With only one day left of this decade it is time to summarise what has happened from a Swedish perspective This is of course possible to do in many different ways. I chose to make a list of the ten most important trends or events for Sweden during the past decade as I see it.
The list is intentionally dominated by political events. I believe it would be difficult to add for example sports- and cultural events, it would be to compare totally different things.
1) The murder of Anna Lindh; September 11; 2003
In 1986 the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme had been murdered, shot to death, in central Stockholm. The killer escaped. That was a big blow towards the Swedish self image of being a very peaceful country far away from the fearful parts of the world where “things like that” can happen.
Palme had no life guards at the time, and neither did Minister for Foreign Affairs Anna Lindh seventeen years later when she was stabbed to death inside the department store NK in central Stockholm just three days before the national referendum about replacing the Swedish krona with euro.
Anna Lindh, photo: Wikipedia
This time the killer also escaped at first, but he was later captured and sentenced to life time in prison. The killer, Mijailo Mijailovic, was a person who had been treated for different mental problems but the court came to the conclusion that he was not mentally ill in a legal sense and he could therefore be sentenced to prison.
Mijailovic refused to talk about his motive during the trial, and has still not done so. One theory is that he, being of Serbian origin, hated Lindh because she clearly supported NATO’s bombing of Belgrade during the Kosovo conflict 1999. But that is just speculation.
Lindh was at the time on posters everywhere since she was a frontal figure for the Yes-campaign in the referendum. Very few believe however that the murder had anything to do with the euro-issue itself. Mijajlovc had no known opinion about it.
Lindh was very popular, also outside her own Social Democratic party. Many believe it is obvious that she would have succeeded Göran Persson as party chairman and perhaps Prime Minister.
Information from people around her states that she and Persson had already talked about it and he did later admit that he was thinking of resigning in the spring of 2004. Lindh was according to her former press secretary already preparing herself mentally for succeeding him. But now, without an obvious successor, Persson stayed.
If Lindh would have led her party in the 2006 election it is possible that there would never had been a shift of government. Two things could however have lowered her popularity. Firstly, we will never know how she would have handled the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. Freivalds got much blame for how she handled it as Minister for Foreign Affairs. Secondly, the affair with the two deported Egyptians could have backfired on her if she would have been alive. But that is another story.
2) The tsunami in south-east Asia; December 26, 2004
The tsunami occurred very far from Sweden but in the age of globalization it doesn´t matter. 543 Swedes died, thousands were wounded, and many thousands more lost a family member or fiend. The domestic political consequences were also huge.
Around 40 000 Swedes is believed to have been in Thailand on December 26; 2004. Thailand has become one of the very favorite destinations for Swedes during winter, and especially Christmas. When the disaster first happened, the information in Swedish (and other) media said that totally a couple of thousand people might have died. We now know that it was perhaps as many as 300 000.
Gradually the extent of the disaster became clear but it was not just media that underestimated what had happen. The information chain at the government’s office did not work that Boxing Day and it took almost 48 hours before rescue operations for Swedes in the area were implemented.
Once in place, the operation worked fine and all Swedes who wanted, where flown home. It is still not clear who did what during the first crucial day, and everybody blamed each other for the lack of information to the Prime Minister. If this would have happened at another time than during Christmas, things would probably have been different.
All this lowered the confidence for the Social Democratic government’s ability to run the country. The trust in this ability has always been one of the best assets for the Social Democrats. Later Minister for Foreign Affairs Laila Freivalds had to resign, officially on another issue but the confidence for her was broken after the tsunami
The aftermath also included a chain of events including secret copies of deleted tapes with electronic traffic in the government’s cabin that was found much later in a cellar. I will however not go closer in to that here.
3) The IT-development
It is hard to write a list of the most important trends and events during this decade without mentioning the IT-development, even though the ‘big leap’ perhaps happened already in the 90ies when internet and cell phones became assets of most people.
The decade started with the millennium bug and the burst of the IT-bubble. At New Year 1999 many people believed that computers would crash since they would not understand that 99 is followed by 00. As we all know now, (almost) nothing happened.
