Politics: March 19th, 2007 by JS
The news that European Commissioner Margot Wallström is to have a senior role in helping the Social Democrats reform their foreign policy has raised a few eyebrows.
Wallström, as practically the only senior Social Democrat who is personally popular with the electorate, is being brought in not so much for her political wisdom, one suspects, but as a poster girl for the party’s campaign to get back into power.
Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has already criticized the fact that the Vice President of the European Commission would have a key official role in a Swedish political party. He has a good point.
Commissioners are usually (failed or exiled) politicians in their home countries, and it is normal for a commissioner to maintain links with his or her own party. But commissioners are also supposed to act in the interests of the whole of the EU.
The feeble EU code of conduct does little to prevent commissioners using the influence derived from their unelected position to favour national political parties. The code of conduct merely says:’Commissioners may be active members of political parties or trade unions, provided that this does not compromise their availability for service in the Commission’.
But the fact that something does not break an EU code of conduct (itself cobbled together to represent the lowest common denominator of that to which EU member states were willing to agree) does not mean it is appropriate.
Indeed, it is surely entirely wrong for an unelected civil servant with massive public resources at her disposal to take an active daily role in party politics. Wallström’s appointment runs until 2009, and there’s nothing any elected politician in Sweden can do to remove her. She, however, should show some integrity and decide who she works for – the people of Europe or her cronies in the Social Democrats.
Politics: March 16th, 2007 by JS
The news that only half of Social Democrat voters have confidence in Sahlin to do the job must be worrying news for party hacks – it is also the best argument for her to be put to the test in a real vote of party members.
The mysterious way in which Sweden’s party chooses its leader – with an anonymous committee presenting one candidate to members – is reminiscent of the way the British Tory Party used to choose its leaders until the sixties. A group of vaguely-defined party dignitaries would gather in smoke-filled rooms and pick a leader from a list of the usual suspects – always men. The Social Democrats are now doing the same thing. No smoke, of course, and from a list of just women, but in a system just as antiquated.
This process would barely have legitimacy if the ‘magic circle’ of Social Democratic functionaries had managed to select someone who was universally acclaimed as the right woman for the job. Given that they have chosen someone the party barely wants, you have to ask whether Sahlin can really give Social Democracy the boost it needs.
Politics: March 9th, 2007 by PR
Late last year, controversial columnist Linda Skugge ruffled feathers when she lambasted fellow scribes who take state funding to churn out books that nobody wants to read.
This time it’s not the Swedish Authors’ Fund that’s doling out the cash but a Bank of Sweden foundation. Nevertheless, it’s public money: Persson is being paid by the state to write about his time doing a job that the state paid him to do. But will the profits go to the Swedish state? Or will the book be free to Swedish taxpayers? Of course not – if you want the glossy hardback you’ll have to get in line and Persson will pocket the proceeds.
As Croydonian pointed out, it doesn’t say much for Persson’s writing ability that even as a former long-serving prime minister he needs a state subsidy to cover the cost of the research for his book. Normally that’s what publishers’ advances are for.
Every krona Persson makes from this book should be returned to the foundation until the 700,000 kr is repaid. You can’t expect state subsidies to finance private gains. That’s just so pre September 17th 2006.
Miscellaneous: March 7th, 2007 by JS
The story was repeated in dozens of Scandinavian newspapers: Bush bans CD featuring Swede Eva Dahlgren.
The US administration had, the stories claimed, banned the album ‘Lullabies from the Axis of Evil’, featuring artists from countries such as Iran and North Korea. The record and the record company, it was said, had been put on an official ‘blacklist’ by the federal government.
The only problem with this story: it was entirely false. As the US ambassador in Norway said, the American constitution protects freedom of speech. In fact, while the ‘War on Terror’ has led to some restrictions on personal freedom, the US still has more comprehensive protection for freedom of speech than many other western democracies. American administrations don’t keep lists of banned music.
Why, then, did so many journalists fall for this obviously fake story? Why did nobody smell a rat? Search the Internet for other examples of music banned in the United States, and the lack of evidence of a blacklist should should be enough to sow doubts. A call to the US Embassy in Stockholm would probably have confirmed these doubts.
The fact that this didn’t happen was partly down to journalistic laziness (and all journalists get lazy sometimes). Maybe the journalists in question were also afraid to look too deeply into this interesting story, in case the truth got in the way.
But it also seems that the Iraq war and the general anti-American sentiment of the past few years have poisoned opinion to such an extent that many have trouble distinguishing fact from a very obvious example of pure fiction.
