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Aftonbladet is a Swedish daily founded in 1830 and based in Stockholm. It describes itself as an "independent social-democratic newspaper.” The paper had a circulation of 154,900 copies in 2014.
Photo of a Swedish school
Amélie Reichmuth

What Sweden's Teacher Shortage Says About Privatizing Education

Sweden prides itself on being a knowledge economy, but its education system is at a breaking point because of a lack of teachers. The problem may trace back to the decision a generation ago to move to a free-choice voucher system.

STOCKHOLM — For tourists eager to explore the northern extremes of Sweden, Kiruna is a mandatory stop. The city is both the country’s northernmost municipality, right under the polar circle, and also the largest, covering an area similar in size to Slovenia and Wales.

Home to the world’s largest mine, Kiruna made international headlines a few years ago when the city started moving entire neighborhoods after the spreading of cracked formations caused by the mining activities.

But there is another disturbing reality behind the winter hinterland: the city shows, unlike any other, the growing teacher shortage Sweden is confronted with and all its consequences.

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Nordic 007: The Quiet Rise Of Russian Spies In Sweden
Amélie Reichmuth

Nordic 007: The Quiet Rise Of Russian Spies In Sweden

This week marks the opening of what's been described as the biggest Swedish espionage case since the end of the Cold War, as tensions rise in the face of the Russian war in Ukraine.

STOCKHOLM — “Disappear in Sweden,” “Prosecuted before questioning,” “Spy.”

These are a few examples of the 28 internet searches Payam Kia did shortly before being arrested in November 2021, according to Stockholm based daily Aftonbladet.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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Two months earlier, his older brother Peyman, a former employee of the Swedish armed forces and security services, had been arrested on charges of aggravated espionage. The two brothers, who lived together in Uppsala, about an hour north of Stockholm, had long been suspected of sharing classified information. But it was only on November 11 that prosecutors brought charges against them, after having gathered enough evidence to support what has been described as Sweden’s largest espionage case since the end of the Cold War.

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Empty vaccination center in Hamburg, Germany
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

What's To Blame For COVID-19 Vaccine Delays Around The World

Delays, reluctance, shortages... the rollout of the coronavirus vaccines across the world has been beset by some recurring obstacles.

The brand new vaccination center in Saarbrücken, in western Germany, was set up in record time in two old exhibition halls. With a dozen check-in counters, two large waiting rooms with hundreds of chairs, 36 separate cubicles and doctors at the ready, the center has all it needs to welcome crowds of people in an orderly fashion. The problem, as German daily Die Welt reports: No one has turned up.

Only 200 people per day were being vaccinated in the center this week, one-tenth its capacity.

According to the latest daily update from the Robert Koch Institute, Germany has vaccinated around 239,000 people since starting its campaign on Dec. 27, well short of the 1.3 million doses that were delivered by the end of 2020.

It was the Christmas miracle the world was waiting for: Multiple vaccines for a pandemic that had plagued countries across the globe for the better part of 2020. However, the reality of implementing an unprecedented global vaccination campaign has fallen far short of miraculous in many countries.

Inoculating billions of people was always going to present almost insurmountable challenges, particularly so with a vaccine that must be kept at extremely low temperatures and requires a second booster shot within weeks. While many countries simply don't have enough doses on hand, others are facing healthcare staffing shortages; a lack of infrastructure, especially in rural and underserved areas; and growing anti-vaccination movements. Here are some of the biggest hurdles:

1. Distribution chaos: In the United States, the lack of a federal roll out plan has left it up to individual states to figure out vaccine distribution, including who should be given priority. A last minute executive order from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis allowing anyone age 65 and older to get a vaccine left Canada's so-called snowbirds flocking to Miami to be inoculated.

  • The state has one of the highest populations of elderly in the country and many of its 4.5 million seniors are camping out in the cold for a vaccine. As Broward County Mayor Steve Geller tells NBC Miami, "Many seniors are panicking because they think they were promised the vaccine immediately. They were not, but now they feel that faith has been broken."

