Odds and Ends
2 3, 12:18am
I've spent a lot of time here the last couple of days trying to present the truth of the situation in Sweden as compared to the dystopian version the far-right is spreading.
One thing that becomes apparent rather quickly is that many foreign commenters here have very little understanding of how culturally different Scandinavia in general and Sweden in particular is to the rest of Europe and the world.
So I thought I might give a little introduction to Sweden's cultural difference, that's a product of it's history.
Sweden has always been sparsely populated compared to the rest of Europe and most of the rest of the world. Cold and heavily wooded it's been a hard land to settle. Crops don't yield as much as further south, the soil in most of the country isn't that rich and the season for growing is much shorter.
So every single person has always been worth almost their weight in gold as every single pair of hands have been needed to feed the population - and in good years produce a small surplus.
Before there even was a state known as Sweden the country was settled by small groups of people that made their living near the coastline, in small inlets of the Baltic. The woods where deep and difficult to travel trough, but by boat the Vikings (named so after the Swedish word for "inlet" - the places they were inhabiting) could connect between their separate groups and the outside world.
To be able to defend themselves against foreign threats, and to pool their resources to join in long trips to foreign shores, these small groups had to be able to trust each other with their lives to be able to survive.
As such the word of a person became almost a sacred bond - betray your word and you where worth nothing to the community.
Also, for these separate groups to be able to cooperate they had to accept each others differences. There had to be common rules of course but no one single group could push their own way of seeing things on any other, because then cooperation would brake down and everybody would loose out. All groups had to be justly rewarded for their efforts and they had to be afforded equal status and respect.
The Vikings elected their king and the title wasn't inherited. Only a man respected by all as fair and able could hope to gain the position and only for a certain amount of time. The king also had very limited powers.
Women in the Viking society had a much stronger position then in the rest of Europe. With the men away for months or years across the seas, they had to run the every day society and they chose themselves who they wanted to marry - or if indeed they wanted to marry at all.
The Vikings didn't really have slaves even if there was indentured servitude. But the need for every single member of their society to work together towards the common goal of survival in the harsh land they inhabited meant that mistreating anyone was simply not a winning strategy. A mistreated servant could just dare a flight trough the woods to the next settlement where he was likely to be greeted with open arms as long as he could contribute to that groups survival.
Conflict between these group was settled in councils where the larger community of groups came together to all discuss the matter. As every single person was valuable to the larger community the death penalty was not used.
Killing a person had been self defeating.
Instead fines where meted out as it would have been even more selfdefeating to keep people prisoners, ensuring that other would work even harder to feed the one that wasn't working.
If one person of a group insulted, assaulted or even killed a member of another group the group he came from was responsible for repaying the victims group. The worse the offence the higher the fine. Insulting a member of another group threatened the cohesion of the entire society as it lowered it's ability to trust each other and was viewed as a very serious crime that resulted in very steep fines meted out in produce - the most valuable thing in the sparse land.
The decisions of the council was enforced by unanimity. All the other groups was part of the decision and if the responsible group didn't accept the ruling they where shunned by the others - effectively a collective death penalty of that whole group as they would never have been able to survive alone.
So, already before the was a nation of Sweden the people inhabiting this land had learned to:
Trust each other
Accept each others differences
Cooperate for the greater good of all of society
The value of every single member of society
but also that
Those that breaks this trust and goes against the common good for his own personal gain is dead to the community and that will soon mean actual, physical death in reality.
In the 1500's Sweden was eventually formed as the national state we know today. Not with the same borders, but the basic structure.
By this time the Vikings where no more and people had moved further inland and settled more of the country, but the same practical reality was basically the same and the same spirit lived on.
The death penalty was used now - but sparingly compared to the rest of Europe.
Every single person was still valuable to society.
Most of the population of course lived of the land and compared to the rest of Europe many more of them owned their own land and paid their taxes directly to the state. They didn't have a local nobleman that ruled them but where free men and unlike the rest of Europe these free men also had their own representation in the parliament - such as it was.
There wasn't a permanent parliament in those days but conventions where called where representatives of the different groups in society was called to discuss the matter of the state and free owning farmers had their own such group - unlike the rest of Europe.
