World Book Day – and my book on Sweden

Today is UNESCO World Book Day, to celebrate books and promote reading. The 23 April is a significant day as it commemorates the death of many famous writers such as William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega.

Every year a World Book Capital is nominated. The first one, in 2001, was Madrid, Spain. This year it is Guadalajara in Mexico.

So today is a good day to buy a book, or to gift one. If you know anybody who is interested in learning about Sweden, or planning on visiting Sweden, then my guide book is a good match! I published it in 2021.

You can buy it on Amazon, Bokus, Akademibokhandeln and Adlibris amongst other online stores. Sweden, by Neil Shipley, published by Kuperard 2021. You can also buy it straight from the publisher at http://www.culturesmartbooks.co.uk

I still have a few copies left, so if you’d like to buy a signed copy, just let me know!

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.

My book on Sweden – the Essential Guide!

My book is doing really well, which I’m very proud of. You can buy it on Amazon, Bokus, Akademibokhandeln and Adlibris amongst other online stores. Sweden, by Neil Shipley, published by Kuperard 2021.

I still have a few copies left, so if you’d like to buy a signed copy, just let me know!

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.

This year it is important to wash hands regularly and keep a physical distance from others. 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 in corona times 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 touch elbow to elbow. 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. This year, the activities are hopefully adapted to corona. 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 most babies in Sweden are made on this day. It remains to be seen, however, if this year people are keeping their distance. If you don’t keep your distance, and 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, even though we are in the middle of a pandemic.

Glad Midsommar!

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Livestream Swedish National Day

Today is Sweden’s National Day. It was declared in 1983, and was first celebrated as a public holiday in 2005. Prior to that, the 6th June was known as Swedish Flag Day to commemorate that Sweden has its own flag – a celebration introduced in 1916 after the dissolution of the union with Norway in 1905.

Swedes celebrate National Day on 6 June in honour of two historical events: Gustav Vasa being elected king (6 June 1523) and the adoption of a new constitution (6 June 1809).

Normally, the King and Queen of Sweden take part in a televised ceremony at Skansen, Stockholm’s open-air museum, on National Day. The yellow and blue Swedish flag is run up the mast, and children in traditional peasant costume present the royal couple with bouquets of summer flowers.

Otherwise, it’s a bit of a weird day, National Day. It’s celebrated with organised events in parks and squares. Buses fly the flag on their rooves, people hang up the flag on poles and people gather in large crowds to wave the flag. Other than this, many people don’t really know what to do. There is no collective memory around the 6th June, such as independence or winning a war, to pull people together. No sense of achievement. Or historical pride. So, the day is usually appreciated as a day off work to, for example, meet friends, or play golf, or day drink or sunbathe or go to Ikea.

One interesting event that happens on this day is the Citizen Ceremony. All new citizens up and down the country are invited to their town hall to participate in a ceremony to welcome them to Sweden as new Swedes. Usually, the mayor proceeds over the event and it’s followed by the most Swedish thing of all – Fika (coffee and cinnamon buns). When I participated 9 years ago, Crown Princess Victoria was actually there also. It did feel very official, with participants from all over the world dressed in their best clothes such as elegant saris, busutis and kanzus. Personally, I wore a blue jacket with a yellow handkerchief poking out of the breast pocket.

Due to the current pandemic, lots of celebrations are cancelled this year. As a replacement http://www.sweden.se are carrying out a digital event. This is what they write:

‘Sweden live: National Day @ home

Make yourself comfortable and join us as we celebrate Sweden’s National Day. In this 24-hour livestream Swedish artists will play for you from their living rooms, chefs will cook with you, museums will dazzle you with their exhibits – and you might also get the chance to spot some moose… Enjoy! Here’s the link!

https://sweden.se/culture-traditions/lets-celebrate-the-national-day-of-sweden/

Buying sex in Sweden

In a recent police raid, over 40 men were arrested at temporary brothels in Stockholm. They were charged with buying, or attempting to buy sex. The brothels, which are also illegal in Sweden, were shut down.

So what is Sweden’s policy on prostitution? Well, it is criminalized and in fact Sweden has a trail-blazing approach to prostitution. In 1999, the Sex Purchase Act came into existence. This Act makes it illegal to purchase “sexual services” but not to sell them. So the purchaser is the criminal and not the prostitute. The rationale for criminalizing the buyer, but not the seller, was stated in the 1997 government proposition, namely that “…it is unreasonable to also criminalize the one who, at least in most cases, is the weaker party who is exploited by others who want to satisfy their own sexual desires”.

