human. Regardless of whether we struggle for gender equality at home – or in a context of conflict like Libya – let’s remember how the Swedish feminist and author Elin Wägner compared values and ideals to old-fashioned bicycle lights: they don’t light up until you pedal forwards.

In our work for global gender equality, we can do a great deal together. I am confident that many of you will join in pedalling forward.

Margot Wahlström’s feminist perspective is notable, and not always popular, on the international political agenda. She continues to fight for what she believes in and to strengthen women’s rights and empowerment around the world.







The Gentle Minister


Reading on social media recently, I am struck by the amount of praise given to Sweden’s Home Secretary, Anders Ygeman. The minister is appearing a lot in newspapers and on the TV at the moment commenting on the tragic events of Paris and the impact terrorism has on the increasing security levels on Swedish soil. He also regularly informs the public on the refugee situation and the political reasons behind the government’s actions to reintroduce border controls.

On the face of it, Anders Ygeman should not be considered a good communicator. He has a very gentle, apologetic manner. He avoids eye contact at times. He speaks with a very quiet voice and a very flat tone. He is, in fact, the opposite of everything that a leader is said to be – inspiring, charismatic and energetic.  In the USA, or the UK, he would probably be ridiculed. But in Sweden, it seems to work.

From a cultural perspective, this is really interesting. What is it about Anders Ygeman that works so well in Sweden? Maybe it is a case of content over packaging. Often how we say something has more impact than what we say, but in Anders Ygeman’s case, it’s the opposite. He might not be charismatic, but he is clear and very direct. And is this an approach that Swede’s prefer in times of crisis – a no frills, humble and direct communication?