Sunday, March 01, 2009

Politics in Sweden – A Changing of the Guard?

A new opinion poll has shown that the current reigning government party is gaining traction. Technically, the two main parties are in various cahoots with other parties. Different forms of alliances. I’m going to stick with Moderaterna and Socialdemokraterna. The Moderates and the Social Democrats. It just makes it a little bit easier.

Anyway, the Social Democrats are currently sitting at about 50%. The Moderates at 46.1%. And Fredrik Reinfeldt of the Moderate party is starting to run away with the confidence of the Swedish people. Mona Sahlin of the Social Democrats is struggling horribly and should maybe just run away.

The interesting thing here is that the Moderates have gained support as the financial crisis has deepened. A lot of support actually. Some people argue that this isn’t all that surprising. That in times of crisis a country rallies around their government. Others argue that it is due to a few key decisions made by the government. Their refusal to bail out Saab with Swedish tax payer money and their plan to allow nuclear power once more. Of course, the nuclear decision has little direct bearing on the financial crisis. But give the people what they want and it seems they will forgive you your shortcomings.

When I moved here, my knowledge of Swedish politics was scant. I had learned Swedish politics from a historical perspective. That much like the ebbs and flows of the business cycle, Sweden has seen a similar pattern with the conservative party taking power for a short amount of time between long stretches of Social Democratic rule. The longer I stay here, the more I learn.

I still don’t pretend to know much about Swedish politics. I know the basics. Coupled with my historic knowledge of Swedish politics I’ve managed to form some opinions. I can hold a halfway intelligent conversation about politics in Sweden, granted speckled with a few English words here and there because my political vocabulary in Swedish still lags behind sometimes. But I keep tabs on what is going on. And as an American in Sweden, the political scene is so very different from that which I am used to.

So when I saw the headlines about the opinion polls, I wasn’t at all expecting to read about the Moderates gaining support. They were in power as the financial crisis began. They are in power as it has only grown worse. They will probably be in power as it reaches its peak. It seems like they would be easy scapegoats for so many Swedes. I was expecting the Moderates to be destroyed in the press. Abandoned by the Swedish population. Apparently I was wrong.

Maybe I have become jaded and just expect anything that even resembles some sort of conservative movement in Sweden to be immediately shot down. Or maybe the Swedish mindset is slowly changing. A conservative (granted a Swedish version of conservative) government was voted into power. While they have taken their share of abuse and low opinion polls, they are gaining popularity through their handling of the crisis as the next election gets closer.

They have lowered taxes. They have sold off certain assets that have been historically government run. They are in the process breaking up the monopolized pharmacies. Apoteket. What has for so long been known as the Swedish model is slowly changing. Some might argue eroding. Others evolving. But it is changing. Could the Moderates actually be re-elected? And if so, what does this mean for the Swedish model? Or is this simply one of those conservative cycles that Sweden has historically seen in politics?

Welcome to Sweden. Where some semblance of conservatism lives on.

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  1. I find it funny that this seems to be part of a larger trend globally, and that it seems to be in direct contrast to what's happening back here in the states. Granted the term 'right' is a broad brush to paint with, but it seems like many countries in Europe are heading in that direction.

    Just a thought...

  2. Europe loves Obama. The right wing in Sweden would be democrats or moderate independents in the States.

    I don't think Europe is turning to the right. More to the middle perhaps.

  3. Do you agree with calling neoliberalism conservatism?

    Do you think that removing the collective bargaining of pharmacutical prices, and privitizing the pharmacy will reduce prices and increase the safety of Swedish citizens?

    Do you understand that there are conservative socialists and liberal socialists, and do you understand what political ideas gave you the ability to go to college for free?

  4. I don't really agree with the Swedish right being conservative. The Moderates and the Christian Party does have conservatives ideas, but the Centre Party and the People's Party are both Liberal.
    The Swedish right is, if anything, Liberal Conservative, compared to the Swedish left which would be Liberal Socialist.

  5. @the good doctor – maybe it has something to do with that ever Swedish idea of lagom. That the right answer is somewhere in between. Not too hot, not too cold. Not to right, not too left.

    @Linus – Youre absolutely right. Right wing in Sweden would definitely be democrats. Hell, Reinfeldt and Moderaterna endorsed Obama.

    But I would suggest that moving to the middle, for Europeans, and more specifically Swedes, is moving to the right. Not saying they’ll make it over to that right side, but they are getting closer to the middle which means a little hint of a move to the right for them at least.

