History of Sweden (since 1989)

History of Sweden (since 1989)

This article describes the history of Sweden from 1989 until present day.

Bildt's ministry

In the late 1980s, racism and xenophobia rose, with organizations such as Bevara Sverige Svenskt, later restructured as Sverigedemokraterna. Right-wing populist Ny demokrati made a completely unsuspected rush to the Riksdag in the 1991 elections, and became a minor supporting party of a new centre-right government, more determined to profile itself as anti-socialist and cosmopolitan this time. This new government (1991-94) headed by Carl Bildt, blaming the Nordic model for the economic crisis, initiated a number of dismantlings of state-run monopolies (for example television, telephone services & hospital care), promised a drive to reshape and internationalize higher education and also lay the foundations for Sweden's subsequent entry into the European Union. It also had to battle the most serious economic crisis seen in fifty years. Prices went up, unemployment rocketed, and in late 1992, under the pressure of a flurry of financial speculation that shook several European currencies at this time, the Swedish krona was set free against other currencies, and immediately dropped about 15% against the US Dollar. The drain on the state treasury from 1992 on was overwhelming, and though agreements were soon reached with the Social democrats on measures to tackle the crisis, the hard conditions and deep economic recession were to last through the nineties. About the same time a serial killer known as Lasermannen ("the Laser Man") scared Swedish immigrants.

Comeback of Social Democrats

The critics of Bildt cabinet's policies regarded his undertaking's as a failure. E.g. economists Dag Rolander and Carl Hamilton summed up that " [a] pproximately 270,000 of today's unemployed, six percent of the workforce, must be debited to the Bildt government's economic policy. The resulting loss of production is an estimated 30 billion kronor during the years 1993-99. It is a human and economic waste without parallel in the entire history of Sweden." ["Leading Sweden into Depression", cited in http://www.nnn.se/archive/val-98/major.htm] The 1994 elections restored Ingvar Carlsson's Social democratic minority government. During the interregnum after the election, the car and passenger ferry M/S Estonia was lost on the Baltic Sea on September the 28th, killing 852 people, most Swedish. After Carlsson's retirement in 1996, he was replaced by Göran Persson, who remained in power until the 2006 elections.

Sweden entered the European Union in 1995 after a consultative referendum the previous year. The entry into the EU has in some ways turned a page in Swedish history and could be seen as signifying the end of the old political project (rooted in the 1940s and 1950s) with its emphasis on equality and security in the context of a single state, Sweden, which would then be strong enough to let itself act and be heard in the larger outside world, an attitude which is also expressed in the familiar Swedish wording "nere på kontinenten" ("down in the Continent") meaning something occurred in Europe, as opposed to in Sweden. The Oresund Bridge between Malmö and Copenhagen, Denmark, was opened in 2000, and has manifested Sweden's stronger ties to continental Europe.

During the late 1990s, the Swedish Armed Forces were severely downsized, with enlistment decreasing to 20% of all young men (from 90% at the height of the cold war), but remained present in UN peacekeeping forces, not least the Yugoslav wars, where former prime minister Carl Bildt was envoy for the EU, and later the UN.

In the first half of 2001, Sweden was the presidential country of the EU and, throughout these months, hosted a series of high-profile meetings and workshops, culminating in June with a summit in Gothenburg visited by George W. Bush and all the major EU heads of government - this was the first visit of a sitting US President in Sweden. This summit was an important step for the eastward expansion of the EU three years later, but the security of the event was adventured by protesting left-wing groups rioting and attacking police downtown. A referendum in 2003, after years of uneasy discussion, lead to a resounding no to the proposed adoption of the euro. The perplexing effect on the leading political strata, many business people and the media, in all of which groups the support for the adoption of the euro had been overwhelming, of this vote was increased by the bitter fact that the campaign had been disrupted four days prematurely by the assassination of Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, who, had she lived, would doubtless have succeeded Göran Persson within one or two years (as confirmed by the PM himself in later interviews and by her obvious standing within her party).

While the assassination of Anna Lindh was not connected to the campaigning on the Euro, or on EU issues in general, and while the trend toward a rejective vote was clear in gallups weeks before the referendum, both the Gothenburg riots and the no to the euro show that many Swedes, and in particular many young Swedes, feel disenfranchised by the new EU-oriented and less self-assured country they are living in.

