Highlighting the development of Swedish democracy


The Swedish democracy has developed over a long time and is a mix of many influences, both national and international. In today’s text I intend to give you a description of how that democracy has been molded in various ways and taken to the skies like the baloons above photographed during Sweden’s national commemoration day, June 6th 2012.

In 1477 Sweden got its first university in Uppsala, and during The Days of Superpower, Stormaktstiden, 1611 – 1718, Sweden had five universities: Uppsala north of Stockholm, Dorpat/Tartu in Estonia (1632 – 1710), Åbo/Turkku in Finland (1640 – 1808), Lund University in Scania, southern Sweden from 1668, and Greifwald in Germany until 1815. That was when Sweden had lost Finland in 1809 during a war with Russia. Finland had been part of the Swedish realm for 600 years, (ca 1250 – 1809). After 1815 our nation Sweden only had two universities, Uppsala and Lund. Education has always been an important part of the development of the modern societies, even though the corriculum varies from nation to nation and changes according to the prevailing values of a specific era. In 1842 the Liberals had provoked a new law about Public People’s School/Allmän Folkskola, with at least one school in every municipality or town with an acknowledged teacher. It would take time to implement that law, and during the first five years not much happened. In 1882 school duty was introduced and in 1905 girls were allowed for the first time in the Public People’s School and during the 1920’s young women also in the Upper Secondary Schools. This development was not straight forward or without conflicts. In 1962 a nine- year Primary and Lower Secondary School was introduced and fully implemented ten years later. The first woman to be allowed to participate in higher education though was Betty Pettersson from Visby (1838 – 1885), daughter of a saddle maker. She early on showed talents for studies, a bit like Malala Yousefzai in Pakistan now, and Betty was allowed to study among the children of noble birth. Before a law allowed women to study at Universities she asked the king who granted her that wish, and Betty Pettersson began studying at Uppsala University in the autumn of 1872 at the age of 34. As a woman Betty was often sneered at and ridiculed. A song among the male students was made about her which ended: “And therefore I send in petition that not Miss Betty will be allowed at student association”. All the same Betty succeeded with her studies and between 1877 and 1884 she was teaching other students. She died in 1885. The first female student in Lund was Hedda Andersson, (1861 – 1950).  She was better treated than Betty. Hedda began her medical studies in 1880 and was the only woman at Lund University for two years. The theological institute did not accept women though and sneered at her. As a female student Hedda Andersson had to deal with many patronizing attitudes and rules, but she was appreciated by many male students, courted and allowed to participate in the social life. In 1892 Hedda Andersson became the first female medical doctor in Sweden and lead a rather good life until her death in 1950.

The values in society developed over time. The Freedom Era/Frihetstiden had been a period of enlightenment during the 1700’s and in those days official publications and legal documents became public. The local citizen tradition would also be the embryo of democracy with church congregations, and local courts.  In the middle of the 19th century the ban against religious gatherings in the homes was withdrawn, but the Swedish State Church intensely disliked and harshly opposed and hit down hard on the development of different new religious congregations, the so called free churches, the Laestadians, the Baptists etc, but to no use. The competiton was seen as a threat.

Liberalism and socialism also developed during these days, but still not many people were allowed to take part in the formation of the Swedish society. By 1892 44 municipalities had only one citizen that was allowed to vote and in 1908 the Swedish Parliament/Riksdagen only represented 10 % of the population. The year after a new law decided that income and wealth shouldn’t be the criteria for the right to vote. In 1919 Sweden’s Liberal-Socialist government passed a law about general elections for all Swedish both male and female citizens from the age of 21. The first general elections were held in 1921. That year also the death penalty was abandoned.

Another important figure during the 1800’s was Lars Johan Hierta, “father of the Swedish free press”, (1801 – 1872). He was a liberal politician of noble birth, publisher, newspaper owner and entrepreneur. In 1830 Lars Johan Hierta founded the newspaper Aftonbladet, which still exists. His newspaper quickly grew popular and he wanted with his writings to make the citizens more aware and participating in the society development. Hierta wrote about corruption and power abuse and demanded that trials and cases should be treated correctly. This made him immensely impopular among nobles, with the king Carl XIV Johan/Charles XIV John and intense quarrels occured between 1835 and 1840. The Government decided to punish Hierta and withdrew his publication rights for Aftonbladet 14 times 1835 – 1838. Lars Johan Hierta in response published “The New Evening Post”/Det Nya Aftonbladet, The 3d Evening Post, the 4th Evening Post etc. After the decease of king Charles XIV John Hierta became more accepted among royalists. In 1853 he sold the newspaper to new owners, but he continued his political strife for milder laws of punishment, for exceeded rights for women, reduction in state financies for the war industry etc.

Here in Malmoe another influential figure was the tailor August Palm, (1849 – 1922). He was a socialist agitator who started his agitation at the age of 20 after journeys in and influences from Germany and Denmark. In 1869 August Palm was hindered in Gothenburg from travelling to England and had to return to Malmoe. On November 6th 1881 Palm held his first public speech at Stockholm Hotel here in Malmoe, but was harshly opposed by the authorities. In 1886 and 1889 he was in jail for his agitation, but in 1889 the Swedish Social Democratic Party was founded. By the 1920’s Sweden had approximately the same parties in Parliament as today, but with slightly different names.

In 1951 Sweden got a law for freedom of belief, which means that you might be Christian, Atheist, Agnostic, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh etc, even though the more exotic religions from a Swedish perspective didn’t exist here very much – yet.

In 1974 Regeringsreformen 1:1, The Government reform 1:1 said: “All public power in Sweden comes from its people. The Swedish democracy is built on free building of views and opinions, on general elections and equal right to vote. It’s realised through a representative and parliamentary state and through municipal autogovernment.”

The last king of Sweden to be crowned was Oscar II who died in 1907. Our present king, Carl XVI Gustav, of the Royal family Bernadotte which has been the ruling dynasty since 1818 became king after his grandfather in 1973. He married Silvia Renathe Sommerlath from Germany in July 1976 and in 1977 their oldest child Victoria was born. At first she was “just” a princess, and when her younger brother Carl Philip was born he was pronounced crown prince. But in 1980 the laws were changed to allow women to become queens, and Victoria became our crown princess. She still is, even though there is a power struggle between republicans and royalists about Sweden’s future in that matter. Another important law for many Swedish women has been the so called “Sex-Buying Act”/Sexköpslagen from 1999 which makes the purchase of sexual favours illegal, even though the prostitution hasn’t disappeared, only changed its face. The Sex-Buying Act from 1999 has made it more difficult for pimps and sex-buyers, but in countries like Denmark and Germany e.g. they have gone another way, and made prostitution legal and introduced laws to make prostitutes a legal profession. All the same countries like Norway, Iceland and Great Britain have been more or less influenced by Sweden in this matter. The democracy continues to develop. Later this week I will write more about Sweden’s present political landscape. Until then…Take good care.

Anders Moberg, February the 12th 2013.

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