‘Swedes have forgotten leftist US sympathizers’

The CIA invested heavily in propaganda in Sweden during the early years of the Cold War to counteract Soviet influence, confirms a new documentary that includes details about left-leaning Swedes who sympathized with the US.

'Swedes have forgotten leftist US sympathizers'

Mikael Nilsson, historian at Stockholm University, claims in a Sveriges Radio (SR) documentary set to air on Sunday that Herbert Tingsten, the US-friendly editor-in-chief of Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper, worked for an organization later revealed to be funded by the American intelligence service in the 1950s.

While Nilsson has not been able to determine whether Tingsten was on the CIA payroll, he believes that the writer remained active within the Congress for Culture Freedom organization for more than 10 years, despite writing off his initial meeting with them in 1950 as “boring” in his official memoirs.

His research has revealed that Tingsten was much more involved in the Congress than previously known, although the newspaper man’s political bent was never a secret.

Many of the details in the upcoming documentary are already known by academics, noted contemporary history professor Kjell Ostlund at Sodertorn University in a conversation with The Local.

But they are rarely discussed in public.

Ostlund said that given Sweden’s pro-western stance in general during the 1950s, the most noteworthy detail was perhaps how US-friendly many top names on the left were.

When the left-leaning paper Stockholmstidningen published a critique of the blockade against Cuba, the then-head of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO), Arne Geijer, reacted angrily.

“He took them by the ear and forced them to apologize,” Ostlund told The Local.

“The embassy considered Geijer the USA’s best friend within the global workers’ movement.”

The US embassy in Stockholm also had an information bureau in-house called the United States Information Service (USIS) that offered free op-ed material to regional and local newspapers.

Mikael Nilsson’s research reveals that many local papers published the texts without even mentioning the source.

“That fact grabs our attention today but wouldn’t have been as noteworthy then, especially not for cash-strapped newsrooms hungering for content,” Östlund said.

“I wonder if unedited, unsourced material from USIS in a local paper would actually be much different in tone or content to an editorial in Dagens Nyheter written by Tingsten himself.”

There were also more left-leaning writers such as Goran Palm, Folke Isaksson, and Lars Forsell who wrote for the magazine Kulturkontakt, which was editorially monitored by the Congress for Culture Freedom.

The organization, it was later revealed, was supported by the CIA, although it being funded from the States was never a secret.

“It’s unclear if they knew where the money came from, but they may just have wanted to get published,” Ostlund told The Local, adding that many of the less liberal contributors went on to become outspoken Vietnam War critics.

“I don’t think they ever thought of themselves as foot soldiers in the Cold War.”

How long Tingsten, meanwhile, remained connected to the Congress is still not known, Nilsson told The Local.

“We know he joined in 1950, then the trail goes cold.

Nilsson said there was evidence Tingsten kept in touch with the CFF into the 1960s, but no specific date on which he was known to stop having an active role.

Ann Törnkvist

Follow Ann on Twitter here

The original version of this article stated that Tingsten worked for CCF’s international secretariat. That information was subsequently refuted and has therefore been removed from the article.

Member comments

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


‘Don’t wear bright colours’: Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Swedes have an international reputation for dressing well, with Scandi style a popular trend outside Sweden. The Local asked Swedes and foreigners living in Sweden to try and figure out the best tips and tricks for how to dress like a Swede.

'Don't wear bright colours': Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Black is best

When asking several Swedes their top-tips on how to dress like a Swede, many agreed – wear black.

Young professional Tove advises to keep it “all black, minimalist”. Uppsala newspaper columnist Moa agrees: “Wear a lot of black clothes and DON’T wear sneakers or ‘comfortable’ shoes, like running shoes, with dresses.”

Black is a neutral colour and, in general, if you get the neutral colours right you have got a long way in following the Swedish style. 

Neutral colours and a lot of knitwear is a good starting point. Photo: FilippaK/

Stay neutral 

Sweden might be saying goodbye to hundreds of years of neutrality by joining Nato, but Swedish fashion maintains its strong neutral stance when it comes to colour combinations.

Generally speaking, in autumn and winter Swedes tend to wear darker colours, as Sharon put it: “lots of beige, grey, black and ivory knits or wool. Jeans black or any shade of blue. Black tights with white sneakers for skirts and dresses”.

“Swedes in general will wear black and navy together which I’ve not seen before,” she added.

However, as the weather gets warmer, things change, as half-British half-Swedish Erik explained: “in summer/late spring Swedes change shape and personality,” adding a bit more colour to their wardrobe.

“Lots of colours yet still somewhat monochrome,” he said.