  • Lacking their own infrastructure, some local governments are even turning to the ticketing service Eventbrite to make vaccine appointments, as reported by Vox. Other medical service providers are using Facebook events and Google Docs in lieu of creating their own appointment systems. While this might raise security concerns (there have been fake Evenbrite pages), it eliminates the inevitable crowds of the first come, first served model.

2. Nobody in charge: Sweden was another country without a clearly defined national vaccination strategy. In an opinion article published in Swedish daily Aftonbladet, opposition party Kristdemokraterna lashed out against Sweden's ruling center-left coalition for failing to act preemptively. Kristdemokraterna warned that Sweden might end up last in line for a vaccine.

  • At the heart of this problem is the fact that Sweden appointed a national vaccine coordinator who doesn't have a mandate to negotiate with medical companies. As Sweden lacks the domestic production capacity to meet the national demand for a vaccine, the country is dependent on international manufacturers.

3. Rural delivery delays: The world's second largest country in terms of landmass, Canada faces unique logistical hurdles in delivering its vaccine. More than 420,000 doses have been delivered to the provinces, but only around 28 percent have been administered.

  • "It's an utter failure when you have three-fourths of our vaccines still sitting inside of freezers," biostatistician Ryan Imgrund, who works with Ottawa Public Health, told Global News.

  • In Ontario, Canada's largest province, only around 5,000 people a day are being vaccinated, meaning it would take eight years to immunize the entire province. Ontario previously had the goal of vaccinating 8.5 million people by June, more than half of its 14.57 million population.

Defrosted vaccines being packaged for the start of the delivery — Photo: Pool Olivier Matthys/DDP via ZUMA Press

4. Safety issues: While India has approved two vaccine candidates, questions remain around their efficacy, especially for more vulnerable populations. AstraZeneca made a deal to manufacture its vaccine through the Serum Institute of India. But a trial participant who experienced neurological side-effects from the vaccine is suing the Serum Institute, while AstraZeneca is facing legal challenges in the UK for cherry-picking data. The other vaccine known as COVAXIN is developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with government agencies and is based on an inactivated form of the coronavirus. The company has completed only two of three trial phases. The third, which crucially tests for efficacy, began in mid-November.

  • Consequently, it is the elderly who will both be the first to get the vaccine and potentially face side effects, as the vaccines weren't tested to see if they prevent severe forms of COVID-19.

  • As Vasudevan Mukunth wrote in The Wire, "In other words, by messing up its validation process, the government is virtually experimenting with the most vulnerable cohort who will receive the vaccine candidates first – people like our grandparents, etc. – while those who are less likely to suffer for it will have it easier. And that is wrong, surely."

  • There are challenges for the elderly in Italy too. The senior population there faces challenges to access the vaccine delivery points. One hospital in Rome has begun to dispatch mobile units of medical professionals to reach the most remote places.

5. Supply shortages: "The problem is that Europe doesn't have its own vaccine," president of the Hauts-de-France region Xavier Bertrand told France Inter, pointing out the failings of the government. "We have half of the French population who wants to be vaccinated. ... when will these people be able to do it?"

  • Bertrand added that he expected France to match the level of action of its British neighbor: "We also have a French vaccine, Sanofi, which must be developed."

  • Le Parisien confirms that the EU had ordered 400 million doses from Sanofi, of which 90 million were to go to France. The company's delay in delivering the vaccine therefore threw a significant spanner in France's vaccination plans, leading some to question the government's choice to "go local" in terms of vaccine production.

  • Additionally, an adviser to Prime Minister Jean Castex estimated that between 25 to 30% of the 200 million vaccines ordered by France were at risk of being lost, according to Le Figaro. 50 to 60 million doses could be rendered useless because of the need to store them at -70 °C, and carry out the injection within 5 days after being removed from storage. The country's decision to prioritize the elderly has also slowed down vaccination campaigns considerably, with nursing homes required to collect consent forms from their residents — a process that can be sometimes very long, as France Bleu reports.

