The Almedalen Week is the biggest political meeting of the year. Or, if you like, the trade fair of the chattering classes.
About 7,000 politicians, decision-makers, journalists, trade unionists, lobbyists and a couple of ambassadors spend a week in Visby. (A team from The Local was of course present among the 400 or so journalists at Almedalen.)
You can have breakfast at Wisby Hotell with the prime minister at the table just beside you and a TV anchorman at another. You will bump into the leader of the opposition or the president of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise on the street.
Every night, one of the party leaders gives a 30-minute speech from the stage in the town park, Almedalen. The other party leaders are often there to listen. You can also meet with former prime ministers (I saw two of them) in the crowd.
During Almedalen Week 2009 more than 1,000 free political events – speeches, seminars, hearings – took place. Thousands of bottles of rosé were emptied at the many parties mostly thrown by public relations companies.
This is a political circus. The aim: to build networks, to educate people, to set the political agenda, to go deeper into issues, to give opportunities for meetings. You meet in an informal way, in short sleeves, at parties, in late-night restaurants and at breakfast tables.
Any topic that in one way or another could be the subject of political discussions could be raised. There were seminars on city planning, alcohol, culture, youth questions, quality of food. I even saw a leaflet and a badge marking a protest against converting the playground of a Stockholm high school into parking lots. Why was that parents’ association in Visby? Simply because the local political decision-makers were there too – and the parents were much more likely to get access to the politicians by chance in Visby than to get a scheduled appointment in Stockholm.
Of course, politics is often something of a closed circuit. After the murders of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986 and Foreign Minister Anna Lindh in 2003, politicians have been more protected. And this includes Almedalen; security measures are taken and there are policies. But less so than in Stockholm. Almedalen tends to be a happy period of openness and accessibility.
This may have a deeper meaning for the perception of Sweden. In the annual Anholt Nation Brands Index, Sweden ranks highest in the category of ”governance,” because of how society works, the low level of paralyzing conflicts, the low level of corruption. In the study – where 20,000 people in 20 countries grade 50 countries – Sweden is also characterized as an open society.
This has been a part of the Swedish tradition for the last 80 years. The level of conflicts on the labour market is low. Even if there are conflicts, labour and capital usually understand each other and try to work together.
The multi-party system in Sweden – right now, seven parties are represented in the parliament – makes compromise and cooperation a necessity. Obviously, in a way that might seem strange in many countries, the opposition will hold back during the Swedish Presidency of the European Union in order to give the government peace and quiet to work.
Sometimes this attitude will make public life a dull place, but for a very small country dependent on foreign trade and foreign relations, it is an advantage. Swedes just make up 1.1 percent of the world population. To make an impact on the other 98.9 we’d better organize ourselves and show unity.
Olle Wästberg, Director-General of the Swedish Institute