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Swedish culture – a forgotten promotional tool
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra on the rocks, Nina Persson is A Camp

Swedish culture – a forgotten promotional tool

Published: 18 Nov 2009 15:13 GMT+01:00
Updated: 18 Nov 2009 15:13 GMT+01:00

Sweden’s cultural heritage is virtually unknown outside the country’s borders. Swedes should be better at using culture to promote their own country, writes Olle Wästberg, Director-General of the Swedish Institute.

Has Sweden really no culture – none at all? The question is relevant. In the Anholt Nation Brands Index – where panels in 20 countries estimate the strength of 50 nations in six different dimensions – Sweden does very well in the governance dimension. Our country is considered to be a non-corrupt, well-working society characterized by equality, democracy and a caring nature. But at the same time Sweden scores below average in the culture dimension, especially “cultural heritage.”

Well, we have no Thebe, no Forum Romanum, no Louvre. Sweden came into the European culture sphere fairly late. But we still have a cultural heritage. We just need to show more confidence in it.

The Old Town in Stockholm is interesting and can very well compete with Tallinn in Estonia or maybe Bruges in Belgium. The Skokloster castle is unique with its well-preserved 17th-century collection. The castles of Skåne are a link to European culture and architecture. We could help Sweden’s image by advertising our cultural heritage much more.

But why – I hear quite often, even from leading people in Swedish society – do we need a cultural reputation? Sweden already has very successful export companies and more international brand names than most nations of its size.

Well, everything is connected.

In most countries, knowing your culture is good manners. You are supposed to know your classic culture as well as that of your own time. Swedish politicians and business leaders often fall silent in informal chats with their southern European counterparts. I remember myself when Jean-Claude Trichet (now president of the European Central Bank, and once my opposite number as French state secretary of finance) and one of his co-workers invited me to an informal dinner.

When we had coffee, Trichet said: “Well, if you compare the Maastricht Treaty with Dante – what would you say?” For 15 minutes I could follow by comparing the Maastricht criteria with the circles in Dante’s Inferno. But the two Europeans kept the subject going brilliantly for an hour.

In management training at the leading universities in Britain, southern Europe and the US, a classic liberal education is a part of the curriculum. If you can’t describe your own national cultural heritage, you might be looked upon as somewhat daft.

And of course, tourism and culture go hand in hand. When people decide on a tourist destination, culture plays an essential role.

But I recently heard yet another reason why we should promote our culture. Volvo CEO Lennart Johansson pointed out that for Volvo, it is crucial to be able to attract the best international engineers and designers to Hisingen in Gothenburg for a year or two. It is then that the total image of Sweden plays a role, including good schools and culture. That is one of the reasons why Volvos sponsors the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.

When France held the EU presidency, they started it with a cultural festival in Paris where all the EU members were invited to show the best they had. Thanks to the existence of the Swedish Institute in Paris in the unique 17th-century Hôtel de Marle in Marais, Sweden could compete.

During the Swedish EU presidency, culture has been deplorably absent. That was a missed opportunity.

Of course Sweden has cultural lightning rods. Contemporary film directors Ruben Östlund and Lukas Moodysson are eager successors of Ingmar Bergman. Lars Norén is one of the contemporary writers who continue August Strindberg’s literary legacy. And ABBA prepared the ground for new musical exports like Robyn, Kent and Peter Bjorn And John. To mention but a few. We just have to become better at using them for the benefit of Sweden.

Olle Wästberg, Director-General of the Swedish Institute

Paul Rapacioli (paul.rapacioli@thelocal.com)

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Your comments about this article

15:55 November 18, 2009 by jgsturgeonmaster
'caring nature'....??? really?
16:59 November 18, 2009 by Nemesis
The Swedish language and Swedish culture have the same problem.

It it easier to join the masons than to learn Swedish culture and language.

I sometimes wonder is there a secret handshake to get a Swede to speak Swedish to a non Swede? If so, can someone teach me it?

As for learning the culture. Every kommune has a Förengening for Kulture. Join it and learn the culture.

SFI is where you meet other non swedes to learn to speak Swedish as Swedes only seem to speak english to non swedes.

It has been one of those days.
22:21 November 18, 2009 by peropaco
Sweden has a lot of interesting cultural heritage. I think the main problem is that Swedes try to be everything else than what they are; "SWEDES". For a strange reason there is a social petulant discontent with being Swede; in particular when they are abroad. It is a culture rich in indubitable history from way back in the Mesolithic period up to now. Yet I am confound to see all has been eradicated and the only thing we have left is Gamla Stan and some extremely ugly house in Skåne or Kalmar. We have notable and distinguished thinkers, writers like Hjalmar Söderberg, Strindberg, Lagercrantz, poets, (Victoria Silverstedt:-) artist etc. The unspoken creed of culture implies an obstinate determination to be happy at all costs. John Cowper Powys
10:24 November 19, 2009 by unkle strunkle
Perhaps if certain prominant politians didn't trash-talk Swedish culture in foreign lands, more Swedes would feel proud of their their identity.

