Vasaloppet

This Sunday is the day of the annual cross country ski race held in Dalarna, Vasaloppet. The main race is 90 kilometers (56 miles), starting in Sälen and finishing in Mora. It is apparently the oldest and most popular cross country ski race in the world. But Eurosport still won’t broadcast it…. Grrr.

The race is inspired by King Gustav Vasa, who allegedly fled on skis in 1521. This was in the days when Christian II of Denmark was union leader for the Kalmar union (Sweden, Norway, Denmark). Christian was a nasty piece of work, and organised a reconciliation party with the Swedish aristocracy. How nice of him. However, the not-so-nice Christian instead killed between 80-90 people – including Gustav Vasa’s parents, and this event became known as Stockholms blodbad (Stockholm Bloodbath).

Gustav Vasa

Gustav escaped through Dalarna and tried to drum up support for a rebellion against the Danish king in the town of Mora, Dalarna. Initially, the men in Mora turned him down, and Gustav continued skiing towards the Norway border to seek refuge. But the men in Mora changed their minds, and caught up with Gustav in the village of Sälen. Eventually, in 1523, Gustav Vasa was crowned the king of Sweden, after having successfully fought in the Swedish war of Liberation and dissolved the Kalmar Union with the Danes. And in remembrance of the election of him as a king, Sweden celebrates their national day on June the 6th.

The classical Vasa race is preceded by a ‘Vasa week’, which includes a number of different ski races (Women’s Vasa, Half Vasa, Youth Vasa, Vasa Relay etc).

The average winning time is 5:11:38 (a per-kilometer average of 3:28).

Women were banned from 1924 to 1980. The ban was introduced since it was considered bad for women’s health to participate in such a competition. This ban was criticized especially after 1960. Some defended the ban saying that allowing women would reduce the reputation as a tough challenge (!). Several women have participated in the race during the ban, disguised as men.

Vasaloppet 2012 was incredibly fast, and saw the breaking of records from 1998, for both men and women. The record winning time is 3:38:41, set by Jörgen Brink, Sweden. The fastest woman was Vibeke Skofterud from Norway (4:08:24). Only ten winners have finished in less than four hours. For more statistics, read this.

Swedish political parties – Socialdemokraterna

It’s been a while, but here is the next chapter in the series about the political parties in Sweden. Today, we’ll be looking at Socialdemokraterna.

The main opposition party in the riksdagen, currently, is Socialdemokraterna – who have been in power for the majority of the time since the 1930’s.

  • Partiledare: Håkan Juholt

Party leader Håkan Juholt

  • Partisekreterare: Carin Jämtin

Party secretary Carin Jämtin

  • Current political orientation: democratic socialism

Socialdemokraterna is the oldest and largest political party in Sweden, and they were founded in 1889. The party has for a long period been politically dominant, and stayed in power constantly between 1932 and 1976. During this time, the party (and its leader at the time, Per Albin Hansson) implemented many reforms which are seen as the foundation of the vision ‘Folkhemmet’ (The people’s home) – a socialist vision of the home as the basis for community and togetherness. In political terms, this included breaking down social and economic barriers that separate citizens, to try and achieve equality. During this period, the middle class and the public sector expanded significantly, and these changes in society has earned Sweden the reputation of being a socialist country (although it is debatable whether this is still the case today).

One of the most famous social democrats is undoubtedly Olof Palme. He was the prime minister 1969-1976 and 1982-1986. He was a polarising politician, both in Sweden and internationally. He was a strong supporter of third world liberation movements (e.g. Cuba, South Africa), and openly criticised the US and Soviet foreign policies as well as other regimes world wide (e.g. Franco in Spain, Pinochet in Chile, apartheid in South Africa).

Olof Palme

Olof Palme was assassinated on February the 28th 1986, while walking home with his wife from the cinema on Sveavägen in central Stockholm. He was fatally shot, and his wife suffered minor injuries. Despite plenty of theories and leads, both nationally and internationally, the murderer has not yet been caught. His case remains open and is the largest in global police history, according to the criminologist Leif GW Persson. The reward for solving the murder is SEK 50 million. The murder was the first of its kind in modern Swedish history and had a great impact across Scandinavia.

Socialdemokraterna support social welfare provision paid for from progressive taxation. The party supports a social corporatist economy involving the institutionalisation of a social partnership system between capital and labour economic interest groups, with government oversight to resolve disputes between the two factions. In recent times they have become strong supporters of feminism,  equality of all kinds, and maintain a strong opposition to what they perceive as discrimination and racism.