    @anonymous – for the first question – depends completely on the various definitions that get thrown around for all those neo words. But from an economic standpoint I think you could argue that the ideals of the neoliberals have similarities to those of what many would call conservatism.

    But yes, I think it is a good idea to privatize the pharmaceutical industry in Sweden.

    And finally, I do understand that inany group there are people on both ends of the spectrum. Unfortunately, those groups had nothing to do with me going to college for free. I’m American, and I earned my degree in the US. And it was most definitely not free.

    @anonymous – I definitely wouldn’t call them conservative in terms of an Americna party being conservative. But they are a bit more conservative than Socialdemokraterna. And so everything is relative.

  6. I feel I've been remiss in my comments on this blog lately. I apologize. In my defense I would like to say that I've been doing research in order to maximize the amount of insightfulness I can cram into a comment. And I have. But unfortunately; the amount of research I've done takes a lot of time to digest properly. Frankly, I may well have to call to call it quits. The optimal amount of insight eludes me.

    I can however recommend
    The discussions that take place there are quite fascinating. I especially like how the Comrades likes to refer to themselves as "we" so frequently, while at the same time having such violent disagreements with all the other "we" regarding what "we" feel is the right way for the rest of us to do things. Everyone is equal - But "we" are a lot more equal than the rest of us.

    A lot of "we" are going to Malmö to "stoppa matchen". I.e. to try to stop the Davis Cup match between Sweden and Israel. I think that actions of Ilmar Reepalu (Mayor of Malmö) speak for themselves. What a guy! First you ban audience from the game. Then you make sure that the Schools near Baltiska Hallen where the matches are played are closed so that the kids have the day off. Then...

  7. @Jacob M – not at all. I appreciate the research. But I know how it goes. Sometimes the research just gets overwhelming. Which is when it becomes important to sit your ass down and watch something stupid as all hell on TV. Which isn’t hard to find.

    Anyway, the idea of we can get very tricky. Especially when the we is more of an idea than anything. Ive never been a big fan of hippies andnoticed this sort of attitude with a lot of the people I went to college with. I called them hippicrits. Cute huh? It was the whole idea that we’ll listen to what you have to say. As long as you agree with us.

    I’ve been keeping tabs on this whole Israel-Sweden tennis match thing. For a lot of reasons. From the sports angle to the politics angle. It’s been interesting to follow. And I actually just popped out a quick post about it.

  8. Poor hippies. You def. rag on them a bit. But hippies and Swedes have a lot in common politically in my opinion. At least certain breeds of hippies. There are many varietys btw.

  9. its true, I have a love hate relationship with hippies.

    which is maybe why I rag on them but still find myself living in laces like Eugene, Oregon or Stockholm, Sweden.

    and you're absolutely right, there is a wide range of hippieness. some are tolerable. some are not.

  10. I don't mind hippies. Well not much anyway. Or not as much as the radical (fanatical) left in Sweden minds them. It's kind of interesting reall; Noone hates reds more than other reds. On that site I mentioned earlier e.g., they seemed to feel that after the revolution came, the hippes should be sent to a gulag. Their words, not mine. And the revolution will come of course. After all, Comrade Marx made it very clear that the revolution is inevitable.

    I'm not a hippie though. But I am Swedish. And I am an individual. Perhaps m8surf should flip his words around a bit. Maybe certain breed of Swedes have a lot in common with hippies.

    @Hairy - "Sweden has seen a similar pattern with the conservative party taking power for a short amount of time between long stretches of Social Democratic rule."

    None of the "None-socialist" governments of the 70's and 80's had a Moderate prime minister. In fact, when Carl Bildt became prime minister in 1991, he was the first moderate prime minister since Arvid Lindman was prime minister in 1930. Though back then the party was then called Allmänna valmansförbundet.

    I am personally one of those that do hope that we're facing a "change in the guard". At the same time I feel a great deal of frustration. When a moderate led government implements the FRA law, what options do I have left to vote for? It was the social democrats idea to start with. When former Social democratic minister of finance, Kjell-Olof Feldt criticizes a (supposedly) non-socialist government saying that it's time to honour the tax reform that the Social democrats and Folk partiet (liberals) passed through parliament in 1990 (limiting income-tax to a maximum of 50%) and the current none-socialist government states that while it's a goal to maximum income tax back to those leves, it's not really very urgent. (that's Swedish for "never") - all I can do is tear my hair in frustration. And no, I don't actually make that much money. But I do feel that ideology matters. And that the one that makes the money should also have first dibs on that money. To be allowed to keep at least half should be considered a given in a rational world. At least as I see it. Anything less and you're not really working for yourself - you're working for the government.