This law has since been copied and put in place in various other countries, such as Canada, Norway and Iceland. According to the statistics, the law has seen a huge decline in prostitution and trafficking, although it is by far not eradicated.

According to journalist Meghan Murphy, who has written extensively about prostitution- ‘The Swedish model is about more than just changing the law. It is also an idea — it is about changing the culture, and the culture is what needs to change as well as our legislative approach. What the model and its proponents are saying is that men are not entitled to access the bodies of women and girls, even if they pay.”

However, the law is controversial and is not without its critics.

Those who criticize it claim that the law isn’t as effective as people think and that sex work in Sweden is just driven more dangerously deeper underground. They also claim the law strips women of their control and their rights to do with their body as they wish to. An article on mic.com says ‘Sweden’s belief that prostitution is the most brutal expression of patriarchy has engendered a kind of paternalism about commodified sex that holds men responsible for their actions while assuming women can’t be. It wipes out the possibility of gray areas for men and women to be equal partners in exchanging money for sex.’ In other words, according to them, the feminist-driven Sex Purchase Act is entirely unfeminist.

So, the age old debate carries on. The discussion about if prostitution is inherently exploitative. Should it be criminalized, or can it be developed to maximize equality for everyone involved? In Sweden, the buyer is criminalized. In most other countries, the seller is criminalized. In Germany, Holland, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey, Hungary and Latvia prostitution is legal and regulated. Different approaches to the same situation.

What do you think?

Sleepless in Stockholm

We are rapidly approaching Midsummer and the nights are getting lighter and lighter. Here in Stockholm, it is still daylight at 10pm and it starts to get dark towards midnight. For 6 weeks or so, we experience so-called ‘white nights’, where the sun is below the horizon for less than 6 hours. This makes it bloody difficult to motivate yourself to go to bed and, once there, to get to sleep.

Mind you, this is nothing compared to the northern town of Kiruna in Sweden, where from the 27 May to the 16 July the sun never sets and they have months and months of white nights.

Have you ever seen the movie ‘Insomnia’ with Al Pacino? Based on a Norwegian film with the same name, he plays a cop from LA who goes to Alaska to solve a crime. As time goes on, he suffers more and more from insomnia due to the day-round light and starts to lose his grip on reality. This time of year, I start to feel a bit like Al Pacino.

On week days, when you need to get up for work, nights are spent battling with the bright chinks of daylight that pierce the window shades and shine like an aura around the bedroom door. Effective sleep time is reduced to a few hours and, heavy headed in the morning, you climb into the shower like a zombie to try to bring yourself to life.

So how to survive this period of sleeplessness?

There are a few options:

  • Black-out blinds – sold amongst other places for a reasonable price at IKEA
  • Blindfold – stolen amongst other places from airlines
  • Sheet over head – not very comfortable and rather sweaty
  • Brick up the windows – probably not approved by the local council, or the residents’ board
  • Rain dancing – to try to conjure up dark clouds to block out the daylight
  • Get up and do yoga – no, just kidding
  • Drugs – always an option, but can bring on a whole new set of problems
  • Lavender under the pillow – supposed to relax you, just makes me sneeze and the bedroom smell
  • Take your bedding to the windowless bathroom and sleep in the bathtub – effective but tragic

Or alternatively, just suck it up and enjoy the white nights as an exotic natural Scandi-phenomenon. Reassure yourself that thankfully you don’t live in Kiruna, or Alaska.

And finally, philosophically remind yourself that this too will pass – and all too soon it will be day-round darkness.

Diverse Sweden Part 2: Swedish Muslims

diversity

Sweden is a fairly diverse country – ethnically, religiously and culturally. About 25% of the population is born abroad or has both parents born outside of Sweden. Extend that to one parent and the number increases to around a third of the Swedish population.

I am a true believer in cultural diversity. So, I am continuing a series of posts that will shine the light on various religious and ethnic groups that exist amongst people with Swedish citizenship. My hope is that it will dispel some of those stereotypes of Swedes that exist and that it will broaden your mind regarding what it means to be Swedish.

