Sweden’s badass king

Today, 30th November is an important day in Swedish history.

And it all revolves around a stoical King, whose statue can be seen in Stockholm’s Kungsträdgården Park.

Today, Sweden is a peaceful country and hasn’t been at war for over 200 years. But it wasn’t always so. Once upon a time, Sweden was a great power, a military giant with a much larger territory than it has today. And the King of the statue – Charles XII – had a lot to do with it. If you see the statue, he is pointing his finger east. And there is a good explanation for this.

Charles (Karl) was king in Sweden 1697-1718 and a bit of a badass. Apparently never registering physical pain, in the space of a few years, he transformed the small nation of Sweden into a formidable power, crushing his enemies under him. And then he lost it all. At this time, Sweden covered modern day Norway, Finland and other Baltic regions such as Lavonia.

Charles ascended to the throne age 15 and his youth was subsequently exploited by neighbours Denmark, Poland and Lithuania who decided to snatch land from him. In retaliation, he quashed Denmark’s invasion of Sweden and put an ally on the throne. Then, he responded to Russia’s attempt to occupy Livonia and Estonia, and won a sweeping victory at the battle of Narva, under the cover of a blizzard.

After later defeating Poland and Lithuania, he then turned his sights again on Russia. Like his statue, he pointed East. This was a mistake. Up until now, it seems like he just retaliated but this time he waged a war. Hubris perhaps? It was to be his downfall.

Unfortunately for Charles, Peter the Great had regrouped and, in a grueling cold battle, the Russians beat the shit out of the Swedes. Rather like what happens on the ice hockey rink today. Charles fled to the Ottoman Empire but made himself unpopular there so fled back to Sweden, riding across Europe on horseback in just 14 days. Obviously not on the same horse.

Back in Sweden, he saw his nation crumble. Russia took Finland. Denmark took other Baltic regions.

On Nov 30th, 1718 he was shot and killed in modern day Norway, thus marking the short period of Sweden as a great European power. The ‘Swedish empire’ crumbled and territory was taken.

In modern day democratic, peaceful Sweden, Charles XII is sometimes criticized as a blood thirsty tyrant. His war-mongering contradicts strongly with the Swedish Brand of today. But history is history. Rewritten, retold and reinterpreted.

Whatever Charles was, there is no doubt he was a hard core ass kicker. On a historical website I found, the writer describes Charles XII in the following way:

‘Charles was pretty badass.  He completely abstained from alcohol and sex and was pretty much uncomfortable doing anything other than leading his troops to victory or being stoic as fuck.  He lived fast, died young and when he went down he took the entire fucking country of Sweden with him.  What more can you ask for from a historical badass?’

Why Nazis are welcome to Gotland 


When I went to university in the U.K., there was a policy called ‘no platform’. This meant that students were allowed to demonstrate, hold rallies and meetings about any subject they liked except with one agenda – racist. The university claimed it was democratic but also allowed ‘no platform for racists’. I personally do not hold right-wing views, but this policy never sat easily with me as I saw the clear paradox that it created and it raised the question of what a democracy is. This is a question that raises its head very frequently in today’s culturally and politically polarized society. 

One very recent example in Sweden is the annual politics week that finishes today on the Baltic island of Gotland. This is a week where political parties gather and debate the current political landscape of the country. It’s a tradition that started in 1968 under the initiative of legendary leader Olof Palme. This year, for the first time, a Nazi group were allowed to participate  with a tent and speeches. They, course, were condemned by all parties and many voices to ban them were heard – ‘no platform for Nazis’. 

This is the dilemma for any modern democracy. If democracy means that everybody has the right to exercise their own ideas and beliefs, then society can not ban or intervene when people have the ‘wrong’ beliefs. We can’t just stop somebody from participating because we don’t like their point of view. It is different of course if they are breaking the law. But being a nazi is not breaking the law in Sweden, just as it is not illegal to be a civil rights activist, a communist or a feminist campaigner. 

We shouldn’t forget the very foundation of a democratic society means the right to hold whatever belief we want and go wherever we want with whoever we want. That is our liberty. If we start to infringe on it with bans, or ‘no platform’ policies, we are heading down a slippery slope of state control, elitism and autocracy. 

For me, Nazis should not be forbidden to go to Gotland. To ban them is to undermine our democracy. Threatening behavior, nazi symbolism, Hitler salutes, encitement of violence are however illegal and should not be accepted or allowed. 

It is in the shadow that their presence casts that a counter balance can be demonstrated. And exactly that happened on Gotland in the form of a well-visited Diversity Parade. Thousands of people marched for a plurastic society and in protest of the views propagated by right wing parties. This was a fantastic manifestation representing the majority of Swedes. And this could only happen in a democratic society. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am not undermining anybody’s discomfort or fear. I am sure that the presence of the Nazis was horrible to experience. But if history has shown us anything it is that we cannot put our heads in the sand and ignore these destructive forces. We must face them head on in debate, in demonstration, in democracy and in massive, massive resistence. 

Bringing politics to the people

 

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If the election in the UK and USA has shown us anything, it is this. Bring politics closer to the people and you will win.

In the USA, it meant successfully manipulating the beliefs of the disillusioned and the sceptical.

In the UK, it meant focusing on the issues closest to people’s hearts and putting a fire under the asses of young voters.

Politicians in Sweden are, in my opinion, too often remote from the electorate and their reality. This is with one notable distinction in a quickly-growing, right-wing, populist party. This party has now taken the position as the second largest party in Sweden and poses a real threat to the other established parties and their ability to form governments in the future.

