Rooney Mara was spotted on the streets of Stockholm on Wednesday going to a gym and heading to a language school, where she is reportedly learning to speak English with a Swedish accent, the Daily Mail reported on Thursday.
Street prostitution has been cut in half, “a direct result of the criminalization of sex purchases,” the Christian Science Monitor wrote on Tuesday.
Chicago Sun-Times’ David Hoekstra visits Sculpture at Pilane in Tjörn, one hour north of Gothenburg, and takes part in a herring tasting at Salt & Sill, a restaurant and floating hotel on the Marstrand Fjörd.
It’s not just Sweden’s party princess who answers to the name Madeleine anymore.
The battle between the Swedish Tax Authority (Skatteverket) and individuals who want to choose unconventional (or as Skatteverket likes to call it, “inappropriate”) names continues to rage, but this time it might just slay one of Sweden’s sacred cows: gender equality.
The Swedish administrative court of appeals has granted a 28-year-old Sandviken transexual, the right to be called Immanuel, overturning a decision by the Swedish Tax Agency that the male moniker was unsuitable for a woman. Jan-Olov Ågren, a male cross-dresser from northern Sweden, won a similar victory in his bid to go by the name Madeleine last November.
Good for the court of appeals, and let’s hope the Supreme Administrative Court upholds the rulings if Skatteverket appeals the decisions, as it confirmed it plans to do. While Skatteverket’s decisions to prevent people from changing their names to things like Dark Night or naming their children after fruit at least make some sense, the Tax Authority’s reticence to embrace unusual names in these particular cases flies in the face of Sweden’s extremely explicit dedication to gender equality.
Gender also comes into the picture when it comes to what parents call their kids. Last year, Skatteverket told a couple in Stockholm that they may not keep the name Elvis for their five-month old daughter on the grounds “that Elvis is a first name of a masculine type and as such may, in light of standard practice, be considered clearly inappropriate as a first name for a woman.” Just last week, Sveriges Radio reported that Skatteverket also ruled against a mother in Jönköping who wanted to name her six-month-old daughter David, claiming it was an unsuitable name for a girl.
How can this even be an issue in a country that castrates heraldic lions in the name of gender equality?
Everybody panic! The Local has inadvertently sparked what the Swedish press is referring to as the ‘Tingeling Crisis’.
Now as crises go, it’s hardly Cuba or the Berlin Blockade. But in a land such as Sweden, gripped with Eurovision fever, revelations that the Russians were less than pleased with an interval song and dance number at the Melodifestivalen final have quickly spread far and wide.
It started innocently enough: communist whores with red stars on their panties, rampant Russian gangsters, wild Cossack dancers and a bear on a chain… what could possibly go wrong?
“We do not react to eccentricity by some lunatics whose Russophobia should place them in an asylum rather than on Globen’s stage,” the embassy told The Local on Monday morning.
Regional tabloid giant Aftonbladet led the charge with a front page splash and the rest of the Swedish papers soon followed.
Like political voting patterns at the Eurovision, the situation soon spiraled out of control:
State broadcaster SVT sent a bouquet of flowers to the Russian embassy as a gesture of goodwill. The embassy responded that, as far as it was concerned, the danger had passed and Euro-harmony could prevail.
Expressen said SVT was foolish to have apologised.
The state broadcaster said it never really had apologised and the retraction was retracted.
The comedian behind the skit said he might have to rethink a planned Trans-Siberian railroad trip this summer .
The Social Democrats’ foreign policy spokesman said the Swedish foreign ministry should stand up for freedom of expression.
Even Vladimir Lenin was dusted off and dragged into the debate.
Furthermore, the finer points of Russian sensibilities and Swedish humour have been discussed at length on television and radio talk shows.
The upshot: Nuclear war has been averted for now. But never again must we allow such a frightening array of outdated clichés to threaten our peace and security.
In case you missed it, here’s the clip that almost pushed us to the brink:
Opinion: June 25th, 2008 by PO
Never has an event so dominated the Swedish blogosphere as the government’s decision last week to vote in favour of a far-reaching eavesdropping law.
The weeks leading up to the fateful Riksdag debate were characterized by frenetic internet activity, all culminating in a major demonstration outside the parliament building last Tuesday.
Opponents of the bill were at pains to stress that if just four centre-right members of parliament voted against the proposal, there would be no mass surveillance of all internet and telephone communications passing Swedish borders from January 1st next year. In the event, just one MP pushed the ‘NO’ button with one other electing to abstain.
Here we look at just a small selection of the hundreds and thousands of Swedish blog posts that have dealt with the National Defence Radio Establishment’s licence to snoop.
Late last week, a Centre Party functionary reported blogger Richard Slätt to his employer Strix Television following this attack on a number of MP’s who voted in favour of the law:
You can go to hell!
