The Elm Valley Week/Almedalsveckan


Since this last Sunday, June 30th until this coming Sunday July 7th the so called Almedalsveckan/The Elm Valley Week is going on in Visby on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea, east of the Swedish mainland. For various reasons I can’t be there right now, but I follow it with interest through the media, since many important society issues are discussed in Almedalen and brought into the open in a democratic way. It’s a week full of political speeches from all the political leaders on a national basis, seminars held by various organisations of all political colours and also non-political, by companies and authorities. Every party in the Swedish Parliament/Riksdagen has its own day to come with their ideas and suggestions. This last Sunday the first speech was held by Göran Hägglund, party leader of Kristdemokraterna/The Christian Democrats, Monday July 1st it was Jimmie Åkesson from Sverigedemokraterna/The Sweden Democrats, two days ago Gustav Fridolin, one of the two spokes-individuals from Miljöpartiet det Gröna/The Environment Party the Green. It’s him you see above, and yesterday it was Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt from the Conservative Party/Moderaterna. Today it’s Jonas Sjöstedt from Vänsterpartiet/The Left Party (the former Communist Party), tomorrow Jan Björklund from Folkpartiet Liberalerna/The People’s Party the Liberals, on Saturday Annie Lööf from Centern/the Centre Party and on Sunday its’ Stefan Löfvén from The Social Democrats/Socialdemokraterna.

How did it all begin? On July 25th 1968 Olof Palme, Social Democrat and then Education Minister in the Social Democratic government, also candidate to become party leader held a speech together with Krister Wickman, also candidate for the party leadership. It was held on the back of a truck just outside Almedalen. After having become leader of the Swedish Social Democrats Olof Palme continued to have speeches in Almedalen. Between 1969 and 1974 he was the only one, but in 1974 he was succeeded by Thage G Petersson, Social Democrat, and the leader of the Left Party The Communists (VPK), Lars Werner. In 1977 the speakers were Olof Palme, Lars Werner (VPK) and Olof Johansson from the Centre Party. Two years later Karin Söder from the Centre also held a speech. In February 1986 Olof Palme was assassinated in Stockholm, and the following summer only the Environment Party the Green and VPK participated in Almedalen. After Olof Palme was assassinated many connected the speeches in Almedalen to him as a person. His successor on the post as party leader and Prime Minister, Ingvar Carlsson, chose to have his own speeches elsewhere the first following years out of respect for Palme’s memory. Carlsson returned to Almedalen in the beginning of the 1990’s. Sweden then also had a Liberal-Conservative Government, led by Carl Bildt, who’s our present Foreign Minister/Secretary of State. The first seminar in Almedalen was one about economics and it was arranged by the Social Democrats in 1982. In 1994 the first interest organisations came to Almedalen and began having seminars. The participants in 1994 were Industriförbundet/The Industry Association and Företagarna/The Company Owners.

Since the beginning of the 21st century the Elm Valley Week/Almedalsveckan on Gotland has quite exploded and grown into huge proportions. Last year in 2012 there were 1476 seminars, 1814 events, (an increase with 23% since 2011), 986 arranging participants, 17 000 visitors and everything surveyed by 709 journalists. This year it has grown even more. The political scientist Maria Wendt accuses Almedalsveckan for adapting everything for the media. All messages must be short and neat, while there’s a lack of analytical depth. The fact that journalists and politicians, (and others) fraternize in Almedalen during this week in a way that otherwise is uncommon has sometimes been called a liminal phase, (i.e. that what’s normally unacceptable and tabou, suddenly for a short period is percieved as okay). The international interest for Almedalsveckan has been great. Both Denmark and Norway have arranged their versions of it. In Denmark the so called “Folkemödet”/The People’s Gathering was arranged for the first time in 2011, and in Norway there’s been a similar copy in Eidsvoll, while also Norwegian Telemark has showed interest for arranging it. In 2007 a delegation from The Republic of Korea/South Korea came to Almedalsveckan to study Swedish Democracy. According to Yonhyok Sue at Södertörn University the island of Yeyu in South Korea now probably will arrange their equivalent of it. Also Finland and the Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have shown interest, just like the city of Austin, Texas, USA.