"I think that's what makes many Swedes jealous of immigrant groups. You have a culture, an identity, a history, something that brings you together. And what do we have? We have Midsummer's Eve and such silly things."

~ Mona Sahlin in a speech to the Turkish youth organization Euroturk, March, 2002.
10:29 November 19, 2009 by Rebel
Swedish culture -- depression, isolation and avoidance of intimacy, rampant alcohol consumption, lack of faith -- real selling points!
16:02 November 19, 2009 by Greg in Canada
I really don't get why Swedes depreciate themselves so much. Sahlin's comments are idiotic. Of course Sweden has a distinct culture and history. Promote it to tourists. Play up the Viking thing, etc. etc. That's better than having government officials saying that Sweden has no culture and falsely claiming it is a "multi-cultural" society. If I want to see things Swedish I'll go to Sweden as my first choice. If I wanted to see things middle eastern I'll go there, not Malmo.
16:33 November 19, 2009 by An08drew
I can't see the wood for the trees... there is so much that Sweden has to offer, but it is true that in many areas of Scandinavia one has to dig/travel a little to see the real gems...small galleries or exhibitions...apart from which who says Sweden has to compete with the rest of the world...?

On a smaller scale, Swedish art, crafts and design are outstanding. Also classical music back to the 1600s and up to the modern day is mostly unknown in the rest of Europe and is rich and competes successfully with other European composers past and present.

Swedish wildlife / landscape is stunning, often missed by Swedes who travel to the warmer south...(who can blame them?!)

The legacy of village life, lasting until later than in many other areas of more industrially developed Europe seems to have mostly given for a longer lasting legacy of respect for people and property than is often found in the UK for example.

One of the current problems across society is having to have a 'bass beat' accompanying everything that goes on...Sweden's vast 'nature' is a wonderful antidote to that! But then, perhaps I'm old enough to appreciate values from an almost bygone age!
19:50 November 19, 2009 by Ben Mowbray
'caring nature'....??? really?

Yes, of course, for all of those poor children in Africa. Swedes seem to care for people and places far away than for their neighbours - just an observation.

But the slight hint of sarcasm aside, I often lurk on TheLocal and have noticed that many write that it is impossible to get a Swede to speak Swedish with them. I wonder if all these people live in Stockholm or Gothenburg, as I have no trouble finding them.

Hell, there's certainly people here in Vänersborg who can't speak English. It took me four years to be able to hold a conversation with my wife's grandparents!

But it is a shame that Swedish culture is drowning. I think in part that Swedes subconsciously dislike some immigrants because they cling so strongly to their traditions and culture and are afraid that it will take over... Yeah, it might if the old traditions die out.