In 2000 the ‘new economy’ was to replace the old and solve most problems. But when people realised that a company perhaps has to perform a service or produce something to be profitable the bubble burst and some companies that had been rockets on the stock market collapsed. Some people lost a lot of money.
The decade was still a success for IT. People started to buy things on the internet, conduct bank affaires and communicate. The Swedish blogosphere got its final breakthrough as a political force during the 2008 FRA debate.
File sharing became the way young people obtained music and the debate over integrity on the internet eventually led to the Pirate Party getting seats in the European Parliament in 2009. FRA and Ipred will surely be heard of during the next decade as well.
4) Shift of power; September 17, 2006
The new politcal leadership of Sweden. Photo: David Jonasson
The Social Democratic possession of power in Sweden is unique in a democratic state. Without having done any comprehensive research I can only think of the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan and the Indian National Congress as a comparison. Between 1932 and 2006; the Social Democrats where only in opposition for nine years (1976-1982 and 1991-1994).
In 2006 the center right parties for the first time won an election during a period of a flourishing economy.
The former Social Democratic Minister for Finance Per Nuder lists four main reasons for his party´s loss in his memoires which I personally believe come very near the truth. If you are interested in them, read my review of the book.
5) The Euro referendum; September 14, 2003
Sweden joined the EU on January 1st; 1995 after a national referendum in November 1994. They then accepted the Maastricht treaty as a whole and were formally obliged to introduce the euro when it eventually came in circulation some years later.
Many Swedish political parties were however divided in the issue and the people were still split up in ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to the membership in EU itself. In order to ‘get rid’ of the currency issue the parties choose to handle the decison over to the people.
The referendum was held on September 14; 2003. A waste majority (55.9 % against 42.0 %) voted no and Sweden still have its own currency, SEK or Krona. They are however still a member of the European Union.
From my perspective, I was working in the Yes-campaign; the result did not come as a surprise. The No-side was ahead in almost all opinion polls and the atmosphere on the streets also pointed towards a no. Many no-voters believed the best thing to do was to ‘wait and see’ since the euro was a very new currency. They believed it is also possible to join later, while reversing a decision to join is much more difficult. That is of course true.
Some also wanted to ‘punish’ the political and financial leadership and since most of them were on the Yes-side, voting ´no´ was a way to do so.
The election campaign was cancelled after the murder of Minister for Foreign Affairs Anna Lindh three days before the referendum. After consultations with each other, the party leaders decided however that the referendum should be held as planed.
A new referendum is discussed by some politicians but it is unlikely that it will happen before 2015.
6) The Financial Crisis
The financial crisis did not start in Sweden. In fact Sweden had excellent public finances and a rather flourishing economy in 2008. This was a contrast to the crisis in the early 1990ies when the Swedish public finances were heavily mistreated. As a small export dependent economy it is however impossible to not be affected.
It is probable that the strong economy saved the country from the worst consequences of the cisis. The closure of Saab (which still is not hundred percent sure, it seems) was trigged by the crisis in general and GM’s own crises in particular but I doubt that GM would have had the potential to make Saab Automobile profitable anyway. But perhaps it would have been easier to find a buyer in a better financial climate?
The fact that Sweden kept its own currency instead of joining the euro might be another factor that moderated the effect of the crisis on the labour market. A depreciating SEK probably saved some jobs, while it also made the country as a whole poorer.
7) New political landscape
At least four of the seven political parties in Riksdagen (the Swedish parliament) have gone through significant changes during this decade.
The Moderate party (Liberal-conservative, formerly the Right Party) has moved towards the center. They no longer talk about a ’change of system’ or criticize the Swedish model of a welfare state. They embrace labour market regulations, trade unions and high taxes on really high incomes in a way that would have been unthinkable ten years ago.
The Center Party (green liberals, former Farmers’ League) was ten years ago a party that could make plans to form a government with the Social Democrats. This was very, very close to be a reality during the 90:ies according to the former Prime Minister Göran Persson. The Center Party was then more pragmatic than ideological and was often perceived as speaking mostly for the farmers, the country side and smaller communities. Now they are much more outspoken liberals and want to abolish many labor market regulations. They also try to be more urban and grow in the bigger cities.