So what has happened so far? I will give you a little summary of two of the speeches by Gustav Fridolin, (Miljöpartiet det Gröna/The Environment Party the Green), and Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, (Nya Moderaterna/The New Conservative Party), but also a couple of discussions concerning gender equality and religion respectively.

Gustav Fridolin held his one-hour speech two nights ago. He was talking a lot about values and spoke in a relaxed way, and it seemed that most people in the audience had a sympathetic attitude to his message according the reactions. Fridolin is in his everyday life both a journalist and school teacher, but began his political career already at the age of twelve. At the age of 19 he became the youngest Member of Parliament in modern Swedish history. You might read more in my text “Four male politicians in Sweden” from February. Two days prior to that I wrote about four female ones. Gustav Fridolin spoke also a little in metaphors and compared the government with the guys in the TV-series “Big Bang Theory”. He accused the government for being too cold-hearted and cynical in their policies and trying to solve the heightened rate of unemployment with work-tax-abatements. Four in a row so far. The Goverment solution so far is yet a fifth work-tax-abatement. The Environment Party is going to present a suggested budget this coming Autumn and finance a lot of their suggestions with avoiding a fifth work-tax-abatement, an annual cost of 15 billion kronor. He wanted a new working agenda. He wanted the political arena to be a beautiful place, not a penal colony. Gustav Fridolin talked about reducing the amount of green-house gases, more focus on environment issues, recycling, an improved school, better learning and green jobs.

Fridolin explained that he was driven by his values. The climate threat and the scientific results about it gave support for his dedication, he said. The empirical studies supported his conviction, and all the refugees in the world gave support for his anti-racism. The political economy also gave support for his anti-racism. When he discussed that Fridolin began talking about the Eritrean-Swedish journalist Daawit Isak who has been jailed in Eritrea for several years without a court sentence. Then Fridolin asked the audience to repeat his words: “Free Daawit!”. Since Fridolin is a journalist too, as well as teacher apart from his political work, it was evident that he felt strongly for the dangerous situation many journalists around the world actually live in. He also wanted more focus on gender equality and better care for the elderly people. Fridolin explained that many, mainly women, unvoluntarily have to work part time. The inequality between the sexes in many aspects is a big problem. Because of their focus on gender equality The Environment Party the Green has ever since the beginning in the mid-1980’s chosen to always have two party spokes-individuals, one woman and one man, instead of a party leader. Alongside Gustav Fridolin it’s now Åsa Romson.  In Fridolin’s speech it otherwise became evident that the main “enemy” within politics was The Sweden Democrats, which’s a Social-Conservative, (read National Socialist) party which hates all kinds of gender work, all kinds of feminists, all kinds of immigrants, especially Muslims and Jews, and who want “an ethnic pure” Sweden. The SD has a history firmly connected to the White Power and Neo-Nazi movement. Both The Sweden Democrats and The Environment Party the Green compete about becoming Sweden’s third largest party. Jimmie Åkesson from SD had spoken the day before Fridolin. Gustav Fridolin also told us that Elisabeth Lewin, who’s representative for the Environment Party in the EU Parliament in Brussels, Belgium has succeeded in turning the entire union’s fishing policies. According to Fridolin the present government has taken the climate issues within the EU several years back. He also spoke of Snowden, the FRA Act, surveillance and spying through the internet and told us that this was unacceptable. He spoke for an hour and recieved huge amounts of applause.