    Oh, for your further education. Marcus:

    Or, if you want a shorter version, just do a google search on "Löntagarfonderna"

    The strugle around those really marked where the scales finally tipped in Swedish politics I say. On the 4th of October 1982, approximately 100 000 Swedes marched (in Stockholm) in a demonstration against implementing the plan turn the private sector socialist. That was the culmination. There were many smaller local ones preceding the final one. To this date, this is by far the largest demonstration ever to take place in Sweden. And yet, most Swedes have probably never heard of it. History in Sweden has been written by the left. Newspaper journalists have always leaned strongly to the left. To the left of Social Democrats even. And a lot of Swedes get their "thruth" from Swedish "public service" television. And the (S) in SVT might as well be spellt out Socialist - they claim to be fair and balanced. And maybe they can sort of show something to that affect. In the same way that Fox news is fair and balanced. But just as you have to be blind not to see that Fox news leans heavily to the right, so do you have to be blind not to see the ever present left slant to how news are portrayed (or not) in Swedish public service tv.

    Welcome to Sweden - where quite a few of us actually hope for a more permanent change of the guard.

  11. @jacob - agreed. especially the part about being able to keep at least 50% of what you earn.

  12. hollabacksverigeMarch 9, 2009 at 5:17 PM

    Speaking of socialism, I am getting so effing sick of the "joe the plumber" types going on and on about socialism when everyone knows he failed 6th grade and couldn't tell socialism from a whole in the wall. There's enough money in America for every child under 18 to have healthcare. There's also enough to have at least 1 free major university and 1 free community college. Things like that Sweden gets right and I think we should emulate. The problem is that the Republican party outside of the Northeast is being run by a group of under exposed lu lu's who can't pull any of the folks in the center - the likes of sara-have-50-kid-and-go-to-20-community-colleges-Pallin. Yes I may sound like a Georgetown cocktail conservative, but that's just how I feel. The republican party needs to get with the times. Lower debt and deficits, self sufficiency and some level of social compassion is something that would attract more centrist voters and I hope that the idiot Steele gets kicked to the curve and someone like the fellow who is the governor of Minn. rises to the top.....
    I'm really feeling your blog - Det går bra nu ;)

  13. hollabacksverigeMarch 9, 2009 at 5:22 PM

    by the way, I've invalidated a few of my contentions with the <---grammatical errors, lol. My bad,I am watching a Petter video as I type...

  14. Yeah the whole socialism thing is a bit ridiculous. I like whatyou said here “Lower debt and deficits, self sufficiency and some level of social compassion.” Mostly because that is what the Republican party used to stand for. It doesn’t necessarily need to get with the times as you say but instead go back to what it once meant. Small government, manning up and showing some self sufficiency and responsibility, and not spending a shitload of money.

    No worries about the grammatical stuff. We’ll blame it on Petter. When in doubt always blame Swedish rappers. It’s a good rule to live by.

  15. I think that Petter is often to blame when things go wrong. The little guy's last name is Niklas. You should always use full name so people know who you're talking about.

  16. Actually, I think one way to look at it is this. The Social Democrats are conservative; the Moderates liberal. There's nothing especially conservative about the moderates. It's all free markets, and they're even dissembling the Army. The SAP on the other hand likes to move slowly, rely on well-tried wisdom, have protected big business and have always kept a strong defense despite a recent lapse. What makes them left is that they institutionalised the conservative virtue of charity (help when help is needed), rather than move towards actual socialism. Sweden; where the left is conservative? I incidentally think the world is rightly taking a turn towards conservatism; everyone's talking about the ethics of markets now, not just markets (as some sort of miracle cure for everything). And for good reason.

  17. @Jacob M - Maybe m8surf should flip HER words around. Not very Swedish to assume I am male now is it. And yes, your are right, American hippies probably got their ideas from socialist minded Europeans. Probably from some breeds of Swedes....

    The problem is in my opinion, definitely related to the lack of center. Yes, republicans in the US would do better with more social compassion, but the socialists in Sweden would be better with a little compassion for business. For example, the amount of taxes for someone running certain businesses are much higher than someone working for a company in Sweden. Even if you are not making lots of money. I don't think that is fair. It discourages entrepreneurship and creativity.

