Few Swedish politicians evoke a visceral reaction. You know, either gushing praise or blast-furnace rage.
In fact, as long as I’ve lived in Sweden, only one person has consistently driven voters to opposite sides of the ideological barricades: Gudrun Schyman.
For those of us who subsist on a steady diet of politics, Ms. Schyman is an all-you-can-eat buffet. Despite a string of staggering and potentially career-ending pratfalls, the former Left Party doyenne has always managed to pick herself up, brush off and get right back in the game. It’s a rare, beautiful and deeply admirable quality.
What’s more, Schyman is not a focus group junkie. She leads with her gut, her heart. Yes, she has a vain streak. Name a politician who doesn’t jones for the limelight. But you just can’t fake that kind of drive and enthusiasm. Who else would have thought of introducing a “Man Tax”?
As Schyman’s ideological opposite, I naturally believe that she’s dead wrong on every single issue. No exceptions. In fact, her views are anathema to a majority of Swedes; otherwise she’d still be a member of parliament. Yet she is amazingly adept at keeping her caricature-friendly features square in the media eye. And like a Madonna for the political set, she has the uncanny ability to reinvent herself.
Schyman’s latest incarnation is a dramatic departure. Many observers counted her out following the crushing defeat for the party she almost single-handedly created, Feminist Initiative, in the fall 2006 general elections. But she licked her wounds, regrouped and reemerged as a shareholder activist.
Schyman purchased stock in a number of blue-chip Swedish companies, and is causing a stir at AGMs. She’s pushing for more women in the boardrooms and more women in management. But instead of bellowing into a megaphone, she’s calmly stating her case from a podium.
It’s a stunning move, actually. And politically right on the money. Schyman finally recognized that if she wanted to promote change in corporate Sweden, she’d literally have to acquire a stake in it. As someone historically hostile to the fundamental concepts of markets and capitalism, Schyman’s apparent acceptance of the capitalist rules of engagement represents a major shift. Stockholder meetings just got a lot more interesting.
Now, whether Schyman will actually succeed remains to be seen. I’m not overly optimistic, but one never can tell. Whatever the outcome, I’m heartened by this development. Radicals across the entire ideological spectrum are an integral part of our society and political process. May they never disappear.
Billy McCormac is head of publishing and communications at the free-market think tank Timbro.