Miscellaneous: March 6th, 2007 by PR
Sitting in a comfortable triple-glazed office gazing out at the greying thaw, it’s easy to forget that Sweden is home to one of Europe’s harshest wilderness regions.
James Morland, writing in the Belfast Telegraph, reminds us, as he describes a gruelling five-day 100km trek through the Laponia World Heritage Site as part of his training for the 2007 Polar Race in April.
Before we had embarked on our trip across the Arctic we’d asked a Swedish ranger what conditions to expect. After an intense conversation with his wife and son he turned to us and simply said, “there will be lots of weather”.
The winds were so strong that sturdy pines were snapped in two, the blizzards so thick we could only just make each other out struggling to remain upright, and the temperatures so bitterly cold the sweat in our gloves would freeze solid if we stopped for even a minute.
Time for a coffee.
So the line-up for Saturday’s Melodifestivalen showdown is decided – notwithstanding the pre-requisite bouts of flu, winter vomit disease, lost larynxes and nerves that will lead to tabloid headlines about how at least half of the performers’ appearances are in doubt.
But assuming everyone shows up, here’s The Local’s quick and dirty stab at punditry.
Winner: The Ark
Irresistable glam rock song, great performance. From the high-voting-propensity teenage girls to the less relevant granny brigade, this is one for all the family. Unstoppable.
Runner up: Sarah Dawn Finer
Perhaps a surprise, but Sweden will be moved by the gospelesque power ballad and Finer’s stunning voice.
3rd: Andreas Johnson
Equalling last year’s third spot, Johnson’s song – another 60s pastiche – will sell well after the dust settles but won’t be going to Helsinki.
The power of Idol – and an inoffensive song – got the Sebster through, but his good looks won’t be enough to take him further.
5th: Måns Zelmerlöw
The power of Idol – and an inoffensive song – got the Månster through, but his good looks won’t be enough to take him further.
6th: Sanna Nielsen
Will pick up the support of a certain core of voters who will always vote for the blonde with the pop-schlager. But nobody else.
7th: Tommy Nilsson
The nostalgia vote and a song of peace and harmony won’t be enough to boost this veteran’s chances.
8th: Sonja Aldén
Has the wind in her sails after a terrific performance in the Second Chance round, but Aldén’s peak is behind her, at least for this year.
9th: Anna Book
Expect tears and gushes of love for the people of Sweden as they close this chapter of Book’s career.
10th: Marie Lindberg
A harsh lesson is lying in wait for the strumming teacher from Gothenburg.
“If my wife and I get a little bored, we call up a dodgy Pole.”
So sang Magnus Uggla in his pomp-laden entry into Melodifestivalen, the competition to find Sweden’s song for Europe.
Whatever happened to the slushy songs of hope and togetherness that characterised the Eurovision entries of yesteryear? And exactly how many points does Mr Uggla expect to get from Poland if his song is selected to represent Sweden?
Actually, it almost certainly won’t be selected. Partly because there are better songs in the competition, but also because Poland has taken offence to the song and made its feelings known through diplomatic channels.
Diplomats and foreign ministries should know better than to get themselves in a tizz about songs and films which are less than polite about their homeland. Have they learned nothing from Kazakhstan’s altercation with Borat?
That it is Poland making the fuss is particularly surprising. In 2005, after ‘the Polish plumber’ had come to characterise the influx of cheap labour from the new members of the EU, Poland responded with a saucy advertising campaign:
Now that’s how to deflect aspersions cast on your national character. Not by getting into a spat with a pop star in need of publicity.
Miscellaneous: March 1st, 2007 by PO
No, of course women are not rubbish drivers. What a preposterous notion.
Insurance policies for young female drivers cost less than those of their male peers.
But what about the case of Carina Bladh, the middle-aged Swedish woman who used to be a man?
Her insurance premium was raised after she became officially registered as a woman.
After much media attention, however, Folksam has now decided to give her back her old premium.
But has Folksam inadvertently opened the floodgates? Could all women now cite this case as a precedent and demand to pay the same price as men?
It certainly might be worth a shot.
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" I have recently become addicted to a website called Stockholms KÃ¤llan. The site is an amazing treasure trove of historical images of Stockholm. You can search by names or locations to find old photos and documents relating to whatever you’re interested in. This image is from a 1960’s short film called “Ditt Stockholm” (“Your Stockholm”). It..." READ »