Folkpartiet (The People’s Party in a direct translation) is best classified as social liberals but their ‘soft’ image has been changed to a more tough approach in issues like immigration, young criminals and discipline in school. Their demand for language tests in Swedish before giving out Swedish citizenships became an election winner for the party in 2002. It is hard to imagine that ‘Folkpartiet’ of the 90ies would make this demand.
The Greens (Sw: Miljöpartiet) has in many ways adopted a more ‘realistic’ approach in order to be accepted by the Social Democrats as a potential coalition partner. They have abolished demands such as basic income (meaning that all adult citizens should be paid a basic and equal amount of money every month in addition to their salery. They should get this weather they work or not). They have also removed the demand that Sweden should leave the EU.
In all four cases, the party transformations have been successful in the sense that they have gained more voters. There have of course also been internal protests but surprisingly little I would say.
Another characteristic of the new political landscape is the creation of two tight blocs. There are the Moderate Party, The Center Party, Folkpartiet and the Christian Democrats to the right and the Social Democrats, the Left party and the Greens to the left.
Even though blocs existed before as well, they are now tighter than ever and all parties say it is not an option to leave their coalition partners and join the other side. As late as in 2002 the Greens were in negotiations with some of the small centre-right parties in a (failed) attempt to create o government in the centre.
However, if the nationalistic Sweden Democrats get seats in Riksdagen in next year’s election and neither bloc get a majority, almost anything can happen in terms of new coalitions
8) Impacts on Sweden of September 11 and war on terror
September 11 and the war on terror (including Afghanistan and Iraq) would top any list of global events during the decade, but this is a list of events connected to Sweden. No parts of the world was however unaffected of this terror deed, so it deserve its place on the list.
The main consequences are probably the subtle ones. Things that are not obvious a direct consequence of September 11 at a first glance. More complicated visa regulations to certain countries, increased security procedures at airports, more refugees (not least from Iraq). But also the move towards what by many is perceived as a ‘surveillance society’ and less respect for personal integrity by governments. I am not sure if you can find a direct line from September 11 to the Swedish FRA-law but the boundaries for personal integrity has slowly been shifted and I can not see that FRA would have been possible ten years ago.
Two deported Egyptians (they were suspected of terror related crimes) who were tortured after being sent back to Egypt from Sweden by CIA-aircrafts and American officers became a big affair but would have been even bigger if the responsible Minister Anna Lindh would not have been dead already when the affair was revealed.
9) The EU-presidencies, spring of 2001 and fall of 2009
Twice during this decade has Sweden been holder of the rotating presidency of the European Union. Prime Minister Göran Persson’s popularity increased a lot when he was in the international spotlight in 2001. Politically the biggest achievement was the preparation for the big enlargement of the EU, even though the final decision about that came in 2002.
Many people also remember the fights on the streets of Gothenburg in June when, as usual, mostly peaceful demonstrators were joined by political hooligans to the extreme left who demolished the city center.
One stone thrower was shot by the police, a unique event in Sweden. He survived but was close to death for a few days. Many peaceful demonstrators felt badly treated by the police during these days. 80 persons were taken to hospital and around 1000 were temporarily taken care of by the police, many of them kept in a school building. The police were heavily criticized in a public investigation afterwards.
The second Swedish EU-presidency, which actually finish tomorrow night, is still in fresh memory. As Stockholm News has reported, the presidency has got very good remarks internationally. Prime Minister Reinfeldt’s domestic popularity has increased while the support for his party has actually shrunk.
10) The opening of the bridge to Denmark; July 2, 2000
On July 2; 2000 the bridge between Malmö and Copenhagen, Öresundsbron, was finally opened for traffic. For the first time since the last ice age did Sweden had a ground connection with continental Europe. The symbolic value was big, but it had also real valuable impact on the people in south Sweden, on the trade and on passengers. It became much easier to live on one side of the strait and work on the other.