  18. @jacob – I’ve always heard you should never trust someone with two first names. Petter Niklas is definitely one of those.

    @Daniel – a good call. But again its how you want to define conservative. But you’re right about the conversation that is emerging from all of this.

    @m8surf – clearly it goes back to Swedens idea of lagom. Again. Always. Lagom is best. Somewhere in the middle.

  19. @m8surf, you wrote that my assumptions were not very Swedish. The sentence was written in the form of a question except for the lack of a question mark. Which was fitting I guess since clearly it was a statement, not a question. Most of the time I find it rather annoying when someone from the US tries to tell me what it means to be Swedish. Not this time though.'re female. And you're very good looking. I know this because I assume that every woman posting online are very beautiful. Now THAT's not a "very Swedish" attitude, is it? Maybe it's just very male attitude? I do think that just about everyone is beautiful though. You just have to be open to seeing it. Maybe that's my inner hippie surfacing

    Many a year ago, when I was 12-13y.o, a new video store opened in my home town. It was called "Sarah's Video". It wasn't a very good video store, but it was cheap. I often wondered who this Sarah was, since the only one I ever saw working in this video store was this middle aged middle eastern guy. You can figure out the rest, right? I don't feel bad about having preconceptions regarding peoples gender based on their names. Names are usually not gender neutral. In the case with you, I read m8surf = Mate. And I've only ever heard people refer to guy friends as "mate". Both in the UK/Ireland and Australia. Maybe it's different in the US (though I've never heard anyone refer to someone else like that there) and maybe your name isn't to be interpreted that way but...I apologize most humbly for my erroneous assumption, m8surf. Because you're female obviously. And also because this is online...and you're female. And due to the fact that this is online, I can get away with this without any risk of physical harm - which sort of is a shame.

    Now, regarding the rest of your post: My respect for you increased with each sentence. I somewhat suspect that that leveled it out with what I wrote above by your respect for me deteriorating. And maybe it was already pretty bad? I can't help it though. I need to be me.

    I don't think that the most socialist = the most compassionate. It's not compassion if you've got no choice. And I don't think that it's more noble to give away someone eases money than your own. I do feel that to some degree it can be to everyones benefit though. I do admire the USA and I do admire the ideals set forth in the declaration of independence. But I don't want Sweden to become a copy of the US. I like my safety net. And I like tax-funded health care. I think that the US would be ruined if you tried to copy our safety net and health care system though.

    Writing this, I've been thinking about what makes so many American's annoying. Part of what makes many American's annoying. And a part of it is the words. The words means different things. The word "Liberal" has a distinctively different meaning in the US compared to Europe. When you say "Social democrat" you probably don't mean the same thing as I do either. And you seem to be rather a bit more open to what Social Democracy means here in Europe than most Social Democrat huggers in the US that I've come across are. The Social Democratic party has been a positive force in Sweden in many ways. They've kept the communists at bay for instance. But the Social Democratic party un-opposed is a horrible beast. And like I said earlier, I feel that the one creating the wealth and jobs should be allowed to reap be greatest benefit from this. I used to be a moderate. I still am in some way. I am moderate in the way I thought that the moderate party for moderate. Now I'm a liberal and the liberal party feels more and more like my party. I am right wing by Swedish standards. But I'm not a supporter of Laissez-faire as such. Governent needs to set the rules and sometimes intervene. Laissez-faire unchecked is a recipe for [i]tragedy of the commons[/i]. The seas are over fished, the financial markets are in a dreadful state. And the people who are overfishing the sea and who let people lend too much money all do what is perfectly rational for them to do. But in aggregate it is not very rational, which is why governments needs to set the rules. Sometimes in conjunction with other governments.

    @Daniel - The moderates aren't very liberal in my book. I used to think they were Survailing peoples emails and keeping tabs of peoples text msgs and what they write isn't very liberal in my mind. The fraction that is in power at the moment looks more and more like Social Democrats light in my view.

    @Hairy - Sometimes "lagom" means pretty much what you think it does. Sometimes it does not. A big part of "lagom" is that it doesn't have to be very exact. The "lagom" amount of money can be any amount in a range. The point of "lagom" is that you're not picky.

  20. @Jacob M - No, we don't use the term "mate" is the US. M - the first letter of my name 8 - my soccer (football, whatever) number in high school (we have school teams in the US) and surf - I grew up on the california and Carolina coasts thus developing a deep, unparting love with surfing and the ocean....