6. Doctor shortages: Vaccination delays in the northern Italian region of Lombardy were blamed on doctors being on vacation. But Giulio Gallera, the region's head of welfare services, warned against hysteria in the first days of the vaccination program. "It's awful to see people ranking those who have vaccinated the most people so far, let's do it in 15 or 20 days," Gallera told La Stampa. "We have doctors and nurses who have 50 days of overdue leave. I won't force them back from their holidays to perform vaccinations. But we will stay on schedule."

  • In Spain, 82,834 doses of the Pfizer vaccine had been administered by January 4. In total, the country has received 718,575 doses, of which 360,000 have been received yesterday (despite the campaign starting before the Christmas holidays). The lack of health professionals exacerbated by the Christmas holidays have slowed down the administration of the vaccinations for a week in much of the country.

  • There have also been production problems by the multinational manufacturer Pfizer manufacturer. And then there was the eruption of the new virulent strain of the virus in Great Britain and the subsequent border closures, the unpredictable logistics of several communities, lockdowns, curfews, school closures, healthcare systems being overwhelmed...

In Amazon's logistics center in Dortmund
Carl-Johan Karlsson

How Sweden's Social Democrats Fell In Love With Amazon

"Amazon is ‘un-Swedish"..."

Yes, in my country too, you'd probably hear something called osvenskt in one of those low-budget conference halls where "patriots' gather to drink domestic beer and worry about the Moderland. So, you'll be surprised that slap at the U.S. e-retailer was delivered by my old Swedish Econ101 professor, 10 years ago, as he explained why the class should buy course literature from "actual" bookstores.

The prof had one of those names, like mine, so Swedish it's hard for other Swedes to remember. But still I thought of him a few months ago when reading the news that Amazon is now expanding its Nordic retail offering with a 15,000-m2 warehouse outside of Stockholm.

Speaking to people back home about Amazon's arrival, opinions hovered between skeptical and outright protest. National newspaper headlines have included "We're being invaded by Amazon" (Aftonbladet, Sweden's favorite tabloid) and "Our market is vulnerable," (Norra Skåne, a top regional daily in the South).

The pervading conviction is that Sweden will succeed where no other country has.

Of course, staying updated on Amazon's almost theatrically unscrupulous behavior is challenging: zero-taxation schemes, removal of competitor products, price discrimination, misuse of private data, selling of illegal products, etc. And that doesn't even include the treatment of its own employees, with stories of workers urinating in bottles to meet quotas, getting injured (ambulances were called in 600 times to Amazon UK's warehouses between 2015 and 2017), pregnant women going straight from work to the maternity ward.

But what makes all of this even harder to take for a Swede like me is that, despite that awful laundry list, there seems to be a peculiar enthusiasm of our current left-center government for Jeff Bezos & co. To them, this is all in line with Sweden's digitization strategy. When confronted with Amazon's track record, they have assured that the largest retail company in human history will (of course) have to adapt to Sweden. "It's not the first or last company that has created their own model to then meet the Swedish model," Minister of Digitalization Anders Ygeman proudly declared.

Amazon is now expanding its Nordic retail offering in Stockholm — Photo: Peter Steffen/DPA/ZUMA

Good luck. In the U.S., the company has sidestepped unions for 25 years. In Germany, the largest union has been waging a so-far fruitless seven-year battle for codified salary increases, while in France, Poland and Spain, a constant push-pull between labor activists and Amazon included multiplying strikes in the last months, as workers were put at risk during the pandemic.

And still, the pervading conviction is that Sweden will succeed where no other country has. To be fair, there was a time when our healthy national confidence was not without justification. I remember my dad telling me about the unwavering social democrats of the 1960s of his youth who secured the right to a more just society — and became a model for pragmatic progressives around the world.

But the current identity crisis of the Social Democrats in Sweden is a complicated story. It's worth noting that the strong welfare state my dad and professor remembered fell apart for good reasons. The state became too big, the union system too rigid. Swedes felt they were being suffocated.

Now today, with union membership at a record low, some had hoped that Amazon's arrival could have been an opportunity to revitalize the labor movement, and a moment for center-left politicians to remember where they came from.

Instead, we're stuck struggling to figure out where we fit into this new globalized era while our own politicians' are busy trying to explain away their mindless devotion to a U.S. tech monopoly. No, in fact, that doesn't sound very Swedish to me.

