Taiwan’s Next Media Animation, which shot to fame late last year for its animated news clip of Elin Nordegren’s alleged attack against then-husband Tiger Woods, has turned its focus again to Sweden.
This time, it has targeted Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf following the publication of controversial biography “Carl XVI Gustaf – the reluctant monarch,” which details rumours of the king’s affairs.Just in case you missed it the first time around, here’s the Tiger video.
Bloomberg suggests Stieg Larsson’s Stieg Larsson prediction a decade ago that the Sweden Democrats would first enter parliament in 2010 may come true, Bloomberg wrote on Friday.
Street prostitution has been cut in half, “a direct result of the criminalization of sex purchases,” the Christian Science Monitor wrote on Tuesday.
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:
Sweden’s Infrastructure Minister Åsa Torstensson had a rude moment at a recent traffic safety conference:
Yes Sweden will absolutely keep the prick system. The prick system has been working very well in Sweden.
The “pricks” to which the minister refers are perhaps better rendered as “points”, as in the sort of points added to the driving licence of a traffic offender.
(Via: Paul Lindquist)
But Torstensson made the classic error, most famously illustrated by the – possibly fictitious – instance of a Swede explaining how to spell a colleague’s name.
His name is Öberg, a zero with two pricks.
Britain, we were led to believe at the weekend, is outraged at dastardly foreign attempts to banish busty beauties from the nation’s billboards. The root of their anger was Swedish politicians who, having failed to get sexist ads banned on the home front, scored a win in Brussels.
The Daily Mail, an organ never to miss an opportunity for a bit of Euro-bashing (or, indeed, dredge up images from old Wonderbra ads), was breathless with indignation after a committee of Euro-MPs demanded that EU countries put a stop to any ads that reinforce gender stereotypes. The person behind this controversial plan is none other than Eva-Britt Svensson, a Swedish Left Party MEP and vice chairperson of the European Parliament’s women’s rights committee. The author of the report seems to have swallowed an undergraduate gender studies textbook:
‘Gender stereotyping in advertising straitjackets women, men, girls and boys by restricting individuals to predetermined and artificial roles that are often degrading, humiliating and dumbed down for both sexes.’
Actually, the chances of any country being forced to ban anything is close to nil (no law has been passed – the European Parliament’s women’s rights committee has just recommended a course of action that governments are free to ignore, as they no doubt will, despite the parliament voting to adopt the report), but if you’ve been in Sweden for the past few years, the proposal had a familiar ring.
ERK’s rulings have led to accusations that it was trying to act as the ‘thought police’. They have also raised a number of questions: is sexy advertising always sexist? Why should advertisers be expected to be more politically correct than the consumers they target? Whatever happened to free speech? And besides, surely the whole business should be self-regulating: consumers won’t buy products if the ads are offensive? The controversial nature of ERK’s work also has the self-defeating side-effect that the ads it censures are guaranteed lots of free publicity in the tabloids.
ERK’s rulings don’t have the force of law, but earlier this year an official committee proposed going one step further and banning all material “with a commercial aim” that could be “construed as offensive to women or men.”
Equality minister Nyamko Sabuni refused to adopt the report’s findings, saying: “I don’t want to infringe on fundamental human freedoms and rights for a law the efficacy of which I question. This is not the way to win the fight for gender equity.” Defeated on home soil, it looks like Svensson is seeing whether the battle can be won elsewhere. She probably shouldn’t hold her breath – in the UK, at least, even the left-wing papers are subjecting the idea to ridicule.
Charlie Brooker in the Guardian wonders what effects non-sexist ads might have:
I can scarcely picture what kind of patronising hell we’d be creating for ourselves there. And what if it worked? What if all our ads were suddenly filled with ladylike men eating chocolates and butch ladettes swigging beer, and these images proved so influential that everyone started behaving that way in real life, until these brave new anti-stereotypes had become stale old actual stereotypes, so we had to start all over again by subverting our old subversions?