    I was semi-joking about the not being Swedish thing. However, that is what I have been told by Swedes. Swedes have no assumptions about maleness, better equality. In the US it would be more typical. This is put in my face all the time. It is why I said that. You get annoyed when Americans assume things about Swedes? How cute. Swedes assume away about Americans all the god damned time. Most of whom have never been to America. It is "assumed" about me (an American) all time by Swedes who have spent much less time in my country than I have in theirs that I am fat, uneducated, know little about geography, carry /enjoy guns, like violence, want war, don't care about poor starving children, drink sodas all the time, eat at McDonald's every day, never walk anywhere, don't care about the environment, etc. So I am sorry if you find it so annoying for Americans to make assumptions about Swedes. But, I'd be willing to bet they are mostly ones you have known in Sweden. Who have had real exposure to the country. I face assumptions by numerous Swedes who have never crossed the Atlantic. I'm glad to partake in evening the score a little bit.

    And I am not a socialist. Never, ever a communist. And I guess I am right wing in Sweden but I am still re-defining my political self. Also I never said socialist = compassionate. I agree whole heartedly that you need choices. It's my least favorite thing about Sweden. Less choice. And no, I don't want Sweden to become like the US, nor do I want/think the US could ever run as Sweden does. Variety is good. Different countries operating differently keeps the world going. It allows us to compare the strengths and weaknesses in our systems as we compare them to others. Competition is healthy.

    You're a positive thinker by assuming women online whom you've never seen are beautiful. I do think men are men and women are women. I like to get all pretty and wear heels and have a guy open my door on a date. But I still enjoy and work hard to get a higher finance grade then the guys next to me in class. I don't think that equality means the same. Between sexes, countries, whatever. And I didn't lose all respect for you yet.

  21. And when I said less choice in Sweden I did not mean political parties. I mean things like monopolized industries that are government run. Less variety in things you want to buy. People Dress the same: all in black, black boots up to your knees.

  22. @jacob m – I usually stick with the definition that lagom means just right. I think it’s the best way to translate the word into English. So when I said somewhere in the middle I meant not too hot, not too cold. Not too right, not too left. Not to rich, not too poor. Because youre absolutely right, lagom isn’t exact and can be anywhere along a wide range.

    @m8surf – its one of those classic moments of hypocrisy and you see it a lot in Sweden. For some reason I think it is more noticeable in this country because the Swedes pride themselves on being so open-minded. Americans on the hand, many of them, don’t claim open-mindedness to the same extent as Swedes and so there seems to e less hypocrisy in that sense.

    If that made any sense at all…

  23. I have a question that is mostly on topic. Ever since I had a dream with the Crown Princess Victoria in it (I didn't know who she was then and it took me months to fid her) I've been very interested in anything Swedish. The politics, though, confusethe helll out of me.

    I recently read an article which said that two thirds of Swedes (mainly men) want the King to stay in power after his age 65 retirement (something I didn't know what practiced in monarchies) because he is right of center. It also mentioned that leftists wanted the Crown Princess to take the thrown in a year. Would you mind explaining the details of what exactly is "right of center" and "leftist" in Sweden and why the Crown Princess is more left leaning?

    I really appreciate it!

  24. The king has to be careful not to show his political stance. Partly because he is supposed to be the king for everyone in Sweden, but mostly because the support for him could drop to the extend that he gets dethroned if he alienates one of the political wings.
    But when people try to analyse what little he does say, they usually come to the conclusion that he's leaning more to the right than to the left.

    Victoria is the leftists choice by default simply by being a woman.

    Anyway, the survey I think you are referring to is flawed since it omitted the option to not have a king or a queen.

    @Harry swede: I'm not sure it's just that Swedish people are becoming more conservative, much of it is due to the moderate party becoming more socialist. In the last election Reinfeldt launched the concept of "nya moderaterna" which made the moderate party earn the nickname "socialmoderaterna" more than they ever had(did?).

  25. @Danielle – well right of center is still quite liberal. Moderaterna, who are considered a conservative party in Sweden, endorsed Obama while he was running for President. But I think what you will find is that most people who truly consider themselves leftist probably don’t want any monarchy at all despite the fact that the Swedish monarchy has absolutely no power.

    @Mazui – I think you nailed it.

    That’s true, but I think that in and of itself demonstrates a willingness by the people to meet somewhere more to the right than they had been in the past.