In the tsunami disaster on Boxing Day, 2004, thousands of Swedish tourists in Thailand and other parts of south-east Asia were affected - Sweden was the Western country hardest struck by the catastrophe. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs was unmanned due to the holidays, and the lack of government action caused a political scandal which shook the confidence of Persson's cabinet, not least foreign minister Laila Freivalds. She resigned after another scandal, where she had been informed in advance of a Swedish Security Service shutdown of the Sweden Democrats' web site featuring the infamous Muhammad cartoons. Swedish press noted that this was the first case of Swedish government censorship due to foreign threat since World War 2. Sweden is one of few western countries where these cartoons have not been published in any mainstream mass media, but was still affected though the proximity to Denmark - Swedish-Danish dairy producer Arla suffered from middle-eastern boycotts, and when minister of foreign aid Carin Jämtin went to Sudan to investigate the Darfur genocide, the governor of Darfur used the cartoons as a pretext not to receive her.

Reinfeldt's ministry

Several new political parties - among them Feminist Initiative led by former leftist leader Gudrun Schyman, the euro-skeptical June List (originating in the European Parliamentary elections of 2004) and the anti-copyright Pirate Party ran for the riksdag election of 2006 with attention from mass media, but little success. In this election, the liberal coalition "Allians för Sverige" ("Alliance for Sweden") gained a majority in the riksdag and presented Fredrik Reinfeldt of the Moderates as their prime minister candidate. The success of the Sweden Democrats, who gained seats in several municipal councils, and got 2,9% of the Riksdag votes (though not meeting the 4% threshold), intimidated the established parties. During the first week, there was a series of scandals, where some of the cabinet ministers turned out to have dodged the television license fee, and paid maids under the table. Ministers Maria Borelius and Cecilia Stegö Chilo stepped down after only a few days in office. Now, the cabinet was criticised for lack of gender equality and diversity because it only contains only nine women (out of 22 ministers), but defenders of the cabinet pointed out that Sweden had got her first African-born minister (Nyamko Sabuni) and the first openly homosexual minister (Andreas Carlgren) ever. Foreign minister Carl Bildt was questioned for his former directorship in Vostok Nafta, and his possible bias in the question of the planned Nord Stream pipeline between Russia and Germany on the floor of the Baltic sea, through Swedish territorial waters.

Reinfeldt's policy is focused at lowering unemployment, by lowering taxes, as well as allowances for sick and unemployed. Employment has risen, though opposition claims that the main cause has been the current global prosperity.

Culture and mass media

During the 1990s Sweden became a leading power in information technology. Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt (m) and American President Bill Clinton were the world's first heads of government to exchange e-mail. Mobile telephony spread fast during the same decade, thanks to fruitful cooperation between the manufacturer Ericsson and government-owned network operator Televerket (which is now part of TeliaSonera). Currently, Sweden is converting to digital terrestrial television and expanding a 3G network.

Since the 1990s, Sweden has been relatively tolerant to homosexuality and is since 2002 the only country in the world to outlaw hate speech against it. The first trial for this crime was in 2004-5 against Pentecostalist Åke Green, and brought international attention.


Sweden has continued its success in sports such as alpine skiing (Pernilla Wiberg and Anja Pärson), golf (Annika Sörenstam), ice hockey (Mats Sundin and Peter Forsberg), and football (Tomas Brolin, Henrik Larsson and Zlatan Ibrahimović). Sweden has also emerged as a great power in track and field with world champions as Carolina Klüft, Kajsa Bergqvist, Stefan Holm, Christian Olsson and Susanna Kallur, and hosting of the world championships in 1995 and the European championships in 2006, both in Gothenburg. The national swimming team has boasted champions like Anders Holmertz, Therese Alshammar and Emma Igelström.

Sweden is eighth in the all-time Olympic Games medal count (ninth for the Summer Olympic Games and sixth for the Winter Olympic Games). Although this success can be partly explained by competing countries' casualties in the World Wars, and boycotts during the Cold War, Sweden remains a great power in sports despite its small size.


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