The member base is diverse, but contains mainly of blue-collar workers and public sector employees. The party got 40%-55% of the votes in all elections between 1940 and 1988 making it the most successful political party in the history of the liberal democratic world. In the last election, the party got only 30.7% of the votes, which is their lowest result since 1914. They are particularly popular in the Västernorrland and Norrbotten regions in Sweden.

According to a survey in the run-up to the previous election in 2010, voters of Socialdemokraterna ranked the following issues as the most important:

  1. Social welfare
  2. Health care
  3. Education
  4. Employment
  5. Elderly care

Next time: Miljöpartiet

Swedish political parties – Kristdemokraterna

Kristdemokraterna is also a member of the governing Alliance in the Swedish parliament.

  • Partiledare: Göran Hägglund

Party leader Göran Hägglund

  • Partisekreterare: Acko Ankarberg Johansson

Party secretary Acko Ankarberg Johansson

  • Current political orientation: Christian democracy, social conservatism

The party was founded in 1964, and came out of a movement against the Swedish government’s decision in 1963 to remove religious education from the elementary school curriculum. However, it was not until 1991 that the party first got into riksdagen, then with 7% of the voters and led by the party leader Alf Svensson. In the last election in 2010, the party held 5.6% of the votes.

Kristdemokraternas key issues are: improving care for the elderly, freedom of choice for families in terms of child care, decreasing regulations on companies, lowering taxes to increase growth and decrease unemployment.

Kristdemokraterna have a large part of its voter base among those who belong to evangelical fellowships, known in Sweden as “frikyrkor” (free churches) – Pentecostals, Methodists, Baptists, etc. These churches have many followers in the county of Småland, which is the region where Kristdemokraterna are the strongest. Other important voter groups are senior citizens and young families.

According to a survey in the run-up to the previous election in 2010, voters of Kristdemokraterna ranked the following issues as the most important:

  1. Swedish economy
  2. Employment
  3. Education
  4. Health care
  5. Household economy

Next time: Socialdemokraterna

Swedish political parties – Centerpartiet

The third party in this series, of eight in total, is Centerpartiet – also a part of the governing Alliance.

  • Partiledare: Maud Olofsson

Maud Olofsson, party leader

  • Partisekreterare: Michael Arthursson

Michael Arthursson, party secretary

  • Current political orientation: social liberal, with a focus on agricultural, environmental and rural questions.

The party was founded in 1913, and was then called Bondeförbundet (Farmers’ League). Previously, the party was associated with Socialdemokraterna, but has more recently moved slightly towards the right, become more liberal and formed an alliance with the other parties to the right of the centre.  Historically, only Socialdemokraterna has been in governing position for a longer period than Centerpartiet, and four prime ministers have been Centerpartister.

Longterm key issues have been opposition to nuclear power and proposals to decentralise governmental authority. However, the position on nuclear power has changed drastically. In the 1970’s, Centerpartiet were completely against nuclear power, and it was a core feature of their political identity. Since 2000, the party has changed their positioning. They still argue that nuclear power is dangerous, but do no longer have nuclear shutdown on their political agenda. They believe Sweden should still use nuclear power, until other kinds of energy can be phased in and nuclear power phased out.

As a part of their movement towards centre-right politics, they have also recently focused more on employment and creating new jobs as a way to stimulate the economy.

Traditionally, many of the voters come from rural areas and quite a few are farmers or small businessmen. In recent years however, since the takeover of Maud Olofsson the party has been attracting liberal voters from urban areas. It is believed that voters from Folkpartiet have been moving to Centerpartiet due to changes in both parties.

According to a survey in the run-up to the previous election in 2010, voters of Centerpartiet ranked the following issues as the most important:

  1. Swedish economy
  2. Employment
  3. Education
  4. Conditions for business enterprise
  5. Household economy

NEWS! The 20th of June 2011, Maud Olofsson announced that she will step down prior to the party congress this autumn. She states that it’s the right time for her to hand over the leadership to a younger generation. A female party leader seems likely, according to the newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

Coming soon: Kristdemokraterna

Swedish political parties – Folkpartiet

It’s time for the second edition in the new blog series about the Swedish political parties in Riksdagen. Next out is Folkpartiet, who are also a part of the governing coalition – together with Moderaterna, Centerpartiet and Kristdemokraterna.

  • Partiledare: Jan Björklund

Jan Björklund, party leader

  • Partisekreterare: Nina Larsson

Nina Larsson, party secretary

  • Current political orientation: social liberalism.