Equally cutting is an article by Claire Beale, editor of ad-industry magazine Campaign. Calling the report “fatuous bureaucratic meddling,” she describes it as “the legislative equivalent of one of those We Love the 70s programmes, a real trip down time warp lane.”
Ads are never going to be subtle, she continues:
Does advertising deal in stereotypes? Of course. When you’ve only got 30 seconds or a glance to make an impact on a broad group of people you don’t have time to invent a new language. You tap into common themes, ideas and images to create an instant connection.
Svensson’s poorly-presented arguments might leave an open goal for her opponents, but the failure to pass a similar law in Stockholm must beg the question: if rules like this haven’t worked in politically correct Sweden, how on earth could they be made to work elsewhere?
There is some good news for those who think advertising is sexist, though – things have improved over the past 50 years, as these ads show.
Sweden may still have a reputation for holding its doors wide open for Iraqi asylum seekers. If this reputation was once deserved it certainly is not now, as the Boston Globe has noticed. The reason: Swedish courts have decided that there is no civil war in Iraq, making it possible to turn away more Iraqi asylum seekers. Last year, 72 percent of Iraqi asylum seekers were allowed to stay. This year, the figure is just 43 percent.
The rise in the number of rejections may ostensibly be down to the perceived improvement in Iraq – the court said that the violence there did not meet the internationally accepted definition of an ‘internal armed conflict’. What is unescapable is that many people who arrived in Sweden from tragic circumstances in Iraq, Afgahnistan and Somalia are being sent back to live in grim conditions or are staying here illegally to avoid being sent home.
But some say Iraqis are being turned away for essentially political reasons. Left Party spokesman Kalle Larsson tells the Boston Globe: “the system is sending political signals to the courts and to the migration board,” he said. “And these signals are saying, ‘There are too many people coming to Sweden.’ ”
Larsson’s explanation is hard to digest: we should all be concerned if courts are subject to political pressure. There’s no doubt, though, that the decision was politically useful for the government: Sweden was taking many more Iraqis than either the US or UK, the western countries most responsible for the Iraqi refugee problem. At the same time, voter tolerance for Sweden’s perceived generosity was beginning to wear thin.
With all parties worried by the rise of the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats – and with any economic slowdown liable to increase that party’s appeal -there has been every incentive to clamp down on immigration.
This is particularly true of the Social Democrats, the main opposition party and current best bet to win the next election.
The Social Democrats’ traditional working-class, unionised supporter base is, according to pollsters, more likely than the average voter to vote for the Sweden Democrats.
This has necessitated a reaction – painful for a party with a history of generosity to asylum seekers. Leading Social Democrats have called for immigrants to be moved away from multicultural cities like Malmö and Södertälje. This kind of ‘tough love’, it is hoped, will appeal to poorer Swedes who feel their needs are being forgotten, while also being palatable to the party’s pro-immigration wing. Hardly suprising, though, if the party leaves thorny issue of interpreting the rules about who can and cannot stay to the courts – just as the current government has done.
People like to complain that American news outlets never spend any time covering foreign news. In contrast to Swedish broadcasters, which spend ample time covering international affairs, US national news programs rarely devote much air time to other countries (save those with which the US may be at war).
Thus, imagine our surprise upon seeing that NBC News, one of the traditional ‘Big 3′ television news networks in the US, devoted a precious 3 minutes and change (more than 10 percent!) of Monday evening’s broadcast to Sweden and it’s penchant for green living.
The King is eloquent as usual, but the mayor of Växjö left us puzzled with his talk of ‘whips and carrots’. See for yourself:
Now the question is whether SVT would ever bother to find a topic where the US can teach Swedes a thing or two, and dedicate an equal amount of air time to it.
What would you suggest?
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.
Politics: October 17th, 2007 by PO
Forbes reports that Sweden is about to receive an angry missive from Brussels:
The commission will send letters of ‘reasoned opinion’ to the Czech Republic, Italy and Sweden for failure to transpose into national law EU rules on disclosure requirements for limited liability companies by the indicated deadline of 31 December 2006.
