Geopolitics

Economics Of Populism: A Habsburgian Tale From Sweden

While the rise of European right-wing populism is becoming a pan-continental phenomenon, we seem determined to miss its one common driver.

STOCKHOLM — I cast my first vote in a junior-high gym in southern Sweden. I was 13 and it wasn't a real election, but a mock civic exercise to prepare students for their coming life of suffrage. I have a clear memory, back 20 years ago now, that exactly two people in my class of 30 voted for the right-wing Sweden Democrats. They were twin brothers and perhaps best described as true locals in our small city. They were also of some true (or false) local repute, not so much for their political prowess as for their protruding Habsburgian jaws — a result, rumor had it, of family relations having become too intimate in the depths of the Swedish pine forest.

That was then, when far-right affiliation was so rare that it had to have some legend attached to it. But national support for the Sweden Democrats has since jumped to roughly 18%, as similar backing for right-wing parties grows all around Europe: those that have made worldwide headlines like AfD in Germany, Rassemblement National in France, the Lega in Italy, UKIP in the UK; but also similar formations with similar ideas in Austria, Estonia, Norway, Switzerland, Poland, Hungary and the Netherlands too, as the political climate keeps trending far rightward.

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Ten Years After Utøya, How A Democracy Faces Evil

Exactly a decade after Anders Breivik’s calculated massacre of terror shocked the world, we still struggle to make sense of the evil that cut short 77 lives.

"If I could've killed him with impunity, I would have."


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Jesus to Yoga, Sweden Finds Other Uses For Empty Churches

But in the end... is it enough?

So my fellow Swedes are turning churches into yoga studios. Live from the world's most atheist nation, the report from Swedish public broadcaster SVT adds to an ever-expanding list of houses of worship being turned into something else: sport centers, conference halls, art galleries, even camping sites.

Each time, critics lament the temporary or permanent, er, conversion as a troubling sign of the times, of the "undermining of the Christian faith." Some conservative lawmakers are now saying that repurposing churches might in fact violate laws on cultural heritage.

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What Greta Thunberg Reminds Us About The Limits Of Adulthood

Now 18 and officially an adult, the climate activist's message isn't changing. And what about our own grownup rationalizations?

It's 2021, and that means Greta Thunberg can lawfully grab a beer in her hometown pub. Of course, to someone who's started a global movement, dressed down heads of state and fronted Time Magazine as Person of the Year, obtaining Swedish drinking rights may not seem like a big deal.

And yet in her unlikely rise from 15-year-old school protester to global icon, Greta's reaching official adulthood is noteworthy. She made global headlines on her 18th birthday back in January, taking the opportunity to troll her critics: "Tonight you will find me down at the local pub exposing all the dark secrets behind the climate- and school strike conspiracy," Greta tweeted.

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Ideas
Carl-Johan Karlsson

A Swedish Preacher's Warning About QAnon Fundamentalism

God speaks to me in Norwegian. This will seem treasonous to my Swedish compatriots, so let me explain. Way back, I spent a couple of years waiting tables on a 600-passenger cruise ship on the Norwegian Sea, where the sparsely furnished staff cabins — located on the lower levels, underwater — featured two elementary amenities: a life vest and the Holy Bible.

I'll be honest: It's hard to take God seriously in Norwegian, especially in the guttural mountain tongue that was official on the ship. Still, having mostly slumbered my way through Religion 101 back in high school, those late-night Bible sessions were a personal record in religious immersion.

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Geopolitics
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Contagious Narcissism Began Long Before Trump — Or Twitter

When I was a kid — 12,13 — my dad's shrink friend was a frequent guest in our house. His usual business on these visits was to review for us the degenerating state of the world, and list the ways it all made his profession difficult.

"Wanna catch a glimpse of the future?" he asked during one dinner, raising an eyebrow. "Just visit the waiting room of a psychologist!" Then he raised a finger: "I'll tell you, they're no neurotics left, just narcissists!"

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Rue Amelot
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Sweden Revisited, From Nordic Model To Pandemic Pariah

MALMÖ — On one of the final Fridays of 2020, I passed through the Malmö airport customs and underwent that subtle metamorphosis from The Swede to a Swede. This crossing from the definite to the indefinite is familiar to all returning expats, and its downside (deflated exceptionalism) and perks (nostalgia, familiarity) are felt at the first native exchange, and then sporadically with depreciating force — until, if you stay long enough, you're once again part of the herd.

At this year's homecoming however, the usual reassimilation also included a new adjustment: to a country that had lost its international shine. Yes, Sweden is still perceived abroad as exceptional. But this past year, the government's refusal to impose rules to restrict contact to combat COVID-19 led to a death toll higher than all of the country's northern European neighbors combined. By flirting with a strategy of so-called "herd immunity," decades of reverence for the Swedish model of common sense and social protection has steadily turned from doubt to outright disdain.