Folkpartiet is currently the fourth largest party in Riksdagen. They were founded in 1902 under a different name, but has since 1934 been called Folkpartiet. Initially in the 1920’s, they were actually allied with Socialdemokraterna, but are now part of their opposition. The party have been a part of the governing ‘Alliance‘ since 2004. In the UK, their equivalent party is Liberal Democrats.

The political orientation of the party is liberalism, but it has been changing throughout the years. Today, Folkpartiet are more clearly right-wing, with a strong focus on foreign aid and women’s equality. The party advocates liberal feminism, which means the equality between men and women through political and legal reforms. Issues important to liberal feminists, and thus also to Folkpartiet, include reproductive rights and abortion access, sexual harassment, voting, education, fair compensation for work, affordable childcare, affordable health care, and bringing to light the frequency of sexual and domestic violence against women.

Internationally, they have supported decolonisation and the overthrowing of communist dictatorships. The party is pro-European, and also supports the state of Israel. Since 2002 the party has been accused of trying to attract new voters by adopting populist right-wing rhetoric, although the party proposes to open Sweden’s doors to economic migrants and to additional asylum seekers. The party leader at that time, Lars Leijonborg, proposed a language test for immigrants who applied for Swedish citizenship – which was widely criticised. According to their current policy on immigration, the party support more open immigration combined with measures to help new arrivals to integrate into Swedish society.

In recent years, and especially under the leadership of Jan Björklund, the party has moved towards conservative liberalism in its social attitudes, taking tougher stands on areas such as crime and punishment, law and order, school and discipline as well as strengthening its abolitionist policies on drugs. Folkpartiet’s support for the controversial 2008 FRA-surveillance law in particular has upset its youth organisation.

Folkpartiet have their strongest support in the regions around Stockholm and Göteborg, among middle class voters: mainly city/urban dwellers, academics and younger people. The party is renowned for struggling to keep their voters, which has led political theorists to refer to them as “Hallsberg – the passenger lounge for vote switchers”. Hallsberg is a small town in central Sweden (just south of Örebro) which is mainly known for its railway junction, where people wait to change trains.

According to a survey in the run-up to the previous election in 2010, voters of Folkpartiet ranked the following issues as the most important:

  1. Education
  2. Swedish economy
  3. Employment
  4. Household economy
  5. Health care

Hallsberg railway junction

Next time: Centerpartiet

Swedish political parties – Moderaterna

This post will kick-start a new blog series about the Swedish political landscape, which contains of 8 political parties in Riksdagen. In 8 blog posts, I will give a brief overview of each party – including their history, current positions and leaders. First out is the main party in power at the moment – Moderaterna.

  • Partiledare och Sveriges statsminister: Fredrik Reinfeldt

Fredrik Reinfeldt, prime minister

  • Partisekreterare: Sofia Arkelsten

Sofia Arkelsten, party secretary

  • Current political orientation: centre-right, liberal conservative.

Founded in 1904, Moderaterna are currently the major component of the governing centre-right coalition. The coalition consists of Moderaterna, Centerpartiet, Folkpartiet and Kristdemokraterna. Historically, Moderaterna used to position themselves further to the right – as clearly nationalist and conservative. However, during the last 10 years the party has moved closer towards the centre – in a similar way to the Conservative party in the UK. Interestingly, Fredrik Reinfeldt’s process to reinvent the party has apparently inspired David Cameron’s work in the UK. This new political direction is sometimes referred to as Nya Moderaterna. Moderaterna have their strongest support in the Stockholm, Skåne and Halland regions, among company owners, civil servants and private sector employees.

So what is their main ideology? It’s a mix between liberalism and conservatism, with liberalism defined as movement towards limited government and individual freedom. In practice, Moderaterna therefore support free markets, personal freedom and have been driving privatisation, deregulation and tax cuts. However, they still embrace many social benefits that have historically been a part of the Swedish welfare fabric.

They also focus on promoting the value of work, limiting the number of people on benefits, working against acts of violence and sex crimes, and increasing the quality of education. Furthermore, they support same-sex marriages and Sweden’s EU membership. The party campaigned for changing the Swedish krona to euro in the build-up to the referendum in 2003, in which Swedish people voted no. They have since said they respect the outcome of the referendum. Nya Moderaterna have abandoned several traditional key issues, including proportional income tax and increased military spending. They have also postponed a decision on Sweden’s membership of NATO.

According to a survey in the run-up to the previous election in 2010, voters of Moderaterna ranked the following issues as the most important:

  1. Swedish economy
  2. Employment
  3. Household economy
  4. Education
  5. Taxes

*

Coming soon: Folkpartiet