Most Swedes don’t wear a tie at work. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Follow the news trend, drop the tie

Nils, a reporter and presenter for public broadcaster SVT in western Sweden, does not always wear a tie in front of the camera – and he said his colleagues on national news don’t wear ties either.

“It’s not a must,” he said.

A blue shirt, no tie, top button open, beige chinos and a grey dinner jacket is the look he chose when presenting the evening news a few weeks ago.

Nils Arnell presenting the news on SVT Nyheter Väst. Photo: Nils Arnell/SVT

On a day to day basis Nils, who stressed that he’s “not a fashion expert”, gave the following advice: “As long as you manage to dress in a neat style, you can get away with quite a lot.”

“A white t-shirt and an overshirt work well in most situations and look stylish.”

Stay classy, even in class

Engineering student Erik (not the same Erik quoted previously) recently returned to Sweden from a one-year exchange at Birmingham University, where he noticed a big difference in student style between the two countries.

“The first thing that comes to mind is that on university campus there are so many people wearing work-out clothes, at least where I was”, he said.

“In Sweden, it’s more common to wear jeans than tracksuit bottoms, compared to the UK”. 

It’s also common to see a difference in styles even between departments at Swedish universities. The law and economics departments, for example, tend to wear more formal attire with a higher number of students wearing shirts and polos than, say, social sciences or engineering students.

Many students seem to wear a toned-down version of what they might be expected to wear in their future workplace.

When in doubt, think Jantelagen!

Equality and conformity are important concepts when it comes to many aspects of day-to-day life in Sweden, including the clothes you wear.

This doesn’t mean you have to do exactly the same as everyone else, but more that being too flashy or over-the-top can be frowned upon.

This can be traced back to Jantelagen, “the law of Jante”, a set of 10 rules taken from a satirical novel written by Danish author Aksel Sandemose in the 1930s, which spells out the unwritten cultural codes that have long defined Scandinavia.

Jantelagen discourages individual success and sets average as the goal. It manifests itself in Swedish culture not only with a ‘we are all equal’ ethos but even more so a ‘don’t think you are better than anyone, ever’ mindset.

And this is seen in Swedes’ attitude to clothing, too. Flashy, expensive clothing with obvious logos or brands designed to show off your wealth breaks the first rule of Jantelagen: “You’re not to think you are anything special”.

‘Stealth wealth’

This doesn’t mean that Swedes don’t wear expensive clothes, though. They’re just not in-your-face expensive.

Felix, a podcaster from Stockholm describes it as “stealth wealth”, saying that Swedes would have no problem buying and wearing “a black jacket without any tags for 10,000kr”. 

Despite living in Sweden his whole life, he said that it’s not always easy to get the style right.

“I’m struggling myself,” he admitted.

He suggested taking a look at fashion blogger and journalist Martin Hansson for inspiration on how to dress. 

“Do NOT use bright colours,” Felix added.

Birkenstocks with socks. Photo: Carl-Olof Zimmerman/TT


Most of those we asked said that Swedes are a fan of white trainers, most commonly Stan Smiths or Vagabonds.

With the shoes being popular all year round for men and women, this can cause issues at house parties – as Swedes take off their shoes when they come inside.

This inevitably results in confused guests at the end of the night trying to figure out just which pair of white trainers belongs to them – and trying to find one missing shoe the next day because someone accidentally walked away with one of yours is more common than you might think. 

Vans trainers are also popular amongst more alternative crowds (black of course). At work, dress shoes are popular in the winter and loafers or ballerinas in the summer.

In the summer months, you’re likely to see Birkenstock sandals on men and women. Most Swedes wear Birkenstocks without socks – unless they’re off to do their laundry in their building’s tvättstuga.

Birkenstocks are also popular as indoor shoes all-year-round, both at home and at work. It is common to have a “no outdoor shoes” policy in gyms, schools and some offices. This is to avoid bringing a lot of dirt indoors, especially in the winter months when there is snow, rain, grit and salt on the streets.

H&M’s then-CEO Rolf Eriksen wears colourful socks at a press conference in 2006. Photo: Björn Larsson Ask/SvD/SCANPIX/TT

Don’t forget the socks!

As you often take your shoes off indoors in Sweden, your socks are visible.

This has led to an unexpected trend for colourful socks with interesting patterns, which are a great way to break the monotone of neutral colours and conformity by expressing your personality – in a lagom way, of course.

A pair of colourful socks or a playful pattern will get you noticed and likely be a conversation starter at a dinner party.

What’s your best advice for dressing like a Swede? Let us know!

This article is based on the responses we received from Swedes and foreigners in Sweden on what they think you should wear if you want to follow Swedish fashion trends.

If you have any tips of your own which you think we’ve left out, let us know! You can comment on this article, send us an email at [email protected], or get in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram: @thelocalsweden