Fredrick Federley, Centre Party
Annie Johansson, Centre Party
Fredrik Malm, Liberal Party
Nina Larsson, Liberal Party
Henrik von Sydow, Moderate Party
Tobias Tobé, Moderate Party
Karl Sigfrid, Moderate Party
Anna Bergkvist, Moderate Party
You can go halfway to hell:
Birgitta Ohlsson, Liberal Party
In quite a lot of cases I have viewed you as friends. I gave a speech when one of you got married. I’ve spet late nights sitting up talking politics with you, mainly focusing on privacy issues [...]
To you I would now like to say:
You can go to hell!
Only Liberal Party MP Camilla Lindberg, “who refused to bend her back to the party whip”, is spared Slätt’s wrath.
As a centre-right voter grown disillusioned with the government, Slätt is far from alone.
Anders Gardebring, who describes himself as an independent liberal, has this to say:
For the first time in my life I saw a Swedish government vote through a proposal that made me physically ill. It gave me a knot in my stomach. And this is a government I helped vote into power. [...]
I can no longer support the Alliance.
Prominent liberal commentator Johan Norberg describes the law as “an epoch-making step in the wrong direction” and says he will not be voting at the next general election.
Many commentators have vowed to keep the issue alive and have already penciled into their diaries a demonstration to mark the reopening of the Riksdag. Oscar Swartz, the creator of Sweden’s first internet service provider, Bahnhof, is a case in point:
Let September 16th be the day we show that what happened with the FRA issue is not acceptable. The politicians’ arrogance and power-speak was so incredibly obvious. Naked. It was impossible to miss.
Johannes Forssberg reaches into his book shelf and pulls out a suitable quote from WB Yeats to illustrate the internal turmoil that has befallen the Centre Party in the wake of the surveillance vote:
Things fall apart: the centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
Of the four parties in the governing coalition, the Centre Party was the most vocal advocate of civil liberties in the run-up to the last election. Many of its members have expressed disgust at the law and have called on the party to do everything in its power to make sure it never sees the light of day.
More recommended reading:
Centre Party member Per Ankersjö:
There is a great deal of disappointment with the government and the Alliance parties. I share it.
We Social Democrats who are against big brother will have to make sure the whole party feels the same way in 2009.
Eloquent, knowledgeable people are now turning their backs on the Moderates and the Alliance after the Moderates and the Alliance turned their backs on them.
LouiseP discusses what she dislikes most about the new law:
It’s the lack of liberal values stretching back more than 40 years that means that Swedish politicians don’t see any real problem with controlling our lives — all the way in to the bedroom, including what we put inside our bodies — and now also our communication.
Finally, for the Swedish speakers among you, a clever reworking of Dead Poets Society, which was posted a few days before the vote.
For Polly Toynbee, doyenne of the column pages of the Guardian, Sweden has long been the promised land. For her, it was the one place that prioritised welfare over tax cuts, took redistribution of wealth seriously and gave the state a sufficiently big role in the lives of its citizens. She has vehemently expressed her displeasure with the Swedish electorate for voting out the Social Democrats in 2006. So far, fair enough.
Problem is, to judge by her latest article, she doesn’t really know an awful lot about Sweden. Despite frequent trips over here, the article is riddled with misunderstandings and embarrassing factual errors – as contributors to our discussion forum have pointed out.
It’s tempting to leave Polly be, given that we’re bound to be accused of grinding political axes, but the readers of her article deserve to be given an accurate account of the facts. Here is what she got wrong:
What has Reinfeldt done? A lot more than voters bargained for. Welfare reform has been radical: benefits are cut and so are taxes. Everyone in work gets new tax credits: in Britain tax credits are benefits aimed at the poorest, in Sweden they are tax cuts for all.
All this was in the Alliance’s joint manifesto and was debated ad nauseam in the run-up to the election in endless news programmes and televised debates.
Tax credits for people in work were a central plank of the Alliance’s plan to get more people into the labour market.
The Swedish media are nothing if not thorough when it comes to debating the minutiae of policy, and this proposal was no exception. Other tax cuts included the reform of property tax. In fact, the cuts to this tax have been smaller than initially suggested.
In short, while it can be claimed that the ideas have since lost popularity, Toynbee should not imply that the policies of the government differ from those on which they won the election.
Cuts have been made to benefits for the long-term unemployed and to people on long periods of sick leave.
Again, all in the manifesto.
Also, worth remembering that Swedish unemployment benefits are still pretty generous compared to most other countries. For a start, even now Swedes who are members of the unemployment schemes earning under 23,000 kronor a month (about £23,000 a year) get 80 percent of their former income for the first 80 days of unemployment. The difference is that after 200 days this falls to 70 percent. After 450 days it falls to 65 percent. People whose previous earnings were over 23,000 a month get 680 kronor a day for the whole time.