Bob Dylan mural in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Jeff Israely

How Does It Sound? Bob Dylan, Between Headlines And Posterity

PARISGrandioso, say the Italians. Kolossalt for the Swedes. The Berkeley student newspaper called it monumental, while a Buenos Aires daily was stamping it patrimonio de la humanidad.

The world's popular music critics and other sundry writer types (wink!) have spent the past few weeks trying to size up something that is much more than just a big new album release. Bob Dylan's latest, Rough And Rowdy Ways, comes eight years since his most recent original material, four years after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature and ten months shy of his 80th birthday.

All of this, including the raving reviews, amounts to a major news event for the culture pages — a chance to search for the words (in the present tense) to describe someone bound for posterity. It also happens to arrive as the news pages are being consumed by two other ongoing stories that have their own whiff of history-in-the-making.

Churning through the daily updates and refreshing our Twitter feeds, news editors and readers might pose that unanswerable question: What will remain? Where will the stacks of coronavirus headlines leave us once the pandemic passes? Will George Floyd's name make it into the history books? And what place will now be reserved for Christopher Columbus, Cecil Rhodes, Leopold II?

Back to the culture pages, and the present tense, Olivier Lamm of France's Libération took a crack at describing what it's like, in 2020, to listen to the latest offering from the singular rock "n" roll master artist:

"How does it sound, a Dylan blues song in the era of TikTok, Defund the Police and the coronavirus? Well what do you know, it sounds like it had to be, a flash of lucidity, a howl crossing the sky."

For this news editor and Dylan nut, that sounds about right. Since first getting hooked 30 years ago, I've often searched for the words — my own and those who write about such things for a living — that might take the measure of a man for the ages who also happens to be my favorite entertainer.

If you're like these international rock critics above, you can try to capture the grandeur; you might compare him to Shakespeare or Mozart or Michelangelo. But I'll also never forget a writer's description of liking Dylan's music the way he likes the smell of bacon ... and then there's the man in question, who parried the early hero worship by calling himself a "song and dance man."

That's what critics do: list the songs, cite a verse, make a connection or comparison.

His Nobel Prize was another occasion for the world's press to try to sum up his multitudes. That he initially went AWOL after the announcement, and wound up as a no-show at the ceremony, prompted additional Dylan news cycles. I even threw my own two cents in the media fountain. But then the Nobel, which at first seemed like some kind of ultimate validation that he was a category unto himself, goes only so far on the question of posterity: Hell, they give one out every year!

And so the reaction to the current album was also destined to create what news editors, with a slightly derisive tone, call copy. Much of it handled by the music reviewer's arsenal of song-by-song analysis and references to other works. That's normal, the work that critics do: list the songs, cite a verse, make a connection or comparison. There are, after all, other new albums to review, pages to fill, deadlines to meet.

Between my own deadlines, and waiting for more Bob copy to come in, it's taken me three weeks to have my say. And no, I'm afraid you won't get your answer here either. I'm an amateur in the field, with a dog in the fight. All I can offer is a heavy-handed, scripture-citing command to go to minute 5:18, fourth track, "I've Made Up My Mind to Give Myself To You."

My heart's like a river, a river that sings

It just takes me a while to realize things

Where do we start? With three pop song tropes — heart, river, sings — stacked right on top of each other, somehow creating a crescendo of a metaphor that you can both see and hear. Or maybe we've heard it before? Or it's just a throwaway line? Did he steal it? But we quickly find out, the sweetness will take a bitter turn: the simplest of thoughts, stripped away, a sigh to your lover over a cup of coffee. As a painter friend once told me: All great art is surprise.

Of course, such sleights of hand and crushing of hearts mean something different now, in the very twilight of his career. When he was barely 20, Dylan had a way of writing and singing with the voice of someone who had seemingly lived and seen a thousand lives. Now, when he sings "a while," we simply hear the sound of a lifetime.

Looking for words to describe Dylan's latest brings me to the one artist who, for me, has always seemed to be his mirror: for the sheer talent and expressionism, for never being prisoner to their own revolutions, and yes, for the longevity too.

