Reflections on Karlskrona, Swedish foreign policy, and the election
Last week, my core course (European Security Dilemmas) went on a study tour to Karlskrona, an island which houses a Swedish naval base. Established in 1680, the city is a UNESCO World Heritage site and boasts (in my opinion) an excellent naval museum, with a fascinating Cold War exhibit. The trip was a whirlwind, but lots of fun and very informative. It was great to get to know my peers, professor and study tour facilitator as well, outside of an academic environment. Much of the trip, however, was centered around academics —history and security policy —which more tangibly illustrated Swedish foreign policy and defense to me. I’ll do my best to summarize my takeaways here!
Swedish foreign policy/security
From the talks given by the lecturers, a commanding officer of Karlskrona’s naval warfare center and a former member of Parliament from the Moderaterna, it became clear to me that Swedish security and foreign defense is lacking to an incredulous degree. The largest draw towards Sweden’s socioeconomic model is the success of its welfare state, which has survived economically through the expropriation of high taxes (about 50% of one’s lifetime income), and philosophically through a collective social desire to see others flourish. However, the welfare state requires a lot of money, and the recent decades of peace and prosperity have led politicians to direct funds earmarked for defense towards welfare instead. This decision makes sense during peacetime, but (incorrectly) assumes that peace is eternal—that we have reached Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’. Rising energy costs, increased political polarization and, on the international stage, the war in Ukraine, all threaten this peace, and all of which have, of course, led to Sweden’s NATO application: which, prior to the war, seemed inconceivable. However, as both speakers addressed, Sweden is very unprepared for any form of aggression. As a smaller country, Sweden’s military capabilities are of course not on par with those of the US; at the same time, it seems like the current alliance between the two countries is becoming more and more a dependence on the US. If Sweden joins NATO, that dependence will only somewhat shift; though Sweden will have to increase military spending and host bases in the country, it will still be incredibly reliant on NATO, and thus –to a large extent — be outsourcing its defense.
I’m still quite struck by the security around the Karlskrona base, which, compared to US bases, is quite lacking, and is also a tangible effect of the prolonged peacetime and deep trust in Swedish society. As peace becomes more uncertain by the day, the military has found itself severely lacking supplies and entrenched in a society which denies that it is necessary and does not wish to give up everything the welfare state has been able to provide due to diverting those resources. As a result, despite Sweden’s decision to join NATO (a decision made the Social Democrats) being the focal point of international news on the country, NATO membership, foreign affairs and the war in Ukraine were, for the most part, disregarded and avoided during the debates prior to the recent election.
Instead, discussion centered around rising crime rates, immigration and problems with integration, worsening healthcare and, most importantly, solutions to the coming energy crisis and economic recession, which threaten the peace and standard of living that Sweden has enjoyed for quite a while. I’ll walk you through the some of the major parties before I reveal the results and explain the consequences of the election. But, as an aspiring linguist, I’d prefer to do this another way, one in which we will learn some Swedish in tandem: by using campaign posters!
Stockholm during election season is quite a sight to see: campaign posters plaster every square inch of fences, and it is rare to see a pole that does not don at least one of these political ads. This was a mini-culture shock for me, but it was one nonetheless: only during my high school’s student government elections had I ever seen so many political ads, on every surface they could be affixed. In my area of the US, it is much more common to see lawn-signs or bumper stickers supporting a particular candidate: rarely are campaign posters created and disseminated by the party itself.
With that said, here we go! I’ll begin from the left aisle of Swedish politics, and move towards the right. As I don’t have pictures from all parties, I’ll focus only on those I have.
Centerpartiet/The Center Party: Liberal Politik Utan Främlingsfientlighet/Liberal Politics without (utan) Xenophobia
A great example of one of the parts of the Swedish language I love most: words that are so long you can’t fit them on a poster. The woman behind that incredible frankenword is Annie Lööf, ex-head of the Center Party. The Center Party is as right leaning as the left gets (as a party which originated as a farmer’s party), and they have historical beef with the extreme-left, the Vänster Party. This party agrees with some decentralization, some limitations on immigrations and disagrees with the use of nuclear power. The slogan very clearly targets the rhetoric of the Sweden Democrats, Sweden’s ambiguously termed ‘far-right party’ (more on that later), which wants to stop immigration. The Center Party is, in this poster, appealing to voters who recognize the consequences of completely open immigration and the resulting de-facto segregation (immigrants living together as opposed to in communities with other Swedes without knowing the Swedish language), but cannot morally sign on to the rhetoric which some in the Sweden Democrats espouse.
