Five reasons why Sweden’s Almedalen is like Survivor

What's Sweden's Almedalen Week, you rightly ask? It's basically a sort of political version of TV show Survivor. Here are five reasons why...

Five reasons why Sweden's Almedalen is like Survivor
A Christian Democrat representative crowdsurfing at Almedalen in 2016. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

1. They're both staged on islands

Key to the Survivor concept is marooning an unlikely bunch of competitors on an isolated island, and Almedalen Week, held in early July, also hinges upon thrusting a group of rivals onto a tiny location. The event effectively crams Sweden's political and business elite together on a small corner of the island of Gotland, while journalists, members of the public, charities and pressure groups are also given access.

For eight days, a variety of different people from a variety of different backgrounds rub shoulders on the streets of the medieval walled city of Visby, and the small size of the place means it won't be particularly easy to escape anyone you don't see eye to eye with. But then, that's part of the point, as The Local's James Savage once explained here.

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven giving a speech at Almedalen 2016. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

2. They've both been going on for decades

Almedalen Week dates all the way back to 1968, when the Swedish prime minister at the time, Olof Palme, made a speech from the back of a truck at Visby. He was followed that same year by Krister Wickman, another political heavyweight of the era and a regular summer visitor to Gotland. From there, the event gradually grew, snowballing over the decades until it became the huge occasion it is today. 

Survivor doesn't quite stretch back as far as the 1960s, but its origins do date to almost two decades ago when Swedish reality show Expedition Robinson first aired in 1997. The format was subsequently exported to America, with the US version premiering in 2000. It still runs to this day, so there's clearly something about those islands… 

Olof Palme a few years later, speaking in Almedalen park in 1981. Photo: Andi Loor/SvD/TT

3. They're both huge media events

Incredibly for a programme that has been running since 2000, in the US, Survivor still consistantly ranks among the 30 most-watched shows in the country. The brief moment in the spotlight it provides is a golden opportunity for competitors to try to carve out a career as minor celebrities, lest they return to their day jobs when the series is over. 

Almedalen Week, likewise, is a huge media affair in Sweden, and with the eyes of the country fixed firmly on Gotland, there have been a few extreme examples of attempted attention-grabbing over the years. Like when Feminist Initiative party representative Gudrun Schyman burned 100,000 kronor on a barbecue in 2010 in protest over the gender pay gap. Or when former Green Party member Jenny Wenhammar launched a topless protest during the prime minister’s key speech in 2014. 

A big screen showing Left Party leader Jonas Sjöstedt during Almedalen Week. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

4. They're both about winning votes

Survivor is all about making sure you are voted the “sole survivor” and claim the show's grand prize, and attracting votes is also a big part of Almedalen Week. On Gotland, each political party uses their designated day to hold interviews, host seminars, and deliver key speeches, all of which can be useful in winning over voters. Unlike Survivor, there's no tangible cash prize on offer, but proving your worth as a political force can be important in the long run. 

Liberal Party leader Jan Björklund being interviewed during Almedalen Week. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

5. They both stage challenges

Survivor uses gruelling physical challenges to pit entrants against each other for rewards, and while drinking rosé wine is about as physically challenging as it gets at Almedalen, the week does boast a notable trial.

Every year, a DJ battle is staged between the parties in government and the opposition, with the victors claiming both bragging rights and a shiny trophy. In 2016 the government came out on top thanks to their choice of Swedish pop staples from the likes of Håkan Hellström and Veronica Maggio. The opposition Alliance's trump card of Spice Girls favourite Wannabe apparently wasn't enough. Only in Sweden. 

Culture minister Alice Bah Kuhnke and EU minister Ann Linde at last year's DJ battle. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Article first published in 2016 and updated in 2017.

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KEY POINTS: What we know so far about Sweden’s first census in more than 30 years

Sweden's new right-wing government has promised to carry out the first national census in more than 30 years. What do we know about the plans, and when or if it is likely to happen?

KEY POINTS: What we know so far about Sweden's first census in more than 30 years

What has the government so far said about its plans? 

In the Tidö Agreement between the three parties in the government coalition and the far-Right Sweden Democrats, it says that  “work shall be carried out to prepare a large-scale national census”. 

According to the agreement, work would start with an individual (or perhaps agency) being given a “myndighetsöverskridande uppdrag“, a charge which will give them power over several government agencies, to prepare how to carry out such a census. 

The agreement also calls for changes to make it “easier to trace afterward who has been registered in a certain apartment or property in order to prosecute civil registration offences.”

