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Politicians say no to free biogas car over bribe risk

Volkswagen and Eon were hoping to raise the profile of biogas-fuelled cars during the ongoing election campaign by loaning them free of charge to politicians but the risk of being seen as a bribe put a stop to their plans.

“This would have been inappropriate,” Roger Berzell of the Social Democrats in Östergötland to the local Folkbaldet daily.

“We have to stay independent, public faith in politicians can be damaged if we would be so openly sponsored in an election campaign.”

Erik Fågelsbo at the National Anti-Corruption Unit (Riksenheten för korruption) told the newspaper that it be considered improper reward to a politician, which is not permitted under strict rules governing gifts.

Most of the party districts across the country have been offered the deal but only the Christian Democrats in Skåne, the Green Party in Sörmland, and the Centre party in Jönköping have said accepted.

Elsewhere legal experts have dismissed accusations levelled against Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel for allegedly accepting bribes in connection with their honeymoon.

In an interview with the Dagens Nyheter daily professor Claes Sandgren, chair of the Swedish Institute Against Bribes (Institute Mot Mutor – IMM), said that the loan of a yacht, Colorado mountain chalet, and private jet by Swedish businessman Bertil Hult should be regarded more as a gift between friends than a business arrangement.

“The reflection is that they (the Crown Princess and Prince Daniel) are in a grey zone. In the typical bribery situation there is some sort of influence on a decision or possibility to influence a decision. That is not the case here,” he said.

The Local reported on Monday that three people had reported the couple for accepting bribes from the tycoon and that prosecutors were thus looking into the case. Media adviser Paul Ronge told Dagens Nyheter on Tuesday that he doesn’t think the majority of Swedes are too upset over the news.

“It feels like a non issue. It is seen mostly as nice that Victoria and Daniel got to get away and have an enjoyable honeymoon,” he said.

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HISTORY

The unusual way Sweden once solved its housing crisis and boosted living conditions

In the first half of the 20th century, Sweden implemented an unconventional campaign to transform it from a country with the lowest standards of housing in Europe to one of the highest in the world.

The unusual way Sweden once solved its housing crisis and boosted living conditions
A working-class family in Stockholm in the 1940s. Photo: SvD/TT

“The good home knows no privilege or neglect, no favourites and no stepchildren,” proclaimed Swedish Social Democrat Per Albin Hansson in 1928. “In the good home, equality, caring, cooperation and helpfulness prevail.”

This was the dream of Folkhemmet (The People's Home) – comprised of the “great home” of the Swedish nation and the “small home” of each citizen – which would, in Hansson's words, “signify the breaking down of all social and economic barriers which now divide citizens into privileged and disadvantaged, rulers and dependents, rich and poor, propertied and impoverished, exploiters and exploited.”

For the majority of working-class Swedes who had flocked to urban areas starting in the 1920s and were living in crowded, squalid and often dangerous conditions, this ideal “good home” was indeed a dream.

“During the first decades of the 20th century, Sweden had one of the lowest standards of housing in Europe. In cities and towns, around a third of the inhabitants lived five or more persons in small one- or two-room apartments,” explained Maria Göransdotter of Umeå University in her 2012 article, A Home for Modern Life: Educating taste in 1940s Sweden.

“Despite a surge in housing construction and an increase in real wages for workers over the course of the 1920s, affordable, hygienic and spatially adequate housing was beyond the means of the vast majority,” architect Lucy Creagh wrote in her 2011 article, From acceptera to Vällingby: The Discourse on Individuality and Community in Sweden (1931-54). “The fact that almost 70 percent of all dwellings lacked proper bathing facilities and 60 percent had no central heating only exacerbated a housing problem reported at the time to be the worst in Europe.”

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Resolving the housing crisis and improving living conditions were therefore central to the creation of the People's Home. But rather than address the issue through the single solution of mass urban housing development, Sweden took a more nuanced approach that put at least some of the responsibility for improving living conditions on Swedish citizens themselves.

Beginning in the 1930s and particularly following the end of World War Two in 1945, Sweden's strategy for realizing Folkhemmet included a highly organized national campaign of “home reform” and “taste education” designed to bring the country into a collective and uniform modernity one home at a time.

“The centrality of the housing question in the socio-political agenda was a strongly contributing factor for establishing the home as one of the most important arenas for, and concepts in, social and material reform in the mid-20th century,” according to Göransdotter. “Specifically, the reform efforts concerned the domestic interior, and aimed at promoting a new and modern way of using and decorating the home through advice literature, educational efforts and legislation.”

Through this programme of social education, it was instilled in average Swedes that modern citizenship began in the home, and an outdated, poorly organized, and “ugly” home that did not exhibit a certain level of uniformity reflected similar attributes in the individual. It was made clear that in each home, “There should also exist a correspondence between the degree of modernity, the awareness of social and political issues, and the level of taste,” Göransdotter explains.

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These principles of Swedish Modernism – also called functionalism – were rooted in the philosophy of Swedish intellectual and writer Ellen Key (1849-1926) who, Creagh writes, “proposed that beauty in the home was as essential to the democratic cause as employment, better working conditions and educational reforms, for beauty was the innate and common longing of all people, a necessity that transcended the logic of class and wealth.” 

The campaign to indoctrinate Swedes with these principles, which would help them achieve “ideal” homes and, by extension, become “ideal” citizens, was defined by specific standards and clear visual models. One way these were perpetuated was via exhibitions designed “to spread good taste and make propaganda for a better way of living and furnishing the home,” according to Göransdotter.


The NK-Bo exhibition in 1947. Photo: SvD/TT

After World War Two, specialty departments like NK-Bo in the Nordiska Kompaniet (NK) department store in Stockholm also spread the Swedish vision for the ideal home to citizens through model interiors not unlike what we find in Ikea today.

Though the contrast between the images of how an actual working-class family lived in Swedish cities in the 1940s and how such families were being educated to live seem to represent an unbridgeable chasm, history has demonstrated just how effective these tactics were.

“This period saw the development and implementation of the Folkhem model for housing provision, a model recognised as one of the most effective in the world,” explain scholars Karin Grundström and Irene Molina in their 2016 article, From Folkhem to lifestyle housing in Sweden. “The Folkhem programme eliminated a national housing shortage and by the early 1970s had achieved decent housing conditions for the entire population of Sweden as well as a high housing standard.”

Victoria Martínez is an American historical researcher, writer and author of three historical non-fiction books. She lives in Småland county, Sweden, with her Spanish husband and their two children.

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