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Almedalen — Swedish openness galore
Youth leaders Jytte Guteland (SocDem) and Ida Gabrielsson (ChrDem) at Almedalen

Almedalen — Swedish openness galore

Published: 07 Jul 2009 13:53 GMT+02:00
Updated: 07 Jul 2009 13:53 GMT+02:00

Anyone who doubts that Sweden is a country characterised by openness and informality should visit the small Hanseatic town of Visby on Gotland during the first week of July. This is when the Almedalen Week, or the “Political Week,” takes place every year.

The Almedalen Week is the biggest political meeting of the year. Or, if you like, the trade fair of the chattering classes.

About 7,000 politicians, decision-makers, journalists, trade unionists, lobbyists and a couple of ambassadors spend a week in Visby. (A team from The Local was of course present among the 400 or so journalists at Almedalen.)

You can have breakfast at Wisby Hotell with the prime minister at the table just beside you and a TV anchorman at another. You will bump into the leader of the opposition or the president of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise on the street.

Every night, one of the party leaders gives a 30-minute speech from the stage in the town park, Almedalen. The other party leaders are often there to listen. You can also meet with former prime ministers (I saw two of them) in the crowd.

During Almedalen Week 2009 more than 1,000 free political events – speeches, seminars, hearings – took place. Thousands of bottles of rosé were emptied at the many parties mostly thrown by public relations companies.

This is a political circus. The aim: to build networks, to educate people, to set the political agenda, to go deeper into issues, to give opportunities for meetings. You meet in an informal way, in short sleeves, at parties, in late-night restaurants and at breakfast tables.

Any topic that in one way or another could be the subject of political discussions could be raised. There were seminars on city planning, alcohol, culture, youth questions, quality of food. I even saw a leaflet and a badge marking a protest against converting the playground of a Stockholm high school into parking lots. Why was that parents’ association in Visby? Simply because the local political decision-makers were there too – and the parents were much more likely to get access to the politicians by chance in Visby than to get a scheduled appointment in Stockholm.

Of course, politics is often something of a closed circuit. After the murders of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986 and Foreign Minister Anna Lindh in 2003, politicians have been more protected. And this includes Almedalen; security measures are taken and there are policies. But less so than in Stockholm. Almedalen tends to be a happy period of openness and accessibility.

This may have a deeper meaning for the perception of Sweden. In the annual Anholt Nation Brands Index, Sweden ranks highest in the category of ”governance,” because of how society works, the low level of paralyzing conflicts, the low level of corruption. In the study – where 20,000 people in 20 countries grade 50 countries – Sweden is also characterized as an open society.

This has been a part of the Swedish tradition for the last 80 years. The level of conflicts on the labour market is low. Even if there are conflicts, labour and capital usually understand each other and try to work together.

The multi-party system in Sweden – right now, seven parties are represented in the parliament – makes compromise and cooperation a necessity. Obviously, in a way that might seem strange in many countries, the opposition will hold back during the Swedish Presidency of the European Union in order to give the government peace and quiet to work.

Sometimes this attitude will make public life a dull place, but for a very small country dependent on foreign trade and foreign relations, it is an advantage. Swedes just make up 1.1 percent of the world population. To make an impact on the other 98.9 we’d better organize ourselves and show unity.

Olle Wästberg, Director-General of the Swedish Institute

Paul Rapacioli (paul.rapacioli@thelocal.com)

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Your comments about this article

16:51 July 7, 2009 by unkle strunkle
"Any topic that in one way or another could be the subject of political discussions could be raised. There were seminars on city planning, alcohol, culture, youth questions, quality of food. I even saw a leaflet and a badge marking a protest against converting the playground of a Stockholm high school into parking lots."

I hope the Sweden Democrats were allowed to participate and discuss the violent Islamic ghettos and slow creep of Sharia law into this fine land. They are the only party that dares to talk openly about these important issues.
22:04 July 7, 2009 by lungfish
A topic: a Swedish woman and her British partner returned to

Sweden/Gotland when she became pregnant, so that her parents could

help with the baby.

Jobs are few in Gotland and they ended up unemployed. As it

happens, Gotland is the only place in Sweden where it is legal to rent

apartments etc. without a long term contract, so landlords can

make a 4x rental killing during the summer by renting out to

tourists. The couple, unemployed and with a new baby, were therefore

thrown out of their apartment.

They went to the social authorities who offered to grant them 2500

sek to buy a tent. This was after they were told that their baby was brain

damaged due to innoculation side effects.

They returned to the UK.

Congratulations Sweden and your superior social system. I doubt if

this was ever discussed in Almedalen during the politicians week.
16:33 July 13, 2009 by conboy
I don't buy the unique aspect of "Gotland's" political week. Why are parliamentary politicians not out amongst the people more often apart from Gotland and of course election time? Swedish troops are deployed with ISAF/NATO forces in Afghanistan in "soft skinned" vehicles without a proper public debate and the police authorities are permitted to conduct imbecilic investigations into the death of one Prime Minister and one Foreign Minister without any political sanction of any kind. What Gotland says to me is that the political classes and their media matrix mates prefer each others company more even on the summer holidays rather than going out to places where ordinary Swedes are and debating real issues with real people as they affect them. Whether this is at Vimmerby,Skara Sommarland, Rinkeby Centrum, Rosengård, Kålmården, Skansen or wherever.
10:44 August 3, 2010 by cosplay
The swine flu outbreak was a 'false pandemic' driven by drug companies that stood to make billions of pounds from a worldwide scare. This led to the pharmaceutical firms ensuring 'enormous gains', while countries, including the UK, 'squandered' their meagre health budgets, with millions being vaccinated against a relatively mild disease."
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