What’s in store for Sweden in 2021?

What's in store for Sweden in 2021?
Will summer 2021 be even more raucous than normal, after Swedes receive the Covid-19 vaccine? File photo: Staffan Löwstedt/SvD/TT
OPINION: The Covid-19 vaccine is a given, but what else is in the cards for Sweden in 2021? Columnist Lisa Bjurwald shares her predictions with The Local.

Debate finally heating up

As 2021 progresses, Sweden's political parties will start gearing up for the 2022 general election. Combined with the Corona Commission's second partial report on October 31st, we may finally leave the borgfred (the political agreement to put differing opinions aside in a time of crisis) behind us.

Striving for political agreement is, of course, generally preferable to getting stuck in endless debates. But when even the major Swedish opposition parties hold back on criticising the government at a time when the world press is already doing so, it's less flattering for the Swedish model.

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Tougher media

Swedish media has also come under fire (even from media professionals themselves, like yours truly). for a perceived meekness and inability to hold those in power to account. This autumn has seen a long-awaited tougher stance. Even the notoriously “balanced” – often a byword for broadcasting the words of officials without questioning – public service is waking up to the international denunciation of Sweden's pandemic strategy.

On January 17th, Swedish state television will broadcast a two-hour hearing on the Swedish strategy, with representatives from the government, the Public Health Agency and the nation's 21 regions (Swedish health care is decentralised). Ideally, SVT should have been running such hearings or Q&As since March, but that's the Swedish consensus climate for you.

Tarnished trust?

The SOM Institute at Gothenburg University has analysed the Swedish population's views, concerns and party sympathies since 1986. Their surveys always make for interesting reading and their upcoming one on trust in government and political institutions, part of their Covid-19 project, should be no exception. Planned for release at the end of March 2021, it's potentially explosive stuff.

Their last survey on the topic (April-June 2020) showed the highest levels of trust since the institute began polling. Will public trust survive the second pandemic wave, increased criticism and a growing tally of dead and infected? My sources answer with a resounding “no”.

Let's all just get along

The “temporary” Swedish migration law – criticised by many foreigners and Swedish families abroad – has actually been in place for almost five years. It is set to expire on July 19th, 2021. If that happens without a new law in place, it would revert back to pre-2016 legislation.

Swedish political parties are divided on the issue of migration and are currently trying to agree on at least some of the proposals, such as the requirement of Swedish language skills and civic knowledge in order to grant a permanent residency, and allowing migrants to stay on humanitarian grounds. You can read all the proposed changes or additions here.

Mamma mia!

Last but not least, the Melodifestivalen – a national obsession since Abba won over Europe with Waterloo in 1974 – will run for over a month, starting February 6th. With 28 participating artists and four separate competitions leading up to the grand finale on March 13th, Swedes should be well-equipped to handle a continued “soft lockdown” in case the Covid situation is still gloomy. We already know the late winter/early spring weather will be.

But by the end of spring, even young, healthy Swedes should have received the Covid-19 vaccine (according to the government's current, possibly too optimistic plan). This means the arrival of summer could be even more of a raucous event than it usually is. Anyone who's moved here during the dark months and then witnessed the mass release of pale, shorts-wearing, beer-swilling Swedes as soon as the first rays of sunshine peek through the clouds knows what I'm talking about. One Swedish news podcast recently predicted that the post-Covid summer of '21 will be a “human kosläpp“. God help us.

Lisa Bjurwald is a Swedish journalist and author covering current affairs, culture and politics since the mid-1990s. Her latest work BB-krisen, on the Swedish maternity care crisis, was dubbed Best reportage book of 2019 by Aftonbladet daily newspaper. She is also an external columnist for The Local – read her columns here.

What are your predictions for 2021, and do you agree or disagree with Lisa Bjurwald? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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