But culture for me is not just about great works of art and ancient architecure, of which Sweden is not so well known for, it's also the little things, folk traditions like picking mushrooms in the Autumn or blueberries in the summer and dancing around the maypole.
22:24 November 19, 2009 by spy
Sweden; a country of nine million people but so dull that even Sven Goran Eriksson left.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-391602/Is-Sweden-boring-country-world.html#ixzz0XLJ02S9h
23:15 November 19, 2009 by proteasome
It really depends on what you allow to be called culture. Young Swedes are for the most part very open to new ideas, world music and just plain modern. Culture does not depend anymore on the national orchestra or how much we love opera or how much we read dull classics. All these supposed cultural items are just a method to prove one is superior to the man on the street. Works well in London and Italy but I think modern Swedes would rather spend the night laughing and dancing with friends and lovers. A culture of happiness is something to be proud of.
09:15 November 20, 2009 by JulieLindahl
What is Swedish culture? What are its core motivating values? These are questions I have been exploring for the past decade. Unfortunately, the Swedish public sector seems to be hopelessly uninterested. It is amazing that North Americans are more interested in these questions than the Swedish government is.
13:00 November 20, 2009 by Zatoichi
Swedish culture is being imported from Islamic hellholes.
16:06 November 20, 2009 by Raydg
I am an American with Swedish and English-Scotish ancestry. My mother's family came from Sweden during the late 1860's and settled in Illinois. My dad's were pioneer stock. There are many things in the US that are very Swede. One thing that sticks out is a church in Rapid City, South Dakota that is a replica of a cathedral in Sweden. Swedes also settled South Dakota. Swedes also brought log cabins, one of which our 16th President, Abramham Lincoln was born in, which are very popular through out our rulal areas as hunting and camping lodges. I grew up with some Swedish influence from Mom's step-mother who was the dean of women at Augustana College in Illinois during the 1930's. Our Christmas Eve celebration was very much Swedish. Sweden is rich with history going back to the Vikings and later when they were Christianize, as I am finding out by working on my family tree. I have a two year old daughter that I want to pass on both American and Swedish culture as there is much in both traditions to pass on.
20:43 November 20, 2009 by Pugwash
Of course every nation has a culture. Certainly on my visits (as a foreigner) to Sweden the material culture is very visible in places like Stockholm and Gothenburg (haven't visited Lund yet), though the underlying values and principles on which the culture is based are perhaps less evident to outsiders. It's not that Sweden lacks a culture, only that it doesn't communicate its heritage very well to the external world. That said, aspects of Swedish culture are conveyed by famous international Swedish brands such as Volvo, Saab, H&M, Ericsson and IKEA which have relatively strong corporate reputations because they are perceived to be built on solid, ethical values, not just the pursuit of profit (the 'people, planet, profit' mantra seems to work for them). In the arts - including 'pop culture' - Sweden has a number of international ambassadors, as varied as Swedish furniture 'design' and ABBA. What does this tell you? At least this: if a country has creative ideas and artists with commercial appeal beyond its borders, actively bring them to the attention of the outside world. I for one, along with non-Swedish friends, are great fans of Henning Mankell's 'Wallander' simply because the Yellow Bird production was broadcast, i.e. given exposure, on UK TV and had compelling plot lines, great acting and high production values. As a result, there are many foreigners like us who want to learn more about Swedish culture, but rather than bemoan the relative strength of it vis a vis France or Italy or England, do something about projecting it to the external world using modern communication technology, whether it be TV or internet-based social media. It raises a question for Olle Wästberg: who in Sweden is charged with the responsibility for doing so ?
21:33 November 20, 2009 by spy
Swedish culture = Oxymoron
10:15 November 22, 2009 by lingonberrie
Don't worry about Swedish culture, worry about the Depression and the wars without end in the Far East of which this quote puts into perspective

The end of the fight is a tombstone white

With the name of the deceased

and an epitaph dreary

A fool les here

Who would hustle the East

Kipling

Good advice to Empire builders.
19:13 November 23, 2009 by Lady Fi
Actually, there is masses of culture, and history that is fascinating to people, especially the Americans who have a very young history...

Every Tuesday on my blog I feature a glimpse into Sweden: life, history and culture - and lots of people lap up the old wooden buildings, the rune stones, the clean environment, the woods etc...

In fact, one of my commentators joked and wondered if I was paid by the Swedish Tourist Association for making people want to move here!

You can see some of my posts here: http://ladyfi.wordpress.com/
14:02 November 24, 2009 by spy
I had a look and gosh I haven't had such an exciting read for quite some time.
14:02 November 24, 2009 by Rick Methven
The thing with Swedish culture is that it often seems to be kept like a dark secret not to be let out to the wider world.

When I learn something new about Sweden and ask my wife if this is world renowned, she replies " Yes it is world famous in the whole of Sweden"
08:55 November 25, 2009 by LudwigJohansson
The nation is beeing undermined by the establishment (media,gov etc)....most people are blinded by materialism wich makes them ignorant and retarded enough to not study their own history.
14:14 November 25, 2009 by davidmc
Sometimes it is hard to see ourselves. We don't see what others see. I am not a world travler; but, from a US prespective the world views Sweden has 'someplace' not 'someplace else'.
07:03 November 29, 2009 by cattie
I appreciate the authors mention of a lack of general liberal arts education for university educated Swedes. I find it often perplexing that while I took Swedish classes, I was learning more Swedish culture and history than the average Swede. I would attempt to discuss some history I would get a blank look from most Swedes. These were usually intelligent, educated folks. I would think, what did you learn in school? At least if you wished to discuss, these issues with the average Brit, Yank or Irish they'd have an opinion and at least would compare the Swedish history with their own.
13:03 November 30, 2009 by Beynch
Anyone who suggests that Swedish culture is worth promoting is obviously an unforgiving racist and hostile to immigrants. Today's Sweden celebrates halal slaughter, minarets, shariah laws and honor killings. Are these then also to be included in "Swedish culture", promoted and celebrated?
05:06 December 1, 2009 by drgoode
Traditional museums, Skansen, Vasa, Gamla Stan, and Sergels Torg are all full of Swedish history and culture. Stockholm compares well culturally with London, Paris, Rome, and New York. I do not find Sweden lacking by comparison.
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