Is Sweden a country for everyone? On Swedish society during the second day of the 8th Nordic Focus Festival


What it means to be Swedish and how the concept of Swedishness has been historically shaped was discussed by Radio Nowy Świat journalist Jan Janczy in his talk 'Yellow and Blue. On Swedishness in a multicultural society'. Meanwhile, the Swedish theory of a happy state and the social problems Sweden today faces were discussed by journalist Maciej Zaremba Bielawski and dr Wiktoria Michałkiewicz (UJ) during the panel 'A country (not) for everyone? On the Swedish theory of a happy state', moderated by President of the Polish-Swedish Chamber of Commerce and Honorary Consul of the Kingdom of Sweden, Magdalena Pramfelt. The meetings took place on November 25 this year.

Jan Janczy, a Scandinavian philologist specialising in Swedish literature, introduced the audience to the issue of the formation of Swedish national and social identity, referring to a historical perspective. He pointed out that, despite a tradition of statehood spanning several centuries, the central decades of the 20th century were crucial for the contemporary definition of Swedishness. It was then that the concept of the state as folkhemmet - a 'people's home' in which everyone should feel comfortable and secure and for whose prosperity everyone should work side by side - emerged. Social solidarity and far-reaching Swedish pragmatism and rationalism are closely linked to this concept.

The speaker explained that it is difficult to speak of a Swedish national identity because the Swedes themselves, over the years, have not shown deeper patriotic feelings and have not been interested in defining themselves in terms traditionally considered nation-related. They are, on the one hand, individualistic and, on the other, firmly attached to their vision of society and social relations. Jan Janczy also referred to surveys of immigrants relating to what they think is necessary to be recognised as 'their own' in Sweden. The two most common answers were knowledge of the language and respect for the rules and principles of society.

The panel debate began with an introduction of the guests by the presenter, Honorary Consul of Sweden and President of the Polish-Swedish Chamber of Commerce, Magdalena Pramfelt (who is also a Swedish philology graduate and has lived in Sweden for many years). Maciej Zaremba Bielawski is an acclaimed journalist of 'Dagens Nyheter' and author of several reportage books; he has lived in Sweden for more than 50 years and is a well-known critic of Swedish social and immigration policy. Dr Wiktoria Michałkiewicz is a sociologist, cultural studies scholar and cultural anthropologist with interdisciplinary research on culture and society. She has studied, among others, in Krakow, Stockholm and Barcelona; she divides her time between Poland and Sweden, and in her doctoral thesis, she looked into the issue of Swedish nationalism.

The panellists devoted much of their attention to the current social conflicts plaguing Sweden, including gangs of young people born in Sweden as second-generation immigrants. They leaned into the causes of insufficient integration and the resulting growing aggression of some migrants who have been unable to adapt to multicultural Swedish society.

‘Some of the blame for this lies with Swedish hubris,’ said Maciej Zaremba Bielawski. ‘The Swedes thought they were such a cool, friendly society that everyone would want to adapt and belong spontaneously. At the same time, they were unaware of their own exoticism, their own strangeness, and were very keen to maintain a narrative of acceptance and equality - so much so that for many years, not even knowledge of the Swedish language was required to obtain Swedish citizenship. Migrants faced no requirements, and any postulates to change this were dismissed as exclusionary. At the same time, this left them with no guidance on how to fit into Swedish society.’

The journalist mentioned that for many years, topics related to the inadequate integration of some migrants were swept under the carpet, hushed up - because they could cause discomfort and undermine the myth of total inclusiveness. Dr Wiktoria Michałkiewicz, on the other hand, pointed out the complex historical and social factors dating back to the 1950s that contributed to this state of affairs. The discussants also touched upon the worrying political situation in our northern neighbours, related to the growing popularity of the alt-right Sweden Democrats party, which has xenophobic slogans on its banners, among other things. There was a discussion about how the leaders of this party are tapping into public sentiment and how the public discourse around the issue of migration has been changing in recent years.

Speeches and panels related to Swedish issues were supported by funding from Svenska Institutet and the Ateneum Academy.

The Nordic Focus Festival is organised as part of the statutory activities of the Association of Artistic Initiatives 'Jantar' in cooperation with the University of Gdańsk. The Festival's curator is Deputy Head of ACK UG ‘Alternator’, Tomasz Pupacz.

The project is co-financed by the City of Gdańsk.


DR/Press Office UG; photo Zuzanna Litwinko