The “Swedish dream” under assault, at home and abroad
Reverberations of the war in Ukraine is just one factor forcing Sweden to reinvent its identity as a nation in a destabilized world order which puts into question the values the country had long stood for, including non-alignment, free trade and market liberalism.
Sweden is making international headlines again, after a new turn in the country's NATO application, which has become more like a political thriller novel with each dramatic turn.
On January 21st, far-right politician Rasmus Paludan burned copies of the Koran during a demonstration outside of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm. The stunt outraged many Muslims in Sweden and around the world.
Although Swedish government officials distanced themselves from the action, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country will veto Sweden's NATO application as long as protests desecrating the Islamic holy book are allowed to take place. Turkey also canceled the Swedish defense minister's scheduled visit to Ankara.
Swedish authorities seem to have learned from this experience, and earlier this month issued a rare ban of a rally protesting the NATO membership bid, which had been expected to include another Koran burning. "The burning of the Koran outside the Turkey embassy in January 2023 can be determined to have increased threats against both the Swedish society at large, but also against Sweden, Swedish interests abroad and Swedes abroad," Swedish police said in a statement.
This is only one of many challenges currently facing Sweden after the country experienced major political and socio-economic shifts over the last 30 years.
Global crises, including the invasion of Ukraine, have forced Sweden to reinvent its identity as a nation in a destabilized world order which opposes all of the values the country used to stand for, including non-alignment, free trade, market liberalism and multilateralism.
The mechanisms underlying these dramatic shifts can be traced back to the 1990s, when Sweden began to give up the Third Way that had for decades defined its national identity, by privatizing most of its welfare systems and joining the EU, a move away from the country's previous "alliance freedom."
This is how Sweden has become more and more continental since the early 2000s. In terms of policies and political practices, the country is far from the idyllic image developed under the influence of Prime Minister Olof Palme in the 1970s. Recent crises like the 2015 refugee crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic strained a welfare state system already reaching its limits, revealing and reinforcing existing splits within Swedish society.
More recently, both the economic crisis that followed Russia's invasion of Ukraine and ongoing gang wars raging in Sweden's big cities have shed new light on the country's complex issues. While sky-high inflation has worsened social inequality, increasing gun violence and criminality in the suburbs raises questions about the Swedish state's ability to maintain law and order while also creating equal opportunities for all citizens.
This context also explains the results of the Sept. 2022 general elections, when far-right Sweden Democrats rose to second place, in part by promoting a much stricter immigration policy.
This marked a turning point for Swedish politics, with the party de facto becoming the king-maker. Moderate right-wing parties, which had previously refused to cooperate with the Sweden Democrats, had to rethink their strategies. While the Sweden Democrats didn’t formally join the government and still don’t hold a ministry, a look at the parliamentary coalition agreement suggests that they do wield real influence over the country's political agenda.
In that sense, Swedish exceptionalism has come to an end, on all levels. Sweden now must reinvent its national identity, to tackle the challenges at home and to define its new international role.
Two countries provide a glimpse of Sweden’s possible future. On domestic policies, the country may end up resembling its neighbor, Denmark, which has a much tougher stance on immigration. On foreign policy, Sweden is being forced to abandon its neutrality and become more proactive in terms of its defense policy — mirroring Germany's recent transition.
In other words, Sweden will have to take the same path as its European neighbors and invent a new raison d’être in the 21st century, by moving from soft to smart power. If it can manage, the Swedish dream can survive, even with a slightly stronger dose of realism.
— Amélie Reichmuth
• China urges peace in Ukraine: China said on Monday it attempted dialogue and peace for Ukraine despite U.S. warnings that it might be considering weapons supplies for its ally Russia's invasion. On Friday, the first anniversary of the war, China published a 12-point plan calling for a ceasefire and gradual de-escalation by both sides.
• Death tolls rises to 74 migrants dead in Italy shipwreck: The death toll in the migrant shipwreck near the southern Italian coast has risen to 74. So far 80 people have been rescued and the search for missing people continues. Based on reports from survivors, authorities believe 180 to 200 people in total had been on board the ship.