Part 2…..Islam

Happy-Eid-Al-Fitr-Wishes-Picture

This week on Wednesday 5th of June is the great Islamic festival of Eid Al Fitr. This is a three day festivity consisting of celebration, good food, prayer, gifts to the children and charity to the needy. The festival marks the end of Ramadan, the month in which followers are taught the Quran was revealed to the prophet Muhammad.  During Ramadan, practicing muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours from dawn to sunset. You can imagine the challenge of this in Sweden, when we almost have daylight 24 hours of the day. In Stockholm, the fast lasts 20 hours per day which must be really exhausting. In the north of Sweden, where the sun never sets, muslims have solved this by fasting according to the daylight schedule of Mecca, or other chosen location. The idea of the fast is to bring practicing muslims closer to God.

Islam is the second largest religion in the world, about 25% of the world’s popluation. Muslims make up approximately 8% of the Swedish population, according to research from the Pew Center. This makes them the second-largest immigrant group in Sweden after the Finns. About 90% of muslims in the world are Sunni muslims, with the rest following Shia islam.

Islam is a religion which appreciates practice. There are five basic religious acts in Islam, collectively known as ‘The Pillars of Islam’ which are considered obligatory for all believers. The Quran presents them as a framework for worship and a sign of commitment to the faith. They are:

  • Shahada, the creed
  • Salah, daily prayer
  • Zakat, alms giving
  • Rawm, fasting during Ramadan
  • Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca

Other than the fasting of Ramadan, the practice most noticeable to non-Muslims is probably the one of prayer. Performing prayers five times a day is compulsory but flexibility in the timing specifics is allowed depending on circumstances. Many companies in Sweden have prayer rooms to accommodate this.

First-generation muslims in Sweden most often originate from Irak, Iran, Turkey, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. Two growing groups are from Syria and Somalia. Since the 1960’s, about 3500 people in Sweden have converted to Islam. There are nine purpose-built mosques in Sweden, with the notable ones in the main cities. In Stockholm, the mosque is on the residential island of Södermalm. From this location, the Islamic Association of Sweden is run. This is an umbrella organisation encompassing, amongst other things, the Muslim Council of Sweden, Muslim Youth Organisation and Muslim Relief.

The first muslims actually emigrated to Sweden during the Viking era but it wasn’t until the 1950’s and 1960’s that a large number arrived from Turkey seeking employment. Another wave in the 80’s brought muslim refugees from the war-torn Balkan region. Most of the muslims who arrive in Sweden today are fleeing dictatorship and armed conflict, and are seeking refuge in another country. Today, a great number of people who follow Islam were born in Sweden, conditioned in Swedish values and society and educated though the Swedish school system.

Like many places around the western world, there are conflicts in Sweden between the original Christian-based society and the Islam society. Some of the conflicts originate in religious difference, fuelled by extremist thinking on both sides. However, most of the conflict comes from an ethno-racist perspective or a concern about the impact of immigration on the structure and values of Swedish society. The Swedish governments of the past have not necessarily succeeded in the integration of the two parties and many people today witness ‘two Swedens’ operating in parallel to each other.

There is no doubt that muslims are well and truly a part of Sweden and Swedish culture. How we choose to move forward to one Sweden is for us all to decide.

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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.

The most popular names in Sweden

Oliver was the most popular name for male newborns in the UK last year. And Olivia was the most popular female name. In London, it was Amelia and Mohammed and in Ireland it was Jack and Emily.

So what about Sweden in 2018? Just-released information from Sweden’s office of statistics give us the following answer.

The most popular top 5 names for male newborns were:

  1. William
  2. Liam
  3. Noah
  4. Lucas
  5. Oliver

In fact, there are 44010 males in Sweden with the name William. And 58 females!

And for newborn girls it was:

  1. Alice
  2. Maja
  3. Lilly
  4. Ella
  5. Wilma

Interestingly, there are 38957 females called Alice in Sweden. And 22 men!

The names Ture, Lias and Amir are the fastest climbing names in the list of boys’ names. And for girls, Hailey och Bianca. The names Sebastian, Neo, Simon, Emelie, Ellinor, Idun and Noomi have left the top 20 list.

If you want to see how many people have your name in Sweden, go to svenskanamn.alltforfaldrar.se

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