Sweden is our focus for this article, the largest Scandinavian country in terms of size and population. Even as it recovers from #swedengate, which we previously covered, this is a country that’s sure about its principles. Neighboured by Norway, Finland, and Denmark, Sweden is a powerhouse in northern Europe. It boasts the most number of islands among all the countries in the world—over 267,000! But whatever you think you know about Sweden, I’ll bet you had no idea they teamed up with Denmark at the Olympics. That’s right. Back in 1900, they together won a gold medal in ‘Tug of War’. That’s some serious business here—Sweden is not just about IKEA!
Less than 7% of Sweden’s land is arable, and, as a result, the country has never really been known for its expertise in farming. Instead, they rely primarily on machinery, vehicles, iron ore, and wood exports. Some of the best-known companies that have roots in Sweden include IKEA, Skype, Spotify, Electrolux, Ericsson, and H&M.
The other massive source of income for the state is tax. Taxes in Sweden are very high—ranging between 32 and 52%. However, citizens rarely disapprove of these skyscraper taxes as the state does put them to excellent use. Using these taxes, Sweden provides good and free healthcare and education for all its citizens.
Furthermore, until children turn 16, parents receive an allowance to help with their child’s care and education. Then, from ages 16-20, provided that the person goes to school, the government directly gives the money to the student. The idea is to help with additional expenses so that financial constraints do not deter anybody from getting an education.
As farming was not much of an option, people in the Nordic countries relied on fishing and trade to get what they needed to survive. Being on the Baltic shore also meant seafarers and pirates often made their way inland. Among such, Scandinavian history widely features the Vikings. They were aggressive explorers and craftsmen looking for regions of trade. However, the Vikings were also greatly feared for their abilities in war and their frequent raids on the neighbouring lands.
If you have watched History’s (formerly The History Channel) show “Vikings”, you will be familiar with the name Ragnar Lothbrok. He was one of the first legendary kings of Sweden and Denmark. Ragnar rose to prominence following his conquests in the modern-day UK. He had become such a legend even at the time that, when he died, many claimed to be his sons to wrest control, power, and support.
Legend has it that one of the sons of Ragnar was Björn Ironside. He went on to become another widely feared King of Sweden. Ironside was known for his trickery and warfare tactics. His army invaded and raided parts of modern-day UK, France, and Italy.
As the story goes, Björn wanted to sack a great city that he had heard of called Rome. However, after travelling there, the Vikings saw that the city was well protected and that breaching it would be very difficult. So Björn sent word to the bishop in the city, saying that he was dying and wanted to become a Christian before he died. After great thought, the bishop opened the city gates and allowed Björn and a few of his men to enter the church. Once he was inside, Björn jumped up, fought his way back to the gates, and opened them to allow the rest of his army to pour in. Unfortunately for them, once raided, they discovered that this was not the city of Rome—it was actually Luni.
Sunny to snowy Sweden
April Väder or “April Weather” is a particular phenomenon that is familiar to the Swedish people. After months of winter and darkness, the sun finally comes out in April, and Swedes like to bask in the sunlight. Then, out of nowhere, a snowstorm can strike, covering the land in snow and making it feel like winter all over again. It is quite an interesting concept—for somebody who doesn’t have to experience it.
Swedish social code
‘Jantelagen’, or the law of Jante, is a code of conduct native to this country. It is an unspoken, informal rule about preventing people from bragging. People are encouraged not to talk about their wealth or salary or to brag about their talents and possessions. It’s rather amusing when you realise it’s quite the opposite of what we do in most other countries. It seems deeply rooted in humility and conformity as people try hard not to stand out in a crowd.
The rule is not a favourite among younger people, though. Newer generations welcome a belief that if one is good at something, one should take credit for it. They argue that the Jantelagen mentality is restrictive. Though they agree that the overarching values of humility are good in theory, they insist that the freedom to talk about these things would make for a better society.
Much like Switzerland, Sweden is quite famous for being neutral. The last war that Sweden was directly involved in ended in 1814. Historically, as a nation, they have had many battles with Denmark and Norway over the years. However, not a single one has happened in the last 200 years.
Their neutrality policy is attractive. However, it has caused some angst over the years. The most notable instance was when the Nazis invaded Norway during WWII. Sweden remained rigorously neutral and did not come to the aid of its neighbours. This caused strained relations between Norway and Sweden for years.
It is important to note that while the official position of Sweden was one of neutrality, a good samaritan spirit still thrived. For example, many Swedes reportedly tried to help their neighbours in Norway and Finland by providing food and shelter for refugees.
It should come as no surprise that Sweden is one of the best in the world at looking after the environment. But did you know exactly how? One of the primary ways they do this is by dealing with their trash effectively. They recycle or compost 50% of their waste, incinerate 49% of it, and 1% ends up in landfills.
The incinerated 49% is arguably the most exciting part. The incinerators also power buses and taxis and provide heating and electricity in homes. In fact, the Swedes have such efficient systems that they do not have enough trash to power their incinerators. So, they do the intelligent thing and import trash from various European countries. With it, Sweden powers its incinerators and provides for its people.
Land of the ultimate laurel
Many Swedes have become famous globally for various reasons, but few as spectacularly as Alfred Nobel. You might already know that, among the many things he did, he is best known for inventing dynamite.
In 1888, Nobel read in the newspapers that he was dead. It was, in fact, his brother who had died. Many newspapers that erroneously reported Nobel’s death also published obituaries that were quite critical of him. They dubbed him “the merchant of death” and accused him of becoming rich by “finding ways to kill people faster”.
Needless to say, this incident greatly affected Nobel. Therefore, in an attempt to leave behind a better legacy, he donated a majority of his wealth to institute an award. This award would celebrate those who have “conferred the greatest honour to humankind”.
Unlike many other countries that we have focused on so far, Sweden, as a welfare state, is highly educated and very wealthy. Thus, the country is in a position to help lead the planet’s efforts against climate change. They have not shirked the responsibility to their credit. Sweden has committed to contributing toward international climate change aid, especially where developing countries are concerned. Still, there is a long way to go. But, isn’t their progress so far impressive? As I mentioned, this is undoubtedly a country of principles.