SHARE
COPY LINK

TOURISM

Swedish culture – a forgotten promotional tool

Sweden’s cultural heritage is virtually unknown outside the country’s borders. Swedes should be better at using culture to promote their own country, writes Olle Wästberg, Director-General of the Swedish Institute.

Swedish culture – a forgotten promotional tool
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra on the rocks, Nina Persson is A Camp

Has Sweden really no culture – none at all? The question is relevant. In the Anholt Nation Brands Index – where panels in 20 countries estimate the strength of 50 nations in six different dimensions – Sweden does very well in the governance dimension. Our country is considered to be a non-corrupt, well-working society characterized by equality, democracy and a caring nature. But at the same time Sweden scores below average in the culture dimension, especially “cultural heritage.”

Well, we have no Thebe, no Forum Romanum, no Louvre. Sweden came into the European culture sphere fairly late. But we still have a cultural heritage. We just need to show more confidence in it.

The Old Town in Stockholm is interesting and can very well compete with Tallinn in Estonia or maybe Bruges in Belgium. The Skokloster castle is unique with its well-preserved 17th-century collection. The castles of Skåne are a link to European culture and architecture. We could help Sweden’s image by advertising our cultural heritage much more.

But why – I hear quite often, even from leading people in Swedish society – do we need a cultural reputation? Sweden already has very successful export companies and more international brand names than most nations of its size.

Well, everything is connected.

In most countries, knowing your culture is good manners. You are supposed to know your classic culture as well as that of your own time. Swedish politicians and business leaders often fall silent in informal chats with their southern European counterparts. I remember myself when Jean-Claude Trichet (now president of the European Central Bank, and once my opposite number as French state secretary of finance) and one of his co-workers invited me to an informal dinner.

When we had coffee, Trichet said: “Well, if you compare the Maastricht Treaty with Dante – what would you say?” For 15 minutes I could follow by comparing the Maastricht criteria with the circles in Dante’s Inferno. But the two Europeans kept the subject going brilliantly for an hour.

In management training at the leading universities in Britain, southern Europe and the US, a classic liberal education is a part of the curriculum. If you can’t describe your own national cultural heritage, you might be looked upon as somewhat daft.

And of course, tourism and culture go hand in hand. When people decide on a tourist destination, culture plays an essential role.

But I recently heard yet another reason why we should promote our culture. Volvo CEO Lennart Johansson pointed out that for Volvo, it is crucial to be able to attract the best international engineers and designers to Hisingen in Gothenburg for a year or two. It is then that the total image of Sweden plays a role, including good schools and culture. That is one of the reasons why Volvos sponsors the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.

When France held the EU presidency, they started it with a cultural festival in Paris where all the EU members were invited to show the best they had. Thanks to the existence of the Swedish Institute in Paris in the unique 17th-century Hôtel de Marle in Marais, Sweden could compete.

During the Swedish EU presidency, culture has been deplorably absent. That was a missed opportunity.

Of course Sweden has cultural lightning rods. Contemporary film directors Ruben Östlund and Lukas Moodysson are eager successors of Ingmar Bergman. Lars Norén is one of the contemporary writers who continue August Strindberg’s literary legacy. And ABBA prepared the ground for new musical exports like Robyn, Kent and Peter Bjorn And John. To mention but a few. We just have to become better at using them for the benefit of Sweden.

Olle Wästberg, Director-General of the Swedish Institute

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

IMMIGRATION

INTERVIEW: ‘It’s a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated’

Michael Lindgren, the comedian and producer behind the new Swedish TV quiz show Invandrare för Svenskar, or "Immigrants for Swedes', tells The Local how the seemingly superficial game show is actually very serious indeed.

INTERVIEW: 'It's a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated'

SVT’s new gameshow Invandrare för Svenskar (IFS) began with a simple image on a computer. 

“I wanted to do something to show the simple fact that the category of invandrare [immigrant] is a really stupid category,” says Michael Lindgren, the co-founder of the Swedish comedy group Grotesco, and creator of Invandare för Svenskar

“I was just playing around with pictures of people with different values and professions and personalities to like, show the multitude of humanity, and then I placed an ethnic Swede in the middle and I built a block of people with different backgrounds around that blonde person. and I was thinking it would be fun to put a Swede in the minority.” 

