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An old-fashioned Swedish witch hunt

David Landes · 29 Oct 2010, 14:32

Published: 29 Oct 2010 14:32 GMT+02:00

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The Swedish press corps decided to celebrate Halloween early this year by commencing on something of a witch hunt targeting Sofia Arkelsten, the Moderates’ newly installed party secretary.

The first skeleton in Arkelsten’s closet was unearthed on Wednesday when it was revealed that she had accepted a trip to the south of France sponsored by Dutch oil company Shell.

The goblins continued to haunt Arkelsten on Thursday as news emerged of more sponsored trips and that she was given the free use of a fancy BMW for a few days back in 2008. Horrors, indeed!

Arkelsten’s ghoulish week ended with Expressen publishing pictures of her in tears as she discussed the escalating scandal with her colleagues, as well as a haunted housing story by Aftonbladet alleging Arkelsten had bypassed the rental housing queue and secured a first-hand contact for a flat in sought-after Södermalm in Stockholm.

It remains unclear what upsets Swedes more: that Arkelsten acquired the apartment from a landlord known for his dealings in the black market or that she didn’t have to wait in line like everyone else.

While not wanting to belittle the role of journalists in keeping public figures in check and exposing potential conflicts of interest, the ferocity with which the Swedish press pounced on Arkelsten bordered on obsessive.

And it hardly seems fair to single out Arkelsten when Swedish politicians of all stripes and at all levels have accepted similar invitations to participate in sponsored trips and events, sit on the boards of outside organisations, and engage with people who more than likely have an agenda they are trying to push.

Rather than throwing eggs at Arkelsten, Swedes may be better served by spending their Halloween knocking on the doors of politicians and, rather than accepting treats, ask why the Riksdag has no rules governing what sort of sponsored trips MPs are allowed to accept, why the country has no laws regulating the activity of lobbyists, and why political party funding remains secret.

Story continues below…

Nevertheless, Arkelsten's case does merit attention in that it highlights not only the importance of monitoring politicians' relationships with profit-seeking companies, but also the challenges in drawing an appropriate line between engaging with stakeholders and allowing oneself to become a pawn to their interests.

And while The Local may not share the views of other Swedish media outlets regarding Arkelsten’s actions, readers will continue to see stories about her on the site as long as she remains a topic of debate in Sweden.

After all, part of The Local’s mission is to bring its readers Sweden’s news in English, and we would be remiss to ignore a story that has clearly captivated the Swedish public – despite our reservations about its merits.

David Landes (david.landes@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

15:04 October 29, 2010 by jamtlandtom
I think that David's take on the matter is well balanced but I'm still intrigued as to why this particular person has been singled out,particularly as there seem to be no parameters that she has breached.
18:47 October 29, 2010 by Nemesis
I have a suggestion.

Investigate every politician, from rikstag down to kommune. You will find it makes Italy look like an example of how to run a country.
02:53 October 30, 2010 by facetedjewel
Irony. The women accused and often convicted of witchcraft in Salem, Mass. tended to 'women of property'.
12:01 October 30, 2010 by Attestupa
"If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." The gospel of St John, Chapter 8
12:25 October 30, 2010 by Tennin
Hahaha, skipping the que and getting an apartment ahead of others. I know ahandful of people who knew someone that knows someone that owned a private apartment building and got to skip lines since they were a friend of a friend. Or because their father is one of the kommun's richest, they got an apartment for högskola the day after he was told there was at least a 6 month wait for it. Of course this was all in the countryside.
22:05 October 31, 2010 by neowak
To David Landes:

It is not because this person is not the only one to have done what she is accused of that we have to show pity towards her. ABSOLUTELY NOT. She played with fire, she gets burned...that´s life.

So, instead of writing this (tooooo long) article to tell us that Swedish media are spending too much time writing about her while they could investigate on many other subjects, I advise you to show the way then: INnvestigate on lobbys, tell us which other politicians can be accused of the same practices etc... BE A JOURNALIST instead of just criticising.

Your article could be resumed by:

" she is not the only one to have done it, so leave her alone"

And that is the worth way of thinking, because it just shows lazyness, cowardness and weakness.

So, do your job instead of writing these kind of articles...
22:49 October 31, 2010 by MarkinBoston
The ethical emptiness of "she is not the only one to have done it" is staggering. All murderers are not caught either - should you just let them go about there business when you do catch one? If you think everyone does it, you should be demanding that everyone be held responsible.
07:50 November 1, 2010 by xguild
Wow, lets all pretend to be shocked together shall we! The news media discovered a corrupt politician what a bloody shocker. Seriously folks, not that I don't think people should be exposed for their activity but the bottom line is that every politican is basically corrupt if we are to judge him or her by the microscopic standards that this women has be put under, in fact I feel safe to say every Swede is corrupt under these standards.

Is this really the best the news media can come up with? really? a politican that accepted the use of a BMW? That's considered corruption? Where are the prostitutes? Where are the mountains of cocaine? She's not even a witch!

Its hard to take something like this seriously, its all really quite silly.
10:05 November 1, 2010 by salalah
Why apologize for bringing us the news?

She is supposed to be an example to the public; she is just not your average city brat with connections. So many people have taken advantage of their positions get get ahead in the line (like the former Skandia bosses). A trip which is given as a freebee to a person of influence so that this person will speak well of the company giving it, is no better that a few bills stuck directly into the hand. It is unfortunate that her flat-dealing also surfaced now, although this is the reality for many people who want an partment in the centre.
10:20 November 1, 2010 by Alf Garnett
Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

Just shows the talent of these reporters any easy target, try something with a little risk like disclosing the "EX" gang leader Leo who is hunting the KKK member in Malmö, or disclosing the a-holes in Fittja that go round shooting people for the hell of it etc.