• Early results Nigeria elections: Nigeria has announced early results from the country’s national elections on Sunday, though a victor to succeed current President Muhammadu Buhari is not expected for several days. The first results, from Ekiki state, showed a majority of votes for president cast in favor of Bola Tinubu of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC).
• Israel and Palestinians pledge to reduce violence: The Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority have announced a joint commitment to take immediate steps to end a rise in violence. This comes from talks in Jordan, also attended by U.S. and Egyptian officials.
• Northern Ireland Protocol final talks: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, are due to hold "final talks" on a new post-Brexit deal for Northern Ireland on Monday. Northern Ireland has continued to follow some EU laws so that goods can flow freely over the border to the Republic of Ireland without checks and the UK wants to change the current agreement.
• Mexico protests over electoral reform: Huge rallies have been held in multiple Mexican cities against what protesters say are government attempts to undermine electoral authorities. Lawmakers last week voted to slash the budget of the National Electoral Institute (INE) and cut its staffing. Opponents describe the recent vote as an attack on democracy itself, pressing the Supreme Court to overturn them as unconstitutional.
• Everything Everywhere All at Once leads SAG Awards: The 29th Screen Actors Guild Awards took place at the Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles on Sunday, honoring some of the year’s best television and film performances that were voted on by the actors themselves. Last year’s hit film Everything Everywhere All at Once saw the film’s stars Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Lee Curtis and Ke Huy Quan win acting awards in their respective categories.
Italian daily La Stampa titled “The massacre of the Innocents” their front-page piece on the shipwreck of a boat carrying more than 180 migrants that sank 200 meters off the Ionian coast of Calabria. At least 74 people were confirmed dead so far, mostly from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, but also Iran, Somalia and Palestine.
Swedish-American athlete Armand Duplantis broke his own pole vault world record for the sixth time by clearing 6.22 meters (20 ft. 5 in.) at the All Star Perche 2023 event in Clermont-Ferrand in France this weekend. The 23-year-old Olympic and world champion added a centimeter to his own world record previously set last year in Oregon in the U.S.
Hating Russians, trusting ourselves: The hard questions for post-war Ukraine
A year after Russia's invasion of her homeland, Ukrainian writer Anna Akage looks back at recent history, but, above all, forward to a future where her nation must not only win the war, but not lose the victory.
🇺🇦 Of course, we need to talk about yesterday. To analyze and draw conclusions, to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. But today, I want to look at tomorrow. Tomorrow will be hard. Yes the war is as existential as it is brutal — but those first years or even decades after will also be critical for the existence of Ukraine. The fate of the world depends on our victory, which also includes how we Ukrainians overcome these post-war trials we will have to face.
🇷🇺 First, we will have to come to terms with the Russians. Not with Putin, or with Prigozhin, or even with Navalny, but with the people. For all the hatred I feel towards Russia now, I realize that we will have to find a way to forgive and let live, for the sake of peace and security. No one will talk about this in Ukraine today, but we will have to make concessions to Russia, too — not territorially, but morally. We will have to forgive them.
🗳️ Another process is already looming on the horizon: the struggle for power and resources. President Volodymyr Zelensky will likely not run for a second term. When presidential elections are held after the war is over, a fierce struggle will begin for his seat. Whichever wins will face one of the toughest tests for a leader: how not to lose a victory.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
“We paid a lot of attention to our Chinese friends’ plan.”
— Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says that Moscow has been keeping an eye on China's proposal for a political solution in Ukraine, although adding that "for now, we don't see any of the conditions that are needed to bring this whole story towards peace."
📸 PHOTO DU JOUR
During the Besiktas v. Antalyaspor game at Istanbul’s Vodafone Park Stadium, Besiktas fans threw stuffed toys onto the field, answering a campaign by the soccer club asking fans to bring stuffed toys to be donated to children in regions hit by the Feb. 6 earthquake. Sunday’s match was paused 4 minutes 17 seconds after the kickoff in memory of the initial earthquake, which struck at 4.17 a.m. local time. — Photo: Tolga Adanali/ZUMA
✍️ Newsletter by Emma Albright, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Ginevra Falciani and Bertrand Hauger
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