Liberalerna/Liberals: Tidiga insatser räddar unga på glid/Early intervention saves the young (glid)
The Swedish Liberal Party is not comparable to the American conception of ‘liberal’–in different ways, the party’s platform reflects portions of both ends of the American liberal and conservative spectrum. The Liberals campaign on better integration for immigrants, tax cutbacks to incentivize work, better schooling (more teachers) and better security (more police). The poster’s slogan reflects their emphasis on education as an anecdote for social instability
KristDemokraterna/Christian Democrats: Redo att bekämpa brotten/Ready to combat crime (brott/en)
Though the name would suggest it, the Christian Democrats have no current ties —moral or otherwise —to religion. One of their main concerns is increasing the rate of employment. For Sweden, this is a dire problem: for the welfare state to work, a large percentage of its population must be employed. The successful implementation of such a policy would, in theory, cut crime and begin to stabilize the economy. The slogan ‘ready to combat crime’ subtly attacks the Social Democrat’s inability to counter rising crime rates and widespread feelings of danger and unease resulting from that.
Moderaterna/The Moderates: Nu får vi ordning på Sverige/Now (nu) we get order (ordning) in Sweden
On the front of this poster, striding confidently with a bag of groceries and a happy dog, is Ulf Kristersson, head of the Moderaterna. His party campaigns on a platform of cutting taxes to incentivize work, tougher restrictions on immigration, and more policing in order to deal with rising crime. The poster’s slogan alludes to these types of policies, but it is also a subtle nod at the issues which have worsened during the reign of the Social Democrats (now, as opposed to then).
Sweden Democrats/SverigeDemokraterna: Sverige ska bli bra igen…och inget snack/Sweden will become good (bra) again…and no talk (snack)
Whether or not the slogan of this poster is meant to allude to another campaign which used a similar slogan, the Sweden Democrats are following a similar agenda of hard immigration restrictions for the foreseeable future. They see this as the natural consequence of years of open borders and (admittedly) horrible integration policy, which has led to de-facto segregation and higher unemployment among immigrant communities. Their reactionary, nationalistic rhetoric and troubling history (as the Nazi party of the 1980s) has some worried about their intentions if they were to take power. Beyond the issue of immigration, the Sweden Democrats agree with most of the other parties, in areas such as climate change and healthcare. Interestingly enough, they veer left on welfare state policies, calling for higher taxes and stating that the system must do more—for ethnic Swedes and current immigrants, that is. The end of the slogan “…and no talk” signifies a no-BS stance: unlike the Social Democrats, who have been criticized for being all talk and no action, the SverigeDemokraterna promise to deliver.
Results and Consequences:
The election was incredibly close, with the conservative block (the Liberals, Moderates, Christian Democrats and Sweden Democrats) winning only a slight majority- three more seats than the left block (the Vänster (the extreme left), Social Democrats, Environmental Party and Center Party) in the parliament. Though the Social Democrats (the party in power before this election) remain the largest party, the Sweden Democrats now make up the second largest party—signaling a large shift in the rhetoric of Swedish politics and the desires of many Swedish people. As of now, a government still must be formed, under the direction of a Prime Minister who is yet to be chosen (but will probably be Moderaterna’s Ulf Kristersson). The close split between the two blocks, during a time of increased political polarization, and as the SverigeDemokraterna gain power, has the ability to become volatile, and it is possible that some parties will shift their positions in the coming months. The impending energy crisis will also, no doubt, have a major effect on policies and popular rhetoric to come.
As the armchair political analyst I am, I will do my best to keep you updated, as this new political cast of characters develops in the coming months.
Thank you all for reading:) Please comment any reactions or questions, should you have any! And, if I’ve gotten something wrong in this article (as I’m sure I have, being an outsider looking in on Swedish politics), please do reach out. It’s a great way to learn!
Tack så mycket (thanks so much)!
Disclaimer: much of my information came from the lectures, my classes on these subjects, and the official websites of some of these parties. Pictures are my own.