membership exclusives For Members

A Swedish election night 'valvaka' through the eyes of a foreigner

Viktoriia Zhuhan
Viktoriia Zhuhan - [email protected]
A Swedish election night 'valvaka' through the eyes of a foreigner
An election night party at Gothenburg's Pustervik club. Photo: Viktoriia Zhuhan/The Local

The Local's contributor Viktoriia Zhuhan, from Ukraine, reflects on her first election night in Sweden.


This article is available to Members of The Local. Read more articles for Members here.

A Swedish valvaka (staying up to watch the election results come in, literally 'election watch') is a tradition that gathers families and friends in front of the TV with snacks and drinks in their living room or in a local pub.

As my country doesn't have this practice, I went on a valvaka hopping night in Gothenburg, stopping at public events along the way.

The streets of Gothenburg were empty on Sunday, but the valvaka venues were packed.

With live bands playing, people collectively watching TV, drinking beer and wine, eating pizza in a room full of balloons, these events look like football parties when the national team is about to win.

As an outside observer, I was curious about the opportunity to witness a whole spectrum of emotions. But on election day, September 9th, it was hard to find people in a festive mood.

If the supporters of the party that gained the most – the far-right Sweden Democrats – are celebrating, they are doing so far away from public gatherings, let alone chanting in the streets.

To the majority of the people I talk to, this is a night of disappointment, anxiety and sometimes horror.

READ ALSO: The Local's coverage and live blog of the Swedish election

Gothenburg's Pustervik club flashes red: the stage light and visitors' t-shirts. The event is organized by left-wing newspaper ETC, and when I introduce myself as a journalist to one of the people in the room, Ingrid Ekman, 62, she points that out to make sure I'm aware of it.

I stay in Pustervik until the first results are announced at 8pm, with the Left Party increasing its share of votes. In that time, the growing crowd applauds only twice. Once when public broadcaster SVT shows Prime Minister Stefan Löfven showing up at the Social Democrats' election venue in Stockholm and the second time when he promises to not co-operate with the Sweden Democrats.

"My parents witnessed Nazism and racism, but I grew up in a society with solidarity and a humanitarian approach. When I was young in the 70s and 80s, people were against the Vietnam War and I thought in the future it would be a better world," Ekman sighs.

She can't understand why the far right is gaining momentum.

Ingrid Ekman, right, and her friend Margareta André. Photo: Viktoriia Zhuhan/The Local

A few blocks down at the Haga Café, Gothenburg university students are having their own election night party with free pizza.

By the time I get there, however, the food has already run out and the crowd is beginning to dissolve. But one of the event organizers assures me it was a surprising number of up to 200 people earlier in the evening.

Many internationals showed up to this party and the local Swedes help explain the peculiarities of Swedish politics as more details emerged on the TV screens.

Carlos, 29, who got a scholarship from Gothenburg University, says he is not afraid of the growth of the far-right.

He is confident he will be fine since his stay in Sweden is legal and he is not violating any laws. "It's important to not radicalize the Sweden Democrats. I would visit a valvaka of right-wing supporters to hear their opinions but couldn't find any public events," he adds.

The election night party at Gothenburg University. Photo: Viktoriia Zhuhan/The Local

My final stop is at Gothenburg City Theatre after 10pm, when almost all votes have been counted. The foyer is empty, but music can be heard from upstairs.

The entrance to the stairs is blocked by a sofa, but a sign behind it says "Welcome, we are open", so I sneak in.

The remaining visitors applaud the live bans, but Malin Aghed, 43, says the mood has not been festive. "It is not a party night, it is a horror night," she says.

Aghed compares her feelings to the ones she had when Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. She says she hopes that in the long run, Sweden will get back on track, but for the near future, she is prepared for political turmoil.


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also