Every summer in Sweden, politicians hold a politics week on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. This week brings together all the parties and they discuss and debate the current issues at hand, all televised to a broader Swedish public. I am all for politics and media debates but recently the Gotland Politics Week sits a little uneasy with me. In many ways, it is fantastic but it has moved far from its initial intention of putting politics in focus for the ordinary person. Today, it is more of an elitist gathering of lobbyists, journalists, aides and corporate partners standing in tents sipping free rose wine and partying until the early hours. How can people of the electorate relate to this? How can they even participate when, for example. it costs a lot to travel to remote Gotland and is difficult to find affordable accomodation?

As an alternative to this, a new Politics Week has risen. Initiators from the Stockholm suburbs have decided to bring politics to the people and have arranged a week of political debate and discussion on a football field.

On their website, they write:

‘The purpose of Järva Politics Week is to reduce the distance between politicians and citizens, create better conditions for ordinary people to engage themselves in politics, and put the issues of the local residents on the political agenda. This week gives politicians the opportunity to put forward their policies on exclusion, education, security and marketplace integration directly to the groups who are most impacted.’

It seems like all of the parties have accepted the invitation and most of the party leaders will attend this event to hold a speech.

Hopefully, in the suburbs, looking the real electorate in the eyes, they will realise what is needed to create positive integration, positive change and a positive future for everybody in Sweden.

What kind of streets does Sweden want?

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Yesterday, hundreds of people gathered for a peaceful manifestation in the centre of Stockholm. They listened to live music and speeches and they sang and danced. The manifestation was being held to shine a light on the rights of unaccompanied refugee children in Sweden.

About 30 people from a right-wing group decided to attack the demonstrators with verbal abuse, threats, kicks and punches. Many of the victims were teenagers who were left shocked, scared and even more isolated from the society that is hosting them.

Is this what we want the streets of Sweden to be like? Groups of thugs attacking peaceful demonstrators and youngsters? In my world, this is totally unacceptable.

Democracy in Sweden is about having the right to express your opinion, whatever the political colour. It is about creating change through dialogue and activism. It is about getting involved and giving your opinion. It is not about employeeing violent methods to subdue and placate contradicting points of view. It is not about threatening and trolling and spewing hate. It is not about spreading fear in others just because I am fearful myself.

As members of an open, democratic country, each and every one of us should verbally and actively condemn what happened yesterday in Stockholm. A few short weeks after the love manifestation that filled the streets of the capital, we should not accept this attempt to drag our democracy into the shadows. This is not what we want on our streets, in our homes or in our society.

Yesterday, after the attack was over, people stayed behind to console and comfort the teenagers who has been brutally attacked. According to a witness, one of the teenagers found a thread of strength from within. He stood up and held a heartfelt, dignified speech – in Swedish. And he finished with a song – ‘Sverige’ (Sweden) by pop group Kent. One of the lines goes something like this:

‘Welcome, welcome here. Whoever you are, wherever you are.’

In that one song, this teenager showed us all what is means to be dignified and strong in the face of adversity. Violence and hate is not welcome here.

 

 

Swedish women fight back

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In response to the hoards of ‘Vikings’ roaming Stockholm’s streets to protect their ‘women’ from ‘muslim rapists’, the women of Sweden have spoken up. In a social media campaign called ‘inteerkvinna’ – ‘not your woman’ – they are fighting back.

‘Den rasistiska lynchmobben som drog fram i Stockholm i fredags (29/1) och misshandlade barn och andra som inte är vita, påstår, likt andra rasistiska och fascistiska grupperingar, att de vill “skydda” vita/”svenska” kvinnor. De talar inte för mig. Deras “skydd” är i själva verket en önskan om att dominera, kontrollera, stänga in och äga kvinnor samtidigt som de försöker skrämma, misshandla och till och med utrota andra människor. De talar inte för mig. Internationell solidaritet är grunden för jämlikhet, rättvisa och fred. ‪#‎inteerkvinna‬

‘The racist lynch mob that rampaged through Stockholm on Friday attacking children and other non-white people, claim, like other racist and fascist groups, that they they want to protect white/Swedish women. They do not speak for me. Their ‘protection’ is in actual fact a desire to dominate, control, imprison and possess women. At the same time, they try to scare, abuse and exterminate other people. They do not speak for me. International solidarity is the basis of equality, justice and peace. I am Not Your Woman.

 

Sweden’s disgrace! 

  
In the latest poll today, over one fifth of the Swedish voting population would vote for the nationalistic right wing party, putting the party into position of the second largest political party in Sweden. 

Let’s be clear what this means. One fifth of Swedes support a party that has its roots in the nazi party, that has verbally and physically attacked minority groups and that believes in Swedish racial superiority. It’s a disgrace for all Swedes who believe in tolerance, openness and solidarity. 

It’s time to act. To speak out. This is not going away. As the established parties bitch at each other, the Swedish population grows tired of their rhetoric. Consequently, they feel more disengaged and resentful and turn to a party that seems to talk straight to their concerns and promises protection of the Swedish identity. It is scarily reminiscent of the past. 

Pastor Martin Niemoller, pictured above, wrote a famous poem after he survived the concentration camps of the Second World War. His poem criticised the cowardice of German intellectuals after the Nazi’s rise to power and their subsequent purging of one group after another. It’s worth reflecting over his words. They are very relevant today. Right now. In Sweden. About us. 

‘First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.’

Do these words resonate with you? Are we the cowards he’s referring to? Are we so comfortable and complacent that we just sit back and watch it happen? 

If, like me, you believe in a multicultural society, it’s time to take a stance. Write to your MP. Talk to your colleagues, neighbours and friends. Get involved. Share this blog. Root out those one in five and challenge them. Demonstrate. Communicate. Educate. 

Speak out. While you can. Before it’s too late. 

The Gentle Minister

Anders_Ygeman

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?