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OPINION & ANALYSIS

What’s in store for Sweden in 2021?

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.

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

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.

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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OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Chemical crayfish’: Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

It's time for this year's "kräftskivor", Swedish crayfish-eating parties! A cause for celebration? Not if the Swedish media has its way.

'Chemical crayfish': Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

Sweden’s main newswire this week ran a story warning that an analysis of the eight brands of Swedish crayfish available in the country’s supermarkets contained elevated levels of PFAS, a persistent pollutant which can damage your liver and kidneys, disrupt your hormones, and even cause cancer. 

But don’t worry. If you weigh 70kg or more, you can still safely eat as many as six of the outsized prawn-like crustaceans a week without being in the risk zone. 

While I’m sure the news story, which was covered by pretty much every paper, is accurate, it is also part of a grand Swedish media tradition: running miserable, killjoy news stories whenever there’s a sign that people might be planning to have a bit of festive fun. 

The two public service broadcasters, Swedish Radio (SR) and Swedish Television (SVT) are by far the worst offenders, their reporters unusually skilled at finding a downbeat, depressing angle for every public celebration. 

To give readers a sense of the genre, we’ve spent half an hour or so searching through the archives. 

‘This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is’ (and other yuletide cheer)

Source: Screenshot/SR

Christmas is a time for good food, drinking a little too much, and cheery decorations to ward away the winter darkness. But have you considered the risks?

SR has.

In “This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is”, a local reporter in Kronoberg looked into the possibility that your tree might have been sprayed with pesticide, or if not, might be covered in pests you will then bring into your house. 

By far the most common recurring Christmas story reflects Sweden’s guilt-loaded relationship with alcohol. 

You might enjoy a few drinks at Christmas, but what about the trauma you are inflicting on your children?

In this typically festive report from SVT in Uppsala, a doctor asks, ‘why wait for the New Year to give up alcohol? Why not start before Christmas?’, while the reporter notes that according to the children’s rights charity BRIS, one in five children in Sweden has a parent with an alcohol problem, with many finding drunk adults both “alarming and unpleasant”. 

God Jul! 

The Swedish media finds ways to make you feel guilty about the food you eat at Christmas too. You might enjoy a slap-up Christmas dinner, but what about those who suffer from an eating disorder? SVT asked in this important, but less than cheery, story published in the run-up to the big day. “This is the worst time of the year,” Johanna Ahlsten, who suffered from an eating disorder for ten years, told the reporter. 

Don’t you just love a cosy Christmas fire? Well, perhaps you shouldn’t. A seasonal favourite in Sweden’s media is to run warnings from the local fire services on the risk of Christmas house fires. Here’s some advice from SVT in Blekinge on how to avoid burning your house down. 
 
Those Christmas lights. So mysigt. But have you ever added up how much those decorations might be adding to your electricity bill? SVT has. Read about it all here
 
Finally, isn’t it wonderful that people in Sweden get the chance to go and visit their relatives and loved ones over Christmas.
 
Well, it’s wonderful if you’re a burglar! Here’s SVT Jämtland on the risk of house break-ins over the Christmas period. 
 
Eat cheese to protect your teeth! and other Easter advice 
 
 
“Eat cheese after soda”. Good advice from Swedish Radio. Photo: Screenshot/Richard Orange
 
For the Swedish media, Easter is a fantastic opportunity to roll out all the same stories about the risks of open fires and alcohol abuse, and that they do. But the Easter celebration has an additional thing to be worried about: excess consumption of chocolate and sweets. 
 
Here’s Swedish Radio, with a helpful piece of advice to protect your teeth from all that sugary ‘påskmust’, Sweden’s Easter soft drink. “Eat cheese!”. 
 
Yes, you and your children might enjoy eating all those pick-and-mix sweets packed into a decorated cardboard egg, but have you thought who else has had their grubby hands on them? SVT has. In this less than joyous Easter article  a reporter gives viewers the lowdown on “how hygienic are pick-and-mix sweets?” (According to the doctor they interview, sugar acts as an antibacterial agent, so they are in fact less dangerous than the newsroom probably hoped). 
 
Perhaps though, it’s better to avoid those unhealthy sweets altogether, and instead cram your mouth with healthy raw food alternatives, as SVT advises in this Easter report
 
Aren’t daffodils lovely? Well they’re not if you’re a dog. They’re deadly, according to this Easter report from Swedish Radio on all the “dangers lurking for pets over Easter“.
 
Glad Påsk!
 
Midsommar drowning  
 
Midsommar, again, has all the same possibilities for worried articles about excess drinking etc, but in the summer there’s the added risk of drowning. 
 
From Midsummer until the start of August, the temp reporters who take over Sweden’s newsrooms as everyone else goes on their summer holidays churn out a steady stream of drowning stories, all of them with a slightly censorious tone. After all, most of these accidents are really about excess drinking.
 
Here’s SVT Västmanland tallying up the Midsummer weekend’s death toll in a typical story of Midsommar misery. 
 
So, what is the reason for the Swedish media’s taste for removing as much mirth from festivities as possible?
 
It’s partly because Sweden’s media, unlike that of many other countries, sees its public information role as at least as important as entertaining or interesting readers, so an editor is likely to choose a potentially useful story over a heart-warming one. 
 
This is the aspect of the Swedish media beautifully captured by the singer Lou Reed when talking about how he’s more scared in Sweden than in New York in the film Blue in the Face
 
“You turn on the TV, there’s an ear operation. These things scare me. New York, no.” 
 
But it is also reflects the puritanical streak that runs straight through Swedish society, leading to a powerful temperance movement, which meant that by 1908, a staggering 85 percent of Socialist parliamentarians in Sweden were teetotallers.
Sweden is now a liberal country where you can get good food and drink, and enjoy a decent nightlife, but sometimes that old puritanism bubbles up.
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