It was only when a friend pointed out that the image he had made looked like the famous quiz game Hollywood Squares, a big 1980s hit in Sweden as Prat i kvadrat, that the idea to turn the image into a game show came about. 

Shortly afterwards, he contacted the show’s host, the comedian Ahmed Berhan, and began working with him and some of the other celebrities with immigrant backgrounds on the concept. 

The panelists on Invandrare för Svenskar.
 

Critics in Sweden are divided over the new gameshow, in which ordinary Swedes have to guess whether celebrity immigrants are lying or telling the truth about their home cultures. 

Karolina Fjellborg, at Aftonbladet, called it a “potential flop”, which was “forced and painfully shallow”. 

“And yet her paper, Aftonbladet, has written about it several times!” Lindgren exclaims when I mention this.  “Some people think it’s too stupid and glossy. It’s had rave reviews and very critical reviews, which I think is perfect.” 

He rejects the charge that the show treats a serious subject in too frivolous a way. 

“I’m an entertainer. I work in comedy. Of course, it’s superficial,” he says. “It’s a glossy game show on the surface, but underneath it’s a way to jokingly address the fact that we still think in these categories, that Sweden is a very segregated society, and we need to address that with more honesty.”

“The other point is that the idea of ‘immigrants’ as a group is absurd. It’s not a homogenous group. I think Swedes need to be faced with that, that the category is false. ‘Immigrants’ is useful as a statistical category, meaning people who actually migrated here. Most panelists in the show are born in Sweden, but Swedes tend to see them as immigrants anyway. For how many generations?”

He says his favourite moments in the show come when the contestants are nervous that they might give an answer that reveals them as prejudiced, and you can feel a slight tension, or the few moments when they do make an embarrassing mistake. 

Even though the atmosphere is deliberately kept as warm and light-hearted as possible, it’s these flashes of awkwardness, he feels, that reveal how uncomfortable many people in Sweden are about ethnic and cultural differences. 

It’s clearly something he thinks about a lot. Unlike immigration to countries like the UK or France, which are the result of long histories of empire, he argues, the immigration to Sweden, at least since the 1970s, has been driven by a sense of Lutheran guilt at the wealth the country amassed as a result of remaining neutral in the Second World War. 

Immigration, he argues, happened too quickly for the ordinary Swedish population to really understand the cultures of those arriving. 

Michael Lindgren, founder of ”IFS-invandrare för svenskar”. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
 
“I like to see Sweden as a little bit like The Shire in The Lord of the Rings,” he says. “It is located up in the corner of the map, peaceful and quite, with a very homogenous, old, peasant population. Historically shielded from the big world outside. Immigration is fairly new to Sweden, from outside Europe basically from the seventies onward, that is just fifty years ago. In what was in large part a political project from above.”
 
“And there is a discrepancy, because the majority population is still that old peasant population, and we didn’t learn a lot about the people coming here. We’re polite and friendly, but culturally very reserved, and I think that’s also about the climate, we don’t intermingle a lot. We don’t invite people into our homes easily.” 

According to Lindgren, the reception of the show has been great. Some of the show’s panel have a big following among Swedes with immigrant backgrounds, meaning it is drawing a demographic to Sweden’s public broadcaster that it normally struggles to reach. 

“The ambition is that the primary audience for this show is Swedes with mixed backgrounds, Swedes with a background in another country,” he says. “It’s a very tough demographic to reach. It’s a demographic that simply doesn’t watch public service, because it’s usually not made for them, and they seem to really enjoy it.” 

He has plans for the next series to include short factual segments. 

“I’m not saying I’m gonna make it serious. It’s supposed to be fun and jokey and entertaining and light, and I’m not going to change it in its core,” he says. “But I think it would add to the entertainment and variety to pause maybe twice in the show and say ‘this is actually true’, just stay at a point of discussion for 30 seconds, and maybe have a graphic to back it up.” 

SHOW COMMENTS