There free owning farmers where almost unheard of - peasants instead farming the lands owned by either their local nobleman, the chuch or the crown.
To the south and west of Sweden this system was known as feudalism, to the east in Russian the peasant where serfs - little more then slaves.
The first king of this "modern" state of Sweden was Gustav Vasa and he quickly tried to assert his power as king across the land.
Instead he was faced with a number of large peasant rebellions that threatened his very hold on power and he had to back down.
After that no subsequent king of Sweden ever tried to strong arm the free owning peasant class, but instead saw them as an ally against the power blocks of the nobility and the church. The king could always trust that as long as he didn't demand too much from the peasant class they would pay their dues to him and get on with their lives without grumbling.
When noblemen tried to claim the right to freely forage for themselves and their troops of of farmers they passed by the kings sided with the peasantry and so on. A balance of power was upheld that meant that the king - although he no longer was chosen by his people - still couldn't rule without at least the acceptance of the people.
Much time has passed since then but those basic principals have guided Sweden throughout the centuries.
Those in power have learned that if they press the common man to much he will fight back and their own position will soon be threatened.
And this doesn't just apply to kings but noblemen, the church and later on all kinds of bosses as well.
When there is a constant shortage of workers even the common worker that owns nothing but his labour holds more power.
If your boss don't treat you fairly you can find another one who's glad to take you on as long as you're willing to do the job.
The ability to trust in a persons word and treat people fairly has been central to the whole history of Sweden.
As has the acceptance of individual differences and the fact that even the most powerful doesn't get to set their own rules.
A person is judged on what he says and then on what he does.
A person not living up to his words or seen as not acting in good faith is shunned by the community.
Not killed, attack or chased out of town, no. Every door just closes for him as people realise this person is not to be trusted and therefore has no value.
There is no need for conflict as conflict doesn't change anything. We just stop interacting with the person at all - he's dead to us.
Now, knowing this, foreigners in general and Americans in particular may understand better why Swedish people are less positive about Trump then any other nation in the world - even if most nations has a negative view of him.
Millennia of Swedish history has though us that a man like Trump is poison and should be shunned like the plague.
We don't make a big fuss about it though - we just see what kind of man he is and draw our conclusions from that.
In difference to him you have the questions of refugees, where a majority of Swedes have this view:
Our cultural instinct is to view newcomers as an unknown quantity. We don't assume they're bad, but we don't assume they're good either.
We wait and see and let them speak for and then act for themselves.
The ones that speak and act in good faith and with respect to others we respect in kind. Those that don't we conclude are not worth our trust.
That is, the cultural Swedish response to foreigners is always based on the individual - not the group.
We know that you can't reliably judge people based on which group they belong to, but you must let them prove themselves individually.
And for them to do that you must give them the chance to do that.
If they fail they fail and if they pass they pass, but until they do either of those things most Swedes will not make a judgement on another human being.
I'm not trying to say Swedes are saints or anything here - we of course have prejudices too, like all people.
But our cultural tradition is to actively try to look beyond those prejudices and give the individual as fair a chance as possible.
If we hadn't learned to do so trough the millennias of Sweden's history we wouldn't have been able to grow to the nation we are today.
It's been vital for Sweden to not let prejudices get the better of us and close ourselves of to foreign influences and immigration, so we've learned it's in our own best interest to not judge people without giving them a fair chance.
Which brings us to the most un-Swedish thing in Sweden - the far-right neo-fascist.
Who while they constantly claim to talk for every other Swede in fact couldn't be more un-Swedish if they tried.
Because they of course do nothing but judge people based on their own prejudices - their whole world view is based on it.
And they attack every single Swede who doesn't share their view and try to claim that they are in fact somehow the un-Swedish ones, who want to see their country destroyed by immigration and such nonsense.
When in fact most Swedes simply think and act in a millennia old Swedish cultural tradition and find the far-right neo-fascists a much bigger problem as a group then they find immigrants.
Becuase sure - of course there are immigrant who are bad and no one likes that. But ALL immigrants are clearly not. Unlike the far-right neo-fascist, who ALL do nothing but smear their own country and anyone who don't agree with their views.
So that's a short introduction to Swedish culture and the historical reasons as to why we differ from most of the rest of the world.
Maybe that will help non-Swedes understand us better.