Politics: October 16th, 2007 by PO
The Financial Times talks to one of the Moderate Party’s elder statesmen to get his take on recent military cutbacks.
Ivar Virgin does not seem the trouble-making kind. The former naval officer and vice-speaker of parliament is an elder statesman of Sweden’s governing centre-right Moderate party.
But now the loquacious 71-year-old has shunned the role of a sedate veteran, opting instead to pick a fight with a gang half his age – the party’s youthful leadership under Fredrik Reinfeldt, prime minister.
Politics: October 12th, 2007 by PO
The European Commission looks set to instigate legal action against Sweden for its failure to restrict access to a confidential document.
Late last month the commission sent a formal letter to the Swedish authorities asking for explanation as to why environment group Greenpeace in 2005 got access to a document about a new type of genetically modified corn feed to be launched by Monsanto – the world’s leading producer of biotech seeds.
EU Observer has the story.
Reuters AlertNet joins the growing chorus of voices calling on other countries to accept their share of refugees from Iraq.
There seems to be increasing agreement that more must be done for refugees fleeing Iraq – but as Syria and Jordan effectively close their borders and other European countries continue to return Iraqi asylum seekers home, there are few countries willing to take in the displaced.
… the greatest number have headed north to Sweden, attracted by a reputation for generous welfare and refugee protection laws.
Some 20,000 have arrived in the last year alone, swelling the Iraqi diaspora to some 100,000, aid workers say.
“There is no country better than this,” 16-year-old Haidar Fozi Karim, who fled Baghdad for Syria two years ago with his family before leaving them to go to Sweden, told AlertNet at a refugee centre in Stockholm.
The New Statesman travels to Sweden to compare the progress being made here with that of the UK:
The scientist across the table from me was laughing, unusually for a conversation about climate change. “You’re in environmental utopia now,” he beamed. This being Sweden, he was partly being ironic – but only partly.
Reuters talks to the Centre Party about Sweden’s nuclear future and the emergence of alternative fuel sources.
Nearly thirty years after Sweden voted to phase out nuclear energy, firms are quietly increasing plant capacity and there is no end in sight for a power source still providing half of the nation’s electricity.
Politics: October 4th, 2007 by PO
The American casts an eye over the incremental reforms being put in place by the current Swedish government.
There is a magnificent slowness to most everything in Sweden. Even during the coldest of winter days, Swedes stroll lazily through Stockholm, oblivious to the punishing winds beating their skin pink and the impatient non-natives attempting to find shelter from the furious Scandinavian cold. The Swedish language also lumbers, punctuated by odd breaths and awkward noises that, while not verifiable parts of speech, convey a full range of emotions.
But the most frustratingly ponderous aspect of Swedish life is the slow project of political reform.
Politics: October 3rd, 2007 by PO
Prospect Magazine wonders what lessons Britain’s Conservative leader David Cameron can learn from Sweden’s Moderates.
Moderaterna’s development over the last few years, and some of its electoral tactics, could serve as a blueprint to the Tories as to how to win power. However, Cameron should be careful; travel too far down this road towards the political centre, or even centre-left, as with Moderaterna, and it may cost him later.
It’s an interesting read although not everyone will agree with the arguments.
The Middle East Online is carrying a lengthy interview with Swedish Migration Minister Tobias Billström.
Sometimes I think it is an irony that Sweden – a country that did not take part in the Iraq War, was not part of the alliance, did everything it could in order to speak for peace, and is farthest away from the conflict in geographical terms – receives the most refugees.
Billström calls on the EU to share the burden.
Politics: September 14th, 2007 by PO
The Economist looks at Sweden’s ruling coalition one year after the election that brought the four-party Alliance to power:
For now Mr Reinfeldt is sitting quite comfortably. But a sharp global downturn would test his leadership more than anything he has met so far.
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