Sweden’s National Commemoration Day last week



Last week we celebrated Sweden’s National Commemoration Day, June 6th. The pictures above were taken during two different celebrations that day in different parts of town. Before noon I was celebrating the day with pomp and circumststance at the Major Square and a couple of hours later in Beijer’s Park at the Hill Carnival/Backakarnevalen in my part of town, Kirseberg/Cherry Hill.

So what did we celebrate? Why June 6th? The choice of date has been under debate for years and also the events chosen, but still I believe that it’s a nice tradition that might strengthen the national identity and national pride. Having said that everyone who knows me also knows that in my personal case I see no problem with feeling pride for my country and a national identity and combine that with an acceptance for the multicultural nation that Sweden is today.

On June 6th 1523 Gustav I Wasa was crowned king of Sweden at Strängnäs Cathedral. He was the first king of what would become “the modern” Sweden. We had had kings for centuries already in various forms, but in the beginning they were more like local chieftains and rivals of the power over rather small kingdoms, a county or two.

In the beginning of the 13th century Sweden began becoming a more destinct entity, even if we had different sets of laws in different parts of the country, though with a national king, barons, dukes, sheriffs, overseers, merchants, peasants and a feudal society like most other European countries. In 1397 Queen Margareta became regent of what has been called the Kalmar Union, a united realm consisting of Denmark, Sweden and Norway. By her death in 1412 that union was abandoned and a period of national and private interests followed. Mountain inhabitants in Dalarna, local lords and merchants in Stockholm all wanted a free Sweden without foreign merchants and overlords. The people in Uppland north of Stockholm and the Scanians though supported the union idea. The struggle went on. In 1457 the Danish king Christian was crowned Swedish and Scandinavian king, but in 1464 Karl Knutsson Bonde who got help from the men in Dalarna chased the Danish king away and took the power. In 1470 Sten Sture became Head of Realm/Riksföreståndare and remained in that position for 27 years. Over more than the next decade many of the Swedish aristocrats led by Sten Sture and his dynasty and local merchants fought about the power with the unionists with mostly a Danish power structure. On October 10th 1471 Sten and Nils Sture had fought the Danish troups outside Stockholm at the battle of Brunkeberg.

In 1520 the Danish king Christian II defeated Sten Sture Junior on the ices of Lake Åsunden in Västergötland and then he was crowned king of Sweden. At the coronation banquet at Stockholm Castle on November 7th 1520, after three days of feasting,  he had all the Swedish guests, barons, bishops, aristocratic ladies arrested and taken to the Major Square where they were decapitated. Some rival bishops had accused the others of herecy. Archbishop Gustav Trolle led the swift court before the executions ordered by king Christian’s advisor Didrik Slagheck. One of the executed noblemen was Gustav Wasa’s father, Erik Johansson. The young nobleman Gustav Eriksson Wasa had together with five others been hostages on Jutland, Denmark, but he had managed to escape back to Sweden. After the Stockholm Bloodbath on November 7th and 8th 1520 Gustav went to Dalarna where he tried to get support for his cause against king Christian. He hid among farmers, but didn’t behave like an ordinary peasant help. Gustav Eriksson was naturally chased by the king’s men. When the local people understood what had happened in Stockholm and that they would suffer even harder rules they chose to support Gustav Eriksson. Two men on skis went after him from Mora to Sälen and told him so, when they found him. Gustav Eriksson came back to Mora in the middle of January 1521 and the new war began. On June 6th 1523 he was crowned king of Sweden. Gustav I Wasa became an equally hard king and used his power harshly. These were the days of the strife between Roman Catholics and the new Protestant Lutheran and Calvinist movement in Europe. The Swedish king became head of the new Lutheran Swedish State Church. Catholics, monks, nuns were banished and persecuted. Gustav I of Sweden had a rule very similar to that of Henry VIII of England, both in events, years and behaviour. Among other similar events was king Gustav’s trial in 1540 against the priests and scholars Master Olof and Lars Magnusson who refused to see the king as sovereign lord of the Swedish church. Compare this with Henry VIII’s trial against Sir Thomas Moore in 1535. Gustav I died in 1560. That we commemorate June 6th 1523 has been debated for years. One reason for protest is that Gustav I Wasa never was king over the provinces Skåne/Scania, Halland, Blekinge, Bohuslän in western Sweden, the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea, Jämtland and Härjedalen. They became part of Sweden first in 1645-1660.

Another reason for commemorating June 6th is the fact that Duke Karl, who then would become king Karl XIII signed the draft for a new government form on June 6th 1809. That law was passed first on June 29th that year, even though the signing took place on June 6th. The government form of 1809 had to be accepted by the four states: aristocracy, priests, bourgoisie and farmers in the Swedish Parliament. That government form was then valid until 1973. On June 6th 1973 the first decision was made in Parliament about the new government form of 1974.

Sweden’s National Commemoration Day, also called “The Swedish Flag Day” became just that in 1916. The choice of June 6th was proposed by the Minister of Justice Carl Axel Petri already in 1893, but it would take some years before it really was decided. In 1984 “The Swedish Flag Day” became an official red day in the almanac but as late as 2004 a day more distinctly celebrated to show the national identity. Nowadays also immigrants who have been accepted as new Swedish citizens become officially welcomed in different cermonies on June 6th.

So how was the day celebrated on the Major Square in Malmoe? Well, the Police Music Corpse Scania led by Kjell Olsson played, dances were performed by The Folk Dance’s Friends and SGV Folk Dance Team, a poem about Sweden was read by the winner in a school competition, the Swedish blue banner with the yellow cross was flied to the top by the Öresund Marines while the orchestra played “The Army’s Parade March”. The County Governor of Scania held her speech, the national anthem was sung as well as some other songs that wake up warm feelings of identity and summer. The choir came from the Berga School Music Profile Class.

Celebrating the national commemoration day is a nice thing and I like it, but I want to use it for a balanced national pride instead of the exaggerated notions used by xenofobics and racists..

Anders Moberg, June the 15th 2013

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