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Coronavirus
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Sweden, The Final Proof That People Must Be Told What To Do

PARIS — Like much of the rest of the world, Sweden is now facing a second wave of coronavirus infections. But while other countries are debating which mix of restrictions to reinstate, the Swedish government has finally decided to announce its very first ban: closing bars and restaurants after 10:30 pm starting tomorrow.


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Geopolitics
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Trump Meet Mo Ibrahim: African Fix For An American Strongman

-Essay-

PARIS — Every aspiring strongman must fulfill a number of prerequisites. He should be skilled at demonizing his opponents and intimidating his allies, manipulating the media and restricting free speech — all the while mixing different doses of serial lying, fear-mongering and nationalism to rile up the masses.

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Coronavirus
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Herd Immunity And A Deepening Generational Divide

Sweden's youth see caring for the old and sick as the business of the public sector. But as the welfare state gets weaker, the elderly can rely on neither the system nor the family.

My home country, Sweden, has had the world's attention since the outset of the pandemic. Its COVID-19 strategy included flirting with the so-called "herd immunity" approach that chose lighter government restrictions and broader acceptance that the virus can't really be stopped. But back at home, the deaths of thousands in nursing homes during last spring's initial peak put a spotlight on a more longstanding public neglect of the country's elderly population. In the months since, and as Swedish politicians have kept busy trying to explain away this failure to protect the most vulnerable, an uncomfortable question has hovered over the rest of us: Could it be that our society doesn't actually care all that much about old people?

The ethical debate over how to value the lives of old people is of course not a province of Sweden alone. Yet, it is particularly in such countries in the West considered socio-economically advanced where respect for the elderly has been called into question. In a recent article in Paris-based daily Les Echos, French political scientist Dominique Moïsi puts the blame at the feet of Western individualism, pointing out that this generational rift is far less pronounced in Asia:

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Paris Calling
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Buenos Aires To Paris, Don't Blame Covid For Killing Culture

Swedish-born, Paris-based writer Carl-Johan Karlsson has been seeing “dead museums” since the pandemic arrived... and even earlier.

-Essay-

PARIS — In the early days of last spring's strict confinement, I went for a walk with a friend soon after dawn. Keeping six feet apart, we spoke through our face masks and each of us carried a signed French government "permission to exercise" form in our front pocket. It was March, but that early Parisian morning was a little telegram from summer. We reached Pont au Change just as the first crackling light poured over the mansard roofs and set the placid river glistening. The air was calm and quiet except for the sounds of birds singing — and after a moment of silent reflection staring out from the bridge, my friend and I agreed: Paris had never looked worse.

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Economy
Carl-Johan Karlsson

How Sweden's Social Democrats Fell In Love With Amazon

"Amazon is ‘un-Swedish"..."


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Society
Carl-Johan Karlsson

A Swedish Boxer, Donald Trump And Our Culture Of Shame

Long before his sex scandal took over the front pages, every Swede knew Paolo Roberto.

The son of an Italian father and Swedish mother, Roberto gained some notoriety in his teens as a street fighter, eventually earning a place on the police's national list of "10 most dangerous youths'. After turning things around following a lead role in a movie drama loosely based on his teens, Roberto would also earn a place in Swedish boxing history after two world championship title fights. He would ultimately become a national household name after retiring from the ring, thanks to a successful career as a cookbook author, TV personality, entrepreneur and occasional actor (he again played himself in the 2009 film adaption of Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played With Fire).

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Ideas
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Cold War To COVID-19, A Swedish Priest Answers Susan Sontag

The late American essayist Susan Sontag theorized that people are drawn to watching disaster films to help normalize and rationalize what we find psychologically unbearable. Watching a fictionalized apocalypse on the screen, she argued, inures us to the possibility that a real one may arrive.

Sontag's idea in 1965 about the need for a remedy to global anxiety rings true today, in a bitter new way, for my generation. Yet, after three months of witnessing a real-life disaster unfold on our computer and smartphone screens, what some are openly wishing for now is not normalization — but rather that the end of COVID-19 may actually (finally) bring us some sense that there's hope for the future. What is it today that has felt so psychologically unbearable for young people?

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Ideas
Carl-Johan Karlsson

From MLK To Olof Palme To Black Lives Matter

PARIS — That people should be judged by the content of their character was one of those rare elementary-school concepts that actually stuck. It was no doubt the candor and simplicity of the idea, but it may have helped that my history teacher Mr. Hansson for once deviated from his trademark text-heavy PowerPoints — and showed us a photograph of Martin Luther King at the Lincoln Memorial from his "I Have A Dream" speech.


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