Year in review: Ten long-reads that tell the story of Sweden in 2018

Year in review: Ten long-reads that tell the story of Sweden in 2018
There's far more to Sweden than its sprawling nature and idyllic red wooden cottages. Photo: Per Pixel Petersson/
Throughout the year, The Local has published dozens of long reads delving into the issues facing Sweden and those who live here today. From immigration to language to international relations, here are ten of the in-depth articles that help tell the story of Sweden.

1. What happens when you move across the world for love, then break up?

What happens when you move across the world for love, then break up?
Cross-cultural couples make up one in ten of Sweden's married couples – but are up to 2.5 times more likely to divorce. Photo: Ruslan117/

In 2010, cross-cultural couples – or those involving a native Swede and a foreigner – made up nine percent of all married couples in Sweden. And according to a survey of expats in Sweden by Internations, more foreigners relocate to Sweden to be with their partner than for any other reason: 25 percent of those who responded said they moved to the country for love.

This group faces unique challenges, from where to spend Christmas to which language to use with their children, while the partner who relocates must adjust to an entirely new culture, often leaving behind a job, family and friends. Click HERE to continue reading (Members)

2. How robust is Sweden's democracy? (Clue: not very)

How robust is Sweden's democracy? (Clue: not very)
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Sweden celebrated one century of democracy this year. But experts warn that the country's constitution may not be strong enough to handle anti-democratic tides. 

One hundred years ago Sweden was on the brink of rebellion. Food shortages, acute hunger and a growing gap between rich and poor had sparked a series of strikes and violent riots across the country.

The crisis was eventually averted, and its most lasting legacy was the suffrage movement's victory. Men, and shortly thereafter women, won the universal right to vote. The country grew richer, the social gaps smaller. These years mark the period when Sweden became a democracy. Click HERE to continue reading

3. Is Sweden's zero-tolerance approach to drugs a failing model?

Is Sweden's zero-tolerance approach to drugs a failing model?
Photo: Matt Rourke/AP

Sweden is accustomed to being praised for its forward-thinking approach, but there's one area where many feel it lies behind the curve. The country's “zero tolerance” policy towards drugs is an increasingly isolated one compared to its neighbours, and has even been subject to criticism from the UN. 

Sweden's long-standing zero-tolerance drugs policy is based on the fundamental vision of a “drug-free society”, and was shaped by lobbying group The Association for a Drug-Free Society (RNS). The group, founded by psychiatrist and “father of Swedish drugs policy” Nils Bejerot in 1969, pushes for the prevention of drug use through penalties rather than treatment of drug addiction. This has led to tough policing with a focus on small crimes of possession.. Click HERE to continue reading

4. The shifting sands of Sweden's immigration debate

hoto: Anna Karolina Eriksson/TT

In 2014, then-Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's speech calling on Swedes to “open their hearts” to asylum seekers could have been read as just another chapter in Swedish openness to immigrants. Four years on, it is far more difficult to imagine a leader of the country's biggest parties using the same rhetoric in their efforts to win the 2018 election.

Moderate PM Reinfeldt's summer 2014 speech came in a year when an increasing number of refugees were looking to Sweden and its generous asylum policies for shelter. Twelve months later the full scale of just how many there were heading north was evident, culminating with a record 163,000 people applying for asylum in the Nordic nation in 2015. Fast forward to the present, and the numbers have dropped immensely, last year hitting an eight-year low of 25,666 following a significant tightening of policy. Click HERE to continue reading

5. The unexpected things cemeteries can teach you about Sweden and its history

The unexpected things cemeteries can teach you about Sweden and its history
Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Cemeteries and monuments were never meant to be forgotten; they were created to remember and honour the lives of the departed. 