In the regeringsförklaring, the speech made by Sweden’s prime minister Ulf Kristersson laying out the government’s plans the language is stronger. It says that “a census shall be carried out and coordination numbers which are not confirmed will be recalled”.  

Then in the coming budget, the government has set aside nearly 500m kronor for carrying out a budget, with 80m to be spent in 2023, 170m in 2024 and a further 170m in 2025. 

READ ALSO: How does Sweden’s new government want to change migration policy? 

While the language in the Tidö Agreement suggests only that preparatory work need be done during this mandate period, the language in Kristersson’s speech indicates that the actual census will be carried out.

The budget allocations, however, do not look large enough to carry out the sort of full-scale census the parties have promised. 

“The way they spoke about the census [during the campaign], it will require a massive amount of money and and resources. And since they have not allocated those resources in the budget, we are wondering what is happening,” Peder Björk, a Social Democrat MP who sits on the tax committee, told The Local. 

“The 500m kronor indicated for the coming three years,” he said, was “not even close to enough to do the kind of census that they have been talking about”. 

“We are afraid that they will take money that could be used for other important work at the Tax Authority, and use it for the census.”

Björk on December 1st, submitted a parliamentary question to the government asking for clarification about its plans. 

What do we know about how the census will take place? 

Richard Jomshof, the Sweden Democrat chair of the parliament’s Justice Committee, told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper this week that he believed that this census would require an “outreach organisation”, with teams of officials visiting homes around the country to check that those, and only those, registered there are living there. 

In a written statement to DN, Sweden’s Finance Minister Elisabeth Svantesson confirmed that officials would be required to visit some citizens’ homes, with “targeted checks in areas where there is considered to be a significant risk of incorrect registration in the population register”.

In a proposal made in 2020, the Moderate Party suggested that the Swedish Tax Agency should lead the census, with Statistics Sweden, the Police Agency, and local municipalities and regions working under it.  

The census will primarily be carried out digitally, with people encouraged to verify their details online, or, failing that through filling in a physical form. 

According to the 2020 proposal, the relevant authorities would only make home visits to areas where there is a suspected high level of false registration, or to homes where an unusually large number of people are registered, or to homes where the people registered changes very frequently. 

Anyone who is not registered in the census would immediately lose their right to welfare benefits according to the proposal. 

When did Sweden last have a census? 

Sweden has not had a census since 1990, when the country switched from having a questionnaire-based system to having a registry-based system, where each individual has to be registered with the Swedish Tax Agency in order to access government services, health, and welfare. 

Up until 1990, Sweden carried out regular censuses. Between 1965 and 1990, a census and housing register was carried out every five years. From 1955 until 1965, a census was carried out every five years, and from 1930 until 1955,  a census was carried out every ten years.

Why is there such pressure to have a new census? 

Sweden’s population has grown by close to two million people since the last census, from 8.6m in 1990 to 10.4m in 2020. 

While most of those people are represented in the national register, there have been growing concerns about the number of people living in Sweden illegally, some of whom are not registered at all, of people being registered as living at a false address, or of the large number of identity numbers that do not correspond to a real person. 

The Swedish Tax Agency has estimated that as many as 200,000 people are registered as living at the wrong address in Sweden, with criminals accused of registering themselves at the wrong address to avoid the police and debt collection agencies.

What have the parties’ policies been?  

For the Sweden Democrats, this has long been a campaigning issue, with the party claiming that relying on registration means that no one knows for sure who is living in Sweden.

“Sweden has lost control of the situation when it comes to who is living in the country and who is registered,” Sweden Democrat MP David Lang wrote in a 2021 motion to the parliament calling for a census. 

In 2020, the Moderate Party started to campaign for a census and in launching an initiative in the parliament’s tax committee

In April 2022, Sweden’s parliament voted in favour of a Moderate-party led proposal to carry one out. (Ibrahim Baylan, Sweden’s former business minister, voted against Social Democrat party line by mistake, allowing the motion to pass.)

The then Social Democrat-led government refused to act on parliament’s decision, however. 

“The registry-based system,” Ida Karkalainen, the then minister of social affairs, said was “simpler for the population” and allowed “better and more up-to-date statistics”. 

The Social Democrat approach has been instead to take actions to improve the registration system, developing, for example, the proposal passed this week which will require people holding coordination numbers to visit the Tax Agency with some ID to prove their identity. The party has argued that holding a separate census would both be costly and unnecessary. 

Which other countries in Europe have recently carried out censuses? 

Germany carried out a national census this year, with the stated aim being to “determine how many people live in Germany and how they live and work”. 

The UK carried out a census in 2021, with the results published this year.