The Prime Minister then? He held his speech yesterday evening. Just before his speech he was disturbed by some people from The Swedes’ Party who chanted angry slogans, but they were quickly silenced by the secret police. Fredrik Reinfeldt, Conservative, explained that since he and his Government were elected in 2006 they have constructed 200 000 new jobs. “However, we’re influenced by what’s happening in the world around us and the economic situation in the rest of the world”, he explained. Fredrik Reinfeldt talked about the situation for young people between 15 and 24 on the labour market. About 40% of those who’re 19-25 years old are unemployed. They want working experience, but many company owners won’t open up and help them by letting them try. The young are a priority, but the Prime Minister explained for the audience that not all jobs lead to actual employment. Complete silence in the audience. Then he said that 110 000 study full time and don’t call themselves unemployed and also 15-years olds in lower secondary school who have applied for summer jobs, but have been refused are mentioned in the statistics. 50% then apply for theoretic programs on upper-secondary school and 30% to profession-adapted programs, often very practical professions: hair-dresser, carpenter, cook, electrician, IT-technician etc. Then he explained why Germany has succeeded better than Sweden with getting the young into jobs sooner. They have a system where the youngsters apart from going to school are let out on work practice on companies and get training connected to that particular place, instead of all training in school. Of course there are work practice in Sweden too on companies, but it’s not as fully developed as in e.g. Germany. Then Reinfeldt said: “We believe in the Swedish modell”, which means work and education similtaneously. Fredrik Reinfeldt said that his Alliance in the Government are better at planning ahead than the left wing parties. He also talked about agreements for different lines of business where often young people end up: school assistance, health care, trade, industry etc. Several agreements with different businesses are now on their way. Reinfeldt took as an example McDonald’s which give young people responsibility. By new year 2013-2014 the Government will introduce a lowered unemployment benefit. He also said that he expected a rise of 25% more young into work this coming year.

Fredrik Reinfeldt was very clear in his message about The Sweden Democrats which came into the Parliament in 2010. Reinfeldt said that we now have eight parties in Parliament, but the eighth is to be blocked. “They have introduced hatred in Swedish politics”, and he then exclaimed: “You will not get any influence!”. Prime Minister Reinfeldt also critisized the present party leader of the Social Democrats, Stefan Löfvén for being too silent in these matters, but honoured Mona Sahlin, who used to be in Parliament for the Social Democrats for her clearness as an anti-racist. The Prime Minister spoke for about 40 minutes and was thanked with flowers.

I have also listened to some debates. One two days ago was about how to get boys start reading more, and e.g. the biography over the football player Zlatan Ibrahimovic in Malmoe was given as example. Karin Taube, former professor at Umeå University talked about different methods of making boys more interested in reading. Yesterday evening gender equality was discussed. The two debating parties were Gudrun Schymann from Feministiskt Initiativ (FI) and Birgitta Ohlsson, from Folkpartiet Liberalerna (The People’s Party the Liberals). Gudrun Schymann used to be party leader for the Left Party the Communists some years ago, before she started FI. Birgitta Ohlsson is another influential feminist, but with different political values. It became evident that they both co-operate sometimes, despite their different political convictions, and there was no bad-will between them. But they did disagree on certain matters. Gudrun Schymann said that they wanted more focus on the collective structures, but admitted that the present government have done good things for gender equality, but not enough, since the feminist voices aren’t notified enough. New laws have been passed, and yes, the women’s shelters have become better, but the violated and beaten women need much more support. The Government has also introduced a gender equality bonus for dividing the parentship between men and women. Gudrun Schymann said that the gender gap concerning wages has increased and that the health care for elders has become more cynical, and reliable mainly on women who are more or less expected to stay home, and thereby get less wages. There are different kinds of feminism and from a Swedish point of view the Socialist feminism and the Liberal feminism have existed and walked side-by-side for about 150-200 years. Birgitta Ohlsson is a Liberal Feminist. It was interesting listening to them both, and also later to another  discsussion about the various forms of religiousness and the different forms of believing in Christianity. Those interviewed had very different forms of believing and it was a distinct gap between conservative and liberal believers, even though all were Christians in one way or the other.

The Elm Valley Week will go on for a few more days, and it has also been interesting to see the different reactions on Twitter. The views are diverse, but that’s how it should be in a democracy. We don’t have to think and believe in the same way. The danger though is hatred, spite, neglect and different forms of extremism. Let’s see what will come out of this.

Anders Moberg, July 4th 2013






2 thoughts on “The Elm Valley Week/Almedalsveckan

  1. I think everything published was very reasonable.
    But, think about this, what if you added a little content?
    I am not suggesting your information is not solid, but what if you added a title that grabbed folk’s attention? I mean The Elm Valley Week/Almedalsveckan | swedish heart and soul is kinda plain. You could peek at Yahoo’s front page and note how they create news titles to grab people to
    click. You might try adding a video or a related picture or
    two to get people excited about what you’ve written. Just my opinion, it might bring your posts a little livelier.

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