We're in 1969 and the latest works from Pablo Picasso have just gone on exhibit. Jacques Michel, Le Monde"s art critic, has this to say about the Spanish master, nearing the age of 90:

"Picasso paints here as a child would paint, a bird would sing. Nothing elaborate, the spontaneous restitution of electric jolts instead; Picasso does not seek, he finds .... For three-quarters of a century, he's done only that: find. Even today, the harvest is rich and will surely take on a deeper meaning later. Like self-portraits of Rembrandt, at the end of his life, or Van Gogh, attending to and depicting the drama unfolding inside themselves. What Picasso gives us here is the testimony of his destiny."

I'm just a news guy on loan to the culture pages, but the connections do feel stronger in times like these. The destiny of artists are tied to their subjects, and the subjects of the day to each other: George Floyd and Hattie Carroll, Columbus to Guernica, in sickness and in health. Dylan has come to remind us that, posterity or otherwise, it all begins with ourselves.

In China, schools remain closed in most parts of the country.

In Eight Countries, Hard Choices In Bringing Students Back To School

When, who, how? Both the science and logistics are complex in deciding how to get  hundreds of millions of children around the world back to school. Here's a quick tour.

Countries starting to reopen after weeks in lockdown face the tricky questions of when and how to get the nation's students back into the classroom. Which ages go back first? What new rules are needed to minimize chances of future outbreaks? How will students be graded in post-pandemic education systems?

  • Little kids first: Denmark became the first European country to send kids back to schools after a month-long lockdown. Kindergartens and elementary schools were the first to reopen last week, in large part so that parents can return to work; high schools and universities should follow in mid-May. Reopened schools have to follow strict rules, including two-meter spacing between desks, disinfecting of the building several times a day and only up to 10 children allowed in one classroom.

  • Big kids first: In Germany, chancellor Angela Merkel plans a phased reopening to begin on May 4. Unlike Denmark, Germany's disease control agency recommends that older students who are more likely to follow strict distancing and hygiene rules, should return to classes first.

  • Strange senior year I: France announced Tuesday the progressive three-week reentry into the classroom, younger kids first. The end-of-the-year baccalauréat​ exam for those finishing high school has already been cancelled, leading to decidedly mixed feelings shared around the world: Parisian senior Serena summed it up to Le Monde: "I'm happy to not have to study, at the same time it was a moment we should have experienced all together, and we'll never experience it."

Children in a Danish school — Photo: David A. Williams/Xinhua/ZUMA

  • Strange senior year II: In Germany, where some of the first "Abitur" end-of-high-school exams are scheduled for the end of this week, one senior student in Berlin wanted to postpone her finals. She argued that she could not prepare for the finals properly as she doesn't have her own computer, couldn't study in a library and since she has been confined in a small apartment with her family 24/7 for a month, her ability to concentrate was significantly impaired by the family background noise. The regional administrative court rejected her request, saying her case is no special exception, reports Die Welt.

  • Change of plans I: Last week, Austria was supposed to join Denmark in returning to school, but changed course and kept schools closed, fearing that students would quickly start spreading the virus again.

  • Change of plans II: In Chile, schools were set to reopen next week, but Chilean president Sebastián Piñera postponed the gradual Back to School Plan until May in his speech on Sunday, reports Chilean radio ADN.

  • Staying Open: One notable country that has left its schools open during the pandemic is Sweden. However, more than 900 teachers and school staff have expressed their disapproval, reports Aftonbladet daily, saying that if the government officials thinks children — especially in kindergartens! — are going to follow strict distancing and hygiene guidelines, they either have a bad sense of humor or have never met a young child.

  • Staying Closed: In China, schools remain closed in most parts of the country. In Beijing and Shanghai, courses should restart next week for high-school seniors, with mandatory masks on for students and teachers. Wuhan, the city hardest hit by the COVID19 outbreak in China, is preparing to gradually reopen schools, but no schedule has been set yet, reports Chinese newspaper Global Times. Schools in the region are currently carrying out preparation work including disinfecting classrooms, installing body temperature monitoring instruments, and renovation of dining halls.