National insurance contributions have been raised sharply, with the unplanned effect that nearly half a million of the lowest paid have walked away from the scheme, leaving them nothing if they lose their jobs.
What Polly is referring to is premiums to the union-run unemployment insurance (A-Kassa) schemes. The rises have indeed led to lots of people leaving the schemes.
However, those who leave the schemes are not ‘left nothing if they lose their jobs’, contrary to what Toynbee says. Everyone is eligible for council-administered subsistence benefits, even if they are not members of the A-Kassa.
Since the scheme is administered via the unions, union membership has dropped by the same amount
True that union membership has fallen, but wrong to imply that this is simply down to A-Kassa changes. The picture is more complex.
Contrary to what Toynbee appears to believe, although the A-Kassa schemes are run by the unions, membership of the A-Kassa and membership of the union are today completely separate. You don’t have to be a union member to belong to a scheme, nor is there any obligation on members of most unions to belong to a scheme.
In service sector union TCO, for example, many have left the A-Kassa while staying in the union. TCO’s boss, while blaming the increased A-Kassa premiums for a portion of the drop in membership, has admitted that much of the fall is due to the fact that many young people no longer see the point in joining a union. Union membership was already falling before the current government took office.
This wasn’t what the public voted for and polls show Reinfeldt’s government extremely unpopular.
The second half of this statement is partially true, to judge by opinion polls (see below). The first half is more debatable – pretty much everything the government has done was in its manifesto.
Meanwhile more of the health service is contracted out, with GPs free to charge for the first time, raising alarms that they are moving out of poor areas to richer places where they can earn more.
It is true that healthcare providers in Stockholm have been given more freedom to decide where and how to establish surgeries. It is also true that there are signs that this is leading to clinics leaving poorer areas and moving into middle-class areas. But it is not true that GP’s are ‘free to charge for the first time’. Even under the Social Democrats, Swedes had to pay to use the health service – including paying a fee every time they visited the doctor, had an x-ray, went to the dentist etc. That remains true today, but the current government is not to blame.
State-owned Absolut vodka has been sold to the French, and state-owned liquor stores are about to be sold off too.
First part true; second part absolutely made up. Some people in the Moderate Party would love to abolish the Systembolaget liquor stores, but it is light years from being government policy. In fact, the government has made strenuous efforts to defend Systembolaget against challenges to various aspects of the monopoly from the European Commission.
Something Toynbee also seems to have failed to notice is that this is not a Moderate Party government, it is an Alliance government of four parties, three of which are strongly opposed to getting rid of Systembolaget. In fact, the public health minister, responsible for Systembolaget, is a Christian Democrat – and they are if anything even keener than the Social Democrats of keeping booze sales in government hands.
Museums that were always free now charge high entry fees – for British visitors a crisp reminder of the Thatcher years.
True that museums are now charging entry fees. False that they were ‘always free’. Entry charges were abolished by the Social Democrats in 2005.
At present, the Swedes look certain to vote out the right: the nation’s history is of social democracy punctuated by brief evictions as wake-up warnings. This time they voted for a wolf in sheep’s clothing and are now appalled at what may be permanent damage to the successful Swedish model of cooperation between unions and industry, with high taxes and a generous welfare state.
True that the Alliance has trailed in the polls since being elected, and the Social Democrats look like a reasonably fair bet for 2010, but it is frankly taking it a bit far to suggest that they ‘look certain to vote out the right.’ In a Skop poll two days ago, the opposition was leading the government by about 5 points, Reinfeldt & Co having closed the gap substantially since their nightmare start. If Reinfeldt’s five percent poll deficit is a signal of certain defeat, then Gordon Brown, trailing by 11 points, must be heading for electoral annihilation.
The Swedish social democrats have a popular new leader in Mona Sahlin.
Well, she’s reasonably popular, and certainly more popular than Göran Persson was in the run-up to the last election. Thing is, she’s still less popular than Fredrik Reinfeldt, according to a poll published by Synovate last month. In another poll released by Demoskop last month, Reinfeldt is more popular among both women and men, and beats her in all age categories.
Zero Paid has some background info and plenty of speculation about recent file-sharing developments in Sweden.
First came a swift about turn from Swedish police following threats at the weekend that it was planning to shut down The Pirate Bay for an alleged failure to remove child pornography from its site.
According to Zero Paid:
The decision to not include the Pirate Bay in this week’s blocklist merely reinforces the fact that the charges were dubiously propagated by people higher up the chain in a bid to smear the Pirate Bay and get it shut down for good.
John Herbert of Hernando Today has a thing or two to say about midsummer traditions and the vagaries of Swedish alcohol policy.
Booze may be a real problem for many Swedes, but free sex and the world suicide championships are strictly myths perpetuated on the pages of Readers’ Digest decades ago.
On the other hand, if I saw many more old Ingmar Bergman movies, I might be depressed enough to kill myself, too.
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