Sweden is a beautiful country with forests and lakes everywhere. The capital Stockholm was built on 14 islands and is often referred to as the ‘Venice of the North’. It is also a large country - 5 times larger than Austria. Of 10 million inhabitants, 1.5 million were born outside Sweden. The population density, however, is only 22 inhabitants per square kilometer. Swedes are used to a lot of space and like solitude, peace and quiet. Swedes love nature and most of them dream of living in a small red wooden cottage in the forest, next to a lake (at least in the summer).
Sweden is a constitutional Monarchy with kings dating back to the 10th century. The present King, Karl VXI Gustaf is a descendant of Sweden was a Catholic country from the Middle Ages until the 15th century. Before that time people believed in the Norse Gods the most well-known are probably Odin and Thor. The Reformation in the 16th century transformed Sweden from Catholicism to Protestantism. The most important relic from Catholic times is Santa Lucia who was a Saint from Sicily. She is celebrated all over the country on the 13th of December each year. The Swedish language is, like English and German, a West Germanic language, almost mutually intelligible with Danish and Norwegian. It can be assumed that all the Vikings could understand each other. Nowadays, most Swedes can understand Danish and Norwegian rather well, but not Icelandic.
Sweden is known for its social equality and openness. Matters, like for instance, income and age are not taboo in Sweden and you can easily ask people how much they earn and how old they are, something that would not be appreciated in many other countries! Salaries and taxes paid by Swedes are made public every year by the tax authorities. You cannot hide your age either because every Swedish citizen has a so called ‘personal number’ in which you can see a person’s date of birth, gender and place of birth. This number is more important than your name. You can easily change your name but never your personal number.
Equality between women and men has a long tradition in Sweden. For instance, married couples are taxed separately, age of retirement is the same, widow’s and widower’s pensions do not exist, paternity leave is mandatory, all schools are co-ed. Equality between the sexes is also reflected in the language. Recently, a new pronoun has been introduced and is now gradually being used in media and official documents. The pronoun is ‘hen’ which can refer to a man or a woman. The male pronoun is ‘han’ and the female pronoun is ‘hon’. Also in the Swedish Church there is an effort to be equal. The Archbishop is a woman. Most bishops are women. Among priests in Sweden 50 per cent are men and 50 per cent are women.
Sweden is a neutral country and stayed out of both World Wars. It was not always a peace-loving country, though. During the 17th century it fought the Catholics in the 30-year war. During that war the Swedish King Gustaf II Adolf was killed. His daughter Kristina then became Queen of Sweden. However, she abdicated, converted to Catholicism and moved to Rome. If her father would have known - having sacrificed his life to fight the Catholics! Sweden also fought seven wars with Denmark and several wars with Russia, winning some and losing some.
Presently, Sweden, like many other countries, is undergoing a lot of changes. The political situation is not as clear any more. The results of the parliamentary elections in September 2018, have led to a political stalemate. The contentious issue is about a party called ‘Sweden Democrats’ - a party that wants to cut down on immigration. They got almost 20 per cent of the votes but the other parties refuse to cooperate with them. Since 2015 Sweden has accepted more asylum-seekers per capita than any other European country and it has led to a lot of tension between the parties and also between its citizens. Freedom of religion is regulated by law.
Religion has not been an issue in Sweden for hundreds of years, but the new situation in the world has changed that - also in Sweden. Hopefully, Sweden will be able to keep its tradition of consensus-building among political parties and find a solution that everybody will be able to live with.
Contributed by Mona Angel