Some people think of cemeteries as foreboding places that provoke sadness or even fear. In Sweden, however, most cemeteries are beautiful oases that invite visitors to pay their respects to the lives of the departed in a variety of ways. Park-like paths encourage members of the public to walk among meticulously-tended grave sites and ancient runestones. Sheltered benches and quiet nooks inspire peaceful meditation. Click HERE to continue reading (Members)

6. Is Anglicization a threat to the Swedish language?

Is Anglicization a threat to the Swedish language?
Photo: Photo: AP Photo/Alastair Grant

If you've spent time in Sweden, you'll have noticed that English (and Swenglish) is everywhere: in adverts, on TV, in schools, and probably in the responses you get from well-meaning Swedes when you're trying to practice Swedish. But just how much of an impact has English actually had on the Swedish language – and on Swedish society more widely? And is it a threat or an opportunity?

New English words enter Swedish dictionaries every year, and that's only the tip of the iceberg: words become part of everyday speech long before linguists have the chance to document and define them. Over the past decade, there has been a surge in the number of Swedish schools teaching in English, and many hiring managers in Sweden's booming tech industry prioritize English language skills over Swedish. Click HERE to continue reading (Members)

7. 'I believe we have a lot to teach Russia in terms of free speech'

'I believe we have a lot to teach Russia in terms of free speech'
Photo: Sergei Ilnitsky/Pool photo via AP

The Local spoke to Sweden's ambassador to Russia, Peter Ericson, to learn about the links between the two countries and what it's like working in Moscow at a time where on many levels these relations are increasingly frosty.

“Of course it's not nice to see bad things being said about Sweden on national TV, and that exists but that's not what I come across when I'm meeting people. I get questions about it but they're more confused or can't believe it. I try to explain what has happened and what we're doing about it, and they accept that,” he told The Local. Click HERE to continue reading. (Members)

This was the first in a series of five interviews we carried out with Swedish ambassadors, including those to France, the UK, Germany and India. Read the rest of the series HERE.

8. What's behind the rising inequality in Sweden's schools, and can it be fixed?

What's behind the rising inequality in Sweden's schools, and can it be fixed?
Photo: Hossein Salmanzadeh/TT

The idea that a child should be able have any future they want, regardless of their postcode or family background, has always been a cornerstone of Swedish education. As far back as 1842, Sweden made compulsory schooling a key part of the social welfare system in an effort to reduce the impact of socioeconomic background on future success, and the proportion of GDP spent on education has been consistently high.

But today, results vary between different schools and areas. “We have schools with a high concentration of children with disadvantaged backgrounds; schools with a high proportion of students who are newly-arrived, whose parents have a lower level of education. And when you have a very high concentration of students with these challenges, it becomes hard for the school to compensate for that,” Peter Fredriksson, the head of Skolverket, tells The Local. Click HERE to continue reading.

9. 'The most drunken country in Europe': Read this and you might like Systembolaget a whole lot better

'The most drunken country in Europe': Read this and you might like Systembolaget a whole lot better
hoto: Isabell Höjman/TT

Sweden's tempestuous relationship with liquor goes back more than 500 years and can make the country's state-run alcohol monopoly, Systembolaget, seem like a nirvana.

In fact, it wasn't too long ago that anyone wanting to purchase strong alcohol, such as liquor/spirits, in Sweden would have had to deal not only with an alcohol monopoly, but also with strict rationing. Under the so-called Bratt System, which operated from 1917 until Systembolaget was introduced in 1955, just getting a liquor ration book (motbok) was complicated. Click HERE to continue reading (Members)

10. One year on, what did #MeToo achieve in Sweden?

Sweden in Focus: One year on, what did #MeToo achieve in Sweden?
hoto: Thomas Johansson/TT

The #MeToo movement took a specific form in Sweden, where women organized and called for specific structural changes in different branches. The Local explored how much the conversation has changed, and what can be done to better support the women and girls who continue to suffer assault and harassment.

Ninni Carlsson is one of very few researchers in Sweden who looks at how women deal with sexual violence, and over the past year she's noticed a distinct change in how people respond to her job.

“People used to just say 'oh, that's a difficult topic' and that was it. That was very common. But now, that's not the reaction. Now, there's a need to talk about it: people are curious, they tell me their own thoughts, there is a huge interest in #MeToo, and I see that as a big change,” she tells The Local. Click HERE to continue reading

For more of The Local's long reads, read our award-winning Sweden in Focus series HERE

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