50 years on: Remembering Stockholm’s student protest of 1968

It’s been fifty years since Swedish politics was marked by Kårhusockupationen, a four-day occupation of the Student Union building (Kårhuset) on Dutchman Street in Stockholm.

50 years on: Remembering Stockholm's student protest of 1968
Politician Olof Palme addresses the student protestors. Photo: Creative Commons

On May 24th, 1968, student protesters gathered to revolt against UKAS, the government’s reform proposal for a new curriculum.  

The interest and enthusiasm of the young protesters – mostly left-wingers – was enhanced by other revolts happening around Europe. Just a few days earlier, students in Paris had organised a violent protest against the closure and threatened expulsion of several students at Nanterre.

The occupation came about as a result of a meeting, which was held in the Student Union to openly discuss UKAS, the aim of which was introducing a line system, or rather, fixed study courses in Swedish Higher Education.

After the governmental proposal, a wide range of critics and opposition groups had formed. More specifically, the opposition at the meeting included student politicians, but also affiliates of extremist movements (Clarté, KFML and the Left Youth Union), the so-called 68-left.

After just a few hours of discussion, the meeting took a wrong turn. Lively debates began taking place together with an increasing frustration among participants. They couldn’t reach a compromise, they couldn’t come up with an agreed solution on how to solve or address the new governmental curriculum.

Organizations from other political parties joined the discussion but left in favour of other more crucial issues than UKAS. As the meeting did not proceed to plan, the young protesters felt the only solution was to occupy the Kårhuset.

On the 25th, the event started gaining publicity as different newspapers began to cover the occupation. Even the former Education Minister Olof Palme intervened and tried to participate and mitigate the discussion.

His intervention was mainly regarding the importance of reformism and democracy. But just a day after the speech, in a radio interview, he criticized the “young communists” and tried to persuade them not to reject parliament’s decision.

Palme also told Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter: “those who led the meeting and those who sat in the speaker chair whilst I was there – were communists who would use this debate on student democracy and UKAS to express their disgust for democracy and to preface violent methods in the change of Swedish society”.

In the meanwhile, a demonstration train was organized by other opposition groups who aimed to occupy the Stockholm Opera, the Concert Hall and the Central Station. However, soon enough the attempt failed, and the train returned to the corps.

The climax came on May 27th; Kårhuset was closed and no-one was able to get in. The police even surrounded the Student Union and stopped bringing food to the participants.

Finally, after four days of demonstration, the starving protesters didn’t have a way out anymore. They came out of the building and thus ended the occupation.

The question is: was the four-day occupation worth it? UKAS was and continued to be a crucial educational policy battle for several years. The Stockholm University Union Council also changed its structure. If prior to the occupation the council had been dominated by right-leaning groups, after the event a new civilian party was formed, the Opposition ’68.

Therefore, 50 years later it is important to remember what happened at Kårhuset from May 24th to May 27th,1968. Despite the fact that protesters did not fully gain what they were asking for, they got a crucial role in the University Council, which without the occupation would have taken many more years for them to gain access to.


Lagom: The best way to achieve social health?

Ronoh Philip, who is studying for his masters degree in Infectious Disease Control at Södertörn University, explains why he thinks the Swedish concept of 'lagom' is the best way to achieve good social health.

Lagom: The best way to achieve social health?

During my one week orientation program on August 2019 at Södertörn University, we were presented with many aspects of Swedish culture and practices. One of the new aspects that I learnt was the “lagom culture”, As I quote one of the presenters about applying lagom to our studies, he said: ”Lagom will reduce your stressful burdens of hectic lecture schedules and ensure that you spend equal time of working and socializing in the university.”

So being a student with a background in public health and society, I got interested and searched for the deeper meaning of lagom, and how it can  apply to society and health. I found out that it is a Swedish way of life, it is a concept which means not too much and not too little, just enough. I learnt that it came from a Viking tradition laget om which means 'around the group' and was allegedly used to describe just how much mead or soup one should drink when passing the bowl around in the group.

If this concept is applied to achieve social health goals, it would really fit well. So, what is social health at first? Social health is how you interact with other people and adapt in different situations, it deals with how people in society deal with each other. It is important to note that there is a close link between good social health and improvement of the other aspects of human health, this can lead to the achievement of SDG goal of good health and wellbeing. It also leads to self-satisfaction and happiness; no wonder Sweden is ranked as one the happiest countries in the world. It is ranked 7th in 2019, according to world happiness report. I believe lagom has a big role in this achievement.

In the country where I come from, Kenya, one of the greatest challenges we face in our society, is the ability for people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds to interact and form positive and cohesive relationships with each other. From my perspective, when I finish my studies and return, lagom will be worth implementing in the workplace, the place where I live and the society as whole, as it is the best way of finding simple, attainable solutions to our everyday worries like stress, eating better, having downtime and achieving happiness. It’s a balance of work and life, so everything is in sustainable existence with each other.

My goal during my entire university studies at Södertörn, will be to learn more about the lagom principle and also be able to apply it on our SI NFGL Local Network platform, because it is surely one of the best ways to achieve a good  work-life balance, reaching consensus with my colleagues and adapting a team minded approach in dealing with issues in an organization and the society.