Samstag, 17. Oktober 2009

Why Sweden is a dirty and corrupt country where it either rains or snows

You didn't know that Sweden was a dirty and corrupt country where it either rains or snows? Then you must have been living under a stone for the past 15 years - or have no interest whatsoever in modern popular culture - either of the two, or else you would know what I am talking about.

Now I am writing this with all due hopes that the Swedish tourism board might hear about it and take action, although I may fear this comes a little late.
Because what happened (at least in my case, and I am a reasonably cultured person, with quite a knowledge of Politcs, History and the like) is that this is the image of Sweden which during these last years has crept into my mind. Let me explain: Currently I am reading the second volume of the "Millenium"-Trilogy by Stieg Larsson and there was a sentence that went the likes of: "The trafficing of women is something that is not at all investigated in Sweden, because no-one cares." And I thought, yeah, so what - we all know that! But then it hit me: Is that the Sweden that during my childhood was the home of Pippi Longstockings and ABBA? The land of social democracy come true? The land of Olof Palme, of the Swedish Welfare State - not to forget land of Queen Silvia, German queen of the hearts, before Diana took over? Except for Queen Silvia of course, some concepts of the Swedish Welfare State and the circumstances of the Palme-murder already darkened the image of this clean country, like the controversial background of the Folkhemmet-concept and the mysterious murder of Olof Palme, which has never been solved. With this murder and the speculations around it, the idea of a land far north where everybody is happy and where good people make good politics came to and end. Another mystery shook the foundations of Sweden in the late eighthies: the sinking of the Estonia.

Whether or not these occurences prompted Henning Mankell to create his best-selling Police Investigator Kurt Wallander, fact is that with Wallander a new notion of Sweden came to be known around the world. As Wikipedia says, the underlying idea of the Wallander-series (first published in 1991) was: What went wrong with Swedish society?
And Wallander was extremly succesful. My first readings of his books left me shocked of the portrait he painted of Sweden. And now it's Larsson's turn: As I said my perception of Sweden has changed - and this is more a sub-conscious notion, because I am sufficiently capable of realizing that we talk fiction. What's more we talk fiction that is admirably frank and open on what IS wrong in modern society, because, of course, none of the problems pictured in any of the books are something inherently swedish.

So what is ist that makes Sweden the land of the bad in current popular fiction. (Apart from my very personal notion that this kind of frankness and willingness to badmouth your own country is something rather typical Northern-European/-American - it will be a long way to go until we find equally famous authors willing to describe the short-comings of their own society in such a matter-of-fact and drastic way - and not just the short-comings of others - in a country south of the Alps. But that's a different story for another post. One proof though is the more-than-happy headline the respectable Spanish newspaper "La Vanguardia" gave its article on the Larsson phenomenon: "Sweden is every bit as described by Larsson" Wow, they wouldn't do it for less....How satisfying after all these years having to listen how "developed and progressive" these northern countries are!)

If we look at the history of Swedish products though, it comes as no surprise. Call me stupid, call me ridiculous, there is something that makes Sweden and the Swedes being the best in so many categories of modern life. Whatever they do, they always come first. Need proof?

Ask anybody on the street which would be their trusted home-designer? Well, Ikea would be the obvious choice. Ask them what clothes they wear? H&M is a good guess. What is by far and large the most popular, best-selling band of all time? Well, we all know... Ask a European whose childhood-books were their favourite. It would be Astrid Lindgren's. Even the Volvo cars were something special, as the car of the non-conformist but rather wealthy decision-maker. So if we compare all this with other European nations of equal size, none comes even close. Okay, Finland has Nokia and the Pisa-study, Norway is rich and has the highest quality of life anywhere in the universe. The Danes invented Lego, but what is this against the overwhelming comercial power of Ikea, H & M and of course Abba.
The Swiss invented the secret bank account and neutralism. Luckily enough they also make good chocolate and watches, otherwise the reputation would be worse than it already is. Apart from that there is not much in terms of either popular culture (Heidi apart), famous musicians or extremly succesful (and popular) companies, that are part of modern culture: Nowhere to be seen....
The Austrians invented Mozart, Sissi and Hitler, the first and latter one still being best-sellers, though at least one of them does not really work well in terms of tourism marketing

So, in the end there is no doubt why Sweden is the land of evil, a dirty and corrupt country where it either rains or snows in modern popular fiction: Once swedish authors decided to go for that topic, it was inevitable that they would end up top. Because they are simply good at what they do - whether it's pop music, children's books, accesible furniture or having a sympathetic royal family. Maybe they were just bored with being the land of Ikea, Abba and Pippi Longstocking and, yeah, they did manage to change that image. And that's why I love this country.


  1. hello!

    I think Larsson's books describe only a small portion of Swedish society. In all societies there is corruption and crime, if we were all pigeons, our society would not need police, prosecutors or judges. What differentiates one society from another is that in some countries the crime and corruption are prosecuted, in other countries, unfortunately, are not pursued and no one cares about them.

    In any case, I decided not to watch the movie.

    Best regards!

    PS: pardon my bad English, I confuse the English with the German grammar, I find it difficult to write well in English since I learned German :(

  2. Hey Marta, I definitley agree with you - that's exactly what I meant: In some societys people speak about it and prosecute it, so in some places they are just better at this - that's why Sweden gets this bad image, because her writers are so outspoken...I hope that became clear :) As I said they are good at what they do...and this includes sucessfully writing about the bad sides of society....

  3. gracias marta! :)