- -  Day # 62  + +

EU > Sweden > Ume?

Politics for fun

Ume?, SE (View on map)

After years of social democrat heritage in Sweden, conservative parties have recently taken hold of the political arena. Which, if it happened in an other country, would not be much of a conversation topic amongst young people. In Sweden it is. Many youngsters are politically active, either through membership of a political party or by participation in a wide choice of demonstrations. Politics are part of popular TV programs like `Parlamentet`, a parody-kind of debate program involving the country`s leading comedians. Beside that, Sweden has a separate party for almost each political preference, up to the point where you can elect a party that wishes to grant people the right to illegally download MP3s from the internet.

Sophie (20) and Linda (24):

`After elections, the map of Northern Sweden usually turns red for the high number of socialist voters. People in the South are more supportive of the liberal party`
Most of these one-issue parties are organised on a local level and do not make it to the national politics. Four percent of the votes are required to actually make it to parliament. In practice, the major political streams are red left (social democrats) and the blue right (conservatives / liberals), with different kind of extra-parliamentary to complement the choice for particularly young people.

Sofie (20) and Linda (24, both in photo) help me to read today`s newspaper and tell me about the way they experience politics. Both support the left-wing parties, which is quite common in the North of Sweden. They tell that whenever national elections are held, the map of Sweden turns red (left wing) in the North and blue (conservative) in the south. The victory of the right seemed to be mostly a tactical procedure. Although the social democrats are the biggest party in parliament, they were excluded from government by the alliance between the right wing parties. Both Sofia and Linda, like many people I spoke to earlier, can not really explain the success of the liberal parties in the latest national elections. They suspect that the electorate basically got bored with the previous prime minister, G?ran Persson, and mainly with his personal life next to politics. The victory of the right seemed to be more of a vote of disapproval against the left.

One of the major subjects currently occupying Swedish politics is the issue of immigration. Traditionally, Sweden was very welcoming to foreigners. The extended welfare system was seen as a source that everybody was allowed to benefit from, but such broad support has faded away in recent years. Immigrant populations have slowly started forming separate communities in and beside the main cities, leading to increasing disapproval of the open border policy.

Nationalism is growing in Sweden and the flag seems to have been hi-jacked by movements that the left-wing would refer to as racist and fascist. Groups of young men loudly claim that both immigration and adoption of foreign nationals should be brought to an end, while they stir up the nation in their search for popular support. Another one point on their agenda is to limit Sweden`s participation in the EU: what they promote is Sweden for the Swedes and Sweden by the Swedes.

Demonstrations are frequently organised by each side of the spectrum. They receive broad media coverage and many people actively participate in them. Last Friday, a big share of Sweden was dressed in red, to pay support to the Burmese monks that are currently fighting for freedom in Myanmar. Tobias (25) regrets that Sweden does have opinions on world politics, but that they end up standing along the sideline. He himself says he is `too lazy` to participate in politics himself. David (23) expresses his political passiveness in the same way, as if he were to blame for not feeling connected to politics. However, when I ask him about recent government decisions that he did not agree to, he still manages to find one within the second: the right wing government abolishing Afterschool, a part of the education system that helps you prepare for university when your previous education was not sufficient.

New media
Joachim (21) is training to be a civic teacher, and he is a moderate supporter of the social democrats. He despises the fact that the distance between rich and poor are starting to grow, while balancing them out has been such a great achievement. He has no good words for the growing support to nationalist parties, and blames both the traditional parties to be unable to cope with new media like the internet. Websites like Lunarstorm.se leave a lot of space for fascist communities and the traditional parties do not have a proper answer to this approach. Joachim claims that the nationalist parties respond to a general, unspecified and unnecessary feeling that their culture and language are jeopardised by the many foreigners living in Sweden.

Apart from the red and blue, people can also choose from green, pink and black. Green standing for parties promoting environmental consciousness, pink for feminism and homosexuals` rights, black for anarchists. These colours are reflected in people`s dress code; through bag pins, scarves and even tattoos. Political preference is also reflected in the newspapers people read, even though the real differences only tend to apply to the first two pages. Local newspapers often have the opinion page split up in two columns: one for right-wing comments, one for left-wings.

Press in Sweden is fairly independent, like it is in Finland. So much can not always be said about politics. In earlier confrontations between labour unions and the employers, the government has acted as an influential mediator. Ever since, they have had very tight links with the major corporation. Joachim thinks that this legacy of conflicting interests may have caused the right-wing to take the lead. He therefore questions the true independence of today`s government. Altogether, he is one out of many to hope that Sweden will return to its traditional political values of tolerance, openness and nurturing.

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