Thursday, September 11, 2014

Swedish Election 2014

There’s an election on Sunday here in Sweden. An important one. For a variety of reasons actually. One because there could be a party with a firmly feminist platform-fittingly known as Feministiskt initiative (Feminist Initiative). If they get in, there are going to be eight parties in parliament plus an extra group of racists under the auspices of being a political party. They call themselves Sverigedemokraterna. Remember them? I managed to stumble over one of their political rallies on only my second day back in Sweden. Another reason is, of course, that the government could swing from right to left. It is currently led by the conservative coalition, Alliansen, led by Moderaterna.

This post though isn’t really meant to be about racist political parties, of which there is growing support. It’s more about campaign politics in general here in Sweden and just a couple of things I’ve noticed. Since my last election here in Sweden, which was actually eight years ago now, a few things have changed. Or at least it seems so to my untrained political eye. For one thing, there seems to be much more individual political campaigning. Vote for this person. Vote for that person. It feels very American in that way. Of course, don't get me wrong. Socialdemokraterna have ads on the subway promising people that they will NOT cut taxes. Which does not feel very American.

Read my lips. No new tax cuts.
My experience with Swedish elections has been that it is more of vote for the party, not the person. In the US, where there are only two parties, that doesn’t give you much choice. Or chance of seeing any actual change if you choose to vote for a third party. In Sweden though, there’s next to zero chance of any one party getting a majority of the vote. That means coalitions need to be formed. Usually right vs. left. But that means that all those little parties that get in, they actually have a bit of a bargaining chip. It means all those little parties can actually move the bigger party one way or the other. It’s what the Tea Party has done in the US. It’s what Sverigedemokraterna and FI are hoping to do in Sweden. Move the coalition left or right.

And then there are the valstugor. The election cabins. They’re kind of amazing. Imagine a lovely little 50 square foot cabin. Maybe it’s that classic Swedish copper red, ubiquitous in Dalarna. It’s got a gently sloping roof. Maybe it has a small table, some chairs, even a kitchenette. No toilet though, sorry. Now take away all the windows, add a double door up front, and plaster it with election posters. Place several from each party in a small area. Ta da! Election cabin. 

That's a high-powered campaign being run out of a tiny little playhouse.
In these cabins you’ll find volunteers handing out election materials, talking to voters, and, if you’re Sverigedemokraterna, surrounded by groups of angry teenagers (usually young men and women of color) at Sergels torg. I love them. The valstugor that is. These do not exist in the US. At least not that I’ve ever seen. It’s a shame. I don’t know where they’ve come from. I’ve heard someone say the 1940s is when they started, but they really gained prominence in the 1970s. I don’t have the slightest clue. Wikipedia was of no use. And as we all know, if it isn’t on Wikipedia, it’s probably lost to the entire world for all eternity.

And finally, the feminists. They are painting the town pink. Or at least parts of it. There are pink blankets covering statues of lions in little squares around town. There are pink balloons hanging in bars. There’s Feminist style police tape wrapped around light posts. There are even pink hippopotamuses popping up encouraging people to vote out the racists and vote in the feminists. 

That's a pink river horse.
A couple weeks ago, out with some Americans, I walked into a bar that looked fun. It was. The doorman, in English, said simply. Come on in. It’s a feminist party! And it was. Later that evening after drinks, it was time for a kebab. And at the table next to us, four Swedish men were discussing the Feminist Initiative. Quite positively. Excited about the national conversation that the party had started. Excited that they have forced the other parties to discuss sexism as a legitimate issue. I loved it. And did not recognize it at all from an American perspective, where feminism is still a bad word for many politicians.

Welcome to Sweden. If you can vote, do. But not for Sverigedemokraterna.


  1. Fascinating article. Makes me proud of my Swedish ancestry. Sweden: Where feminism is not a bad word.

    1. It might not be a bad word, but it wasn't a good enough word to get into parliament.

  2. We will have elections in Brazil next October 5.
    And I wish to say no more now.
    Regardless of how the election goes, the politics are frustrating.
    And I still envy Sweden from when I read this article about the simple apartments where the members of parliament stay when they go over to Stockholm for sessions.
    In Brazil, we have what are called "functional apartments", where the members of parliament LIVE, FOR FREE, in Brasília, our capital city.
    Who pays for that? We tax payers, of course.