The daily question in the newspapers here is who is going to be the next chairman of the Social Democrats, the party that once created the Swedish model and ruled the country for most part of the past century. In last years election the party lost again, and the center-right government got another four years in power. With some delay the party chairman, Mona Sahlin, finally resigned and a new one will be elected later this month.
An old tradition in the Social Democrats is that a new chairman is agreed upon through discussions and negotiations among representative bodies within the party, so that the party convention has only one candidate to vote for. This means months of speculations in media about which candidate is the hottest for the moment.
This procedure once ended in an odd way. When Ingvar Carlsson retired as chairman in 1996 there was a few possible successors, among them the eminent finance minister Göran Persson. But he emphatically announced that he wasn’t a candidate, and that the only thing he wanted was to remain finance minister. It was all very convincing and media accepted it as true. So when the day came and Persson was presented as the new candidate for chairman and prime minister, many jaws were dropped. Subsequently the journalists were fooled, and that is something they never forgive (they were challenged in their own field, which is to master in fooling others).
Anyway, the question who should be the chairman of the Social Democrats is often presented as if it was a concern for the whole country. Thus the center-right newspapers, who have an overwhelming dominance in the market for printed media, treats it almost as a national trauma when the selection procedure now meets problems. Every day old and new possible candidates are scrutinized and judged. No favorite has emerged and none of the names mentioned are exciting in any way. Some of the names are really unknown to the public, and those who are well known are intimately connected with the election failure and in many peoples opinions politically worn-out.
In the blog-world even Göran Persson’s name is mentioned again, but this time really in vain. Soon we will know, and that will probably deserve to be commented on.
In these days Sweden is of course most famous – or infamous – for the Assange affair. Our mainstream media – of which Dagens Nyheter (the New York Times of Sweden) is No. 1 – doesn’t really know on which foot to stand. Here we have freedom of expression at stake, but also a legislation on sexual behavior which is sacred for our feminists and last but not least the important relations with the United States. Consequently there is little of this and little of that on the matter, but above all a lot of silence.
There is an interesting thought experiment to make as a litmus test on the editorial staff at Dagens Nyheter (DN). We might just suppose that Assange had revealed, not US but Russian secrets of equivalent importance, and that prominent politicians and media people in Russia had screamed for him to be immediately executed. Furthermore that Russian authorities had carefully prepared a special court for Assange in a reliable district near Moscow and expected Sweden or some other country to deliver him on a silver plate.
In such a case there are no doubts whatsoever about which reactions to expect from DN. It would sound approximately like this: “Putin and his associates show there utter contempt for human rights when they seek to severely punish a man who just practices his elementary rights of free expression. This is what you can expect from these stone age-thinking post communists (of course in nicer wordings) and we must do our utmost to protect Assange from all evil. An extradition is out of question!” Regarding the case of possible rape we certainly could have expected the decision made by the first female prosecutor to stand, namely to drop the case (in the improbable event that the police officers had even bothered to forward the questions from the two girls in the first place).
That’s politics, same style here as everywhere. It’s just cute to watch people with unquestionably functioning brains act like trained dogs when it comes to these issues. It should be said that Swedish politics has been drifting slowly from the old social democrat ideals in a rightward direction since at least 20 years. And the newspapers have drifted along. But still our most conservative politicians wouldn’t feel uncomfortable among many of the liberals in the US. So there is always a perspective to take into account.
I believe there will be reasons to comment on this affair in the light of future events.
Let’s start from the very beginning. Sweden is the land of blond and beautiful girls. Nicht? No, not really. Sweden is the land where for instance one single city, Södertälje with 85 000 inhabitants, has received more refugees from Iraq than the whole of the United States of America. So with every year this becomes slowly a multicultural society where consequently darker hair and skin gets more and more common.
Sweden is a late developer, just a generation or two away from a backward peasant society. As one consequence the adaptability towards ethnic changes is not the very best. Swedes are however descent people by upbringing and have therefore on average a sound attitude towards immigrants. But a slow and steady development away from traditional social democrat values resulted after last years election in the first clearly anti-immigrant party in the parliament.
Some say we are the most Americanized country in Europe, which in certain respects is obviously true. On the other hand there is still a solid base for solidarity solutions, strong unions etcetera. In other words it’s an interesting cocktail.
This cocktail has recently been laced by a prosecutor’s activities regarding Julian Assange. I’m sure we will return to that story later on, but this is quite enough for one postcard today.