But then again a money is more important than life, isn't it!!
10:48 November 1, 2010 by Argentina84
I remembered to have commented on this article...two days later my comment is not here...mmm

This lady decided to become a politician, therefore she should be the first one to follow the laws and regulations that her and other parties have created. So far she seems to have only taken advantage of her position.
12:11 November 1, 2010 by Åskar
Already the old Romans knew that "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion", meaning that she had to behave in such way that there was nothing she could be suspected of. The same rule applies to politicians.
14:44 November 1, 2010 by Geno44
It seems that firestorm is dying because a) the other media has been easing this to a back page story and b) a little digging has found these miscues to be SOP within the parliament.

The better story is how people perceived to be political professionals keep getting caught so amateurishly. Drunk in bars, not paying for TV, and driving loaner BMW's. There would be no "few days" to a professional. There would be a sweetheart yearly lease for pennies on the dollar, or krona, in this case.

Meanwhile, cut some deals on natural gas lines that will make you rich and become Minister of Foreign Affairs making policy. Now that's professionalism.
17:15 November 1, 2010 by facetedjewel
". . . the abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power . . . - 'Julius Caesar', Shakespeare

"Caesar's wife must be above reproach". No politician (or politicians' wife), now or then, was above suspicion, but especially wives (or widows) who held power/wealth, and were without male 'issue'. They were considered bottlenecks in the flow of commerce, where the laws were written to pass through male lines. Convicted of witchcraft, widows were sometimes executed (or in the case of Julius Caesar, discarded) for being 'obstacles' to ambition. They were marginally safer when considered 'property', than when holding property themselves.

Political parties do not kick one of their own to the curb for mere corruption, without finding themselves painted likewise with the stain of hypocrisy. But the press may succeed in eroding her support, and therefore make Arkelsten a party liability, a weak link whose credibility they can't repair using same said press. The well may have been poisoned.
09:08 November 2, 2010 by Kevin Harris
In the fine tradition of witch hunts, the poor old witch was never a witch. After an independant investigation by a prosecutor, it turns out Sofia Arkelsten has not broken any rules at all. We have all been misinformed about this lady, and some of us have been extremely unfair to her. No doubt those same vocal critics would have been running through the streets of meieval Europe shouting "burn her", at the shake of a black cat's tail.

To the witch burners who have posted above, listen to some advice from one who'se seen a few witches roast. Don't believe everything you read in the newspapers, especially about Swedish politicians and corruption. Sit back, eat a Toblerone, and allow a little time to let the true facts emerge. And if the witch turns out not to be a witch after all, or at least a very small witch, turn your anger on the witchfinders who misinformed you in the first place. In this case, they would be the red top Swedish press.

Well done David Landes for balancing the press coverage on this issue. As a culturaly independant newspaper, well aware of the Swedish media's love of burning even small witches, perhaps you should have been a little more suspicious of the media and recognised this as the non-event it turned out to be.
21:03 November 2, 2010 by stateohio905
@neowak and Argentina84; I agree with yours comments.
08:32 November 3, 2010 by procrustes
Lookit--it's really bone-head simple: politicians should NOT accept ANYTHING free from anyone except close family, and even that depends on close family's business affiliations.

Sofia should not have accepted the freebees nor should Mona have accepted the tennis tickets. These ethics are not rocket science.

Sweden is on the slippery slope to USA style political corruption--these two women are just the first couple of little slips. I'm watching, with real sorrow, to see how long it takes Sweden to emulate the USA.
11:29 November 3, 2010 by Borilla
Exposing corruption and asking why it is not punished is not the proper way for a free press to help fight corruption. George Orwell would be proud. All pigs are equal but some are more equal than others.
19:45 November 3, 2010 by MarkinBoston
The term 'witch hunt' assumes innocence of the 'victim.'

Regarding this: "Swedes may be better served by spending their Halloween knocking on the doors of politicians and, rather than accepting treats, ask why the Riksdag has no rules governing what sort of sponsored trips MPs are allowed to accept, why the country has no laws regulating the activity of lobbyists, and why political party funding remains secret."

So in other words, yes, she did what she was accused of, and yes, there should be laws against what she did, but.... nothing to see here - move on.

And @procrustes - the 'slippery slope to USA style corruption? Sweden has NO LAWS against such behavior. Sweden isn't on any slippery slope - it's sitting on the bottom of the hill in a pile. Please note the recent article on Swedish corruption in the Iraq oil for bribes case. Sweden's political corruption has nothing to do with the United States, which has far more anti-corruption laws than most European countries.
09:00 November 4, 2010 by RobinHood
Many of the posts above critical of Sofia Arkelsten were published after a prosecutor had examined the case and announced there was no breach of the law. She's in the clear guys, there was no corruption or scandal after all. She's innocent. She didn't do it. Is that clear enough for you? Now put away your pitchforks and burning torches until the Swedish press find another witch to incinerate. Oh .... they already did. Mona Sahlin and her tennis tickets. Quick pitchforks out, light those torches. But wait, another prosecutor says she didn't do it either. Damn. Pitchforks back, put those torches out again.

Are you beginning to see a pattern here people? You are being misinformed and manipulated by the press (including the Local). It's all good fun, but the end result is that good people get out of Swedish politics, or stay away all together. If the Swedes want to persecute their politicians into madness and obscurity, let them do so; it's their loss. Us outsiders need to keep our own pitchforks locked up, and resist the temptation to join the ridiculous parade. Instead, we ought to point out that until a court has convicted a crooked politician, he/she is entitled to the same treatment as the rest of us.

Innocent until proven guilty. Even in Sweden.
08:28 November 8, 2010 by xguild

Amen! and I thought American press was bad!
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