YuQwest: Sat, 16 Mar 96
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What does it mean to be typically Swedish?. What traits are shared by the
8.6 million inhabitants of Sweden?. Are they reserved, hard working people
who are respectful of authority, as some observers say?. Or are they
adaptable, inquisitive and competitive, as others claim ?.
Since World War II, many researchers have been reluctant to speak of
"national character," arguing that systematic studies of the distinctions
between peoples can easily assume a racist tone. It is also impossible to
characterize a whole people; differences among individuals are so great that
it often seems meaningless to look for a common denominator. Yet journalist
and writers seldom hesitate to report on the national peculiarities they
observe. In the case of Sweden, their starting point has often been the
welfare state, the "Swedish model" or a more general curiosity about this
small, ambitious northern European country which has performed well in
international competition in many fields.
Some people consider Sweden paradoxical. For example, this capitalist
nation is the birthplace of many well-known multinational corporations which
have helped make it an affluent country. At the same time, it has the
world's strongest trade union movement and a larger public sector than
virtually any other Western country.
At a Swedish open-air market, people do not argue about prices or product
quality. Customers who are not satisfied move on to another stand to see if
it offers better bargains. Swedes are often described as shy and afraid of
conflict. Comparative interview studies indicate that loud confrontations in
families and at workplaces are less frequent in Sweden than in many other
countries. Swedes choose to remain silent instead of indulging in aggressive
behavior and are often reluctant to show their feelings openly. Because of
this self-control, to an outsider some Sweden are also surprised by the
numerous "Thank you's" and the formal speeches and toast offered even at
small private dinners.
Some people have pet theories as to why many Swedes are shy and quite. One
common explanation is the climate with its long, dark winter nights. The
vast forests that cover half of Sweden 's 450.000 km2 (174.000 m2) land
area are also said to have contributed to the national reticence. For
centuries, Sweden was a thinly populated, agrarian country whose inhabitants
largely had to shift for themselves. Social cohesiveness was limited.
Religion may also have played some part in shaping the "national character,"
though nowadays most Swedes are rather secularized. The country became
Christian around the 11th century and LUTHERAN IN THE 16TH CENTURY.
PROTESTANT DOCTRINE OFTEN EMPHASIZED SIN AND GUILT: mankind should not
expect joy in this world but -perhaps- in the afterlife .
The Swedish economy is highly dependent on exports and other Europeans are
its largest customers. Nearly half of Swedish industrial production is sold
abroad, and some companies sell practically all their goods outside Sweden.
Many items have to be imported, for example oil, which is vital to Sweden's
Not surprisingly, then Sweden is a warm supporter of free trade. It is very
much in the country's interested to reduce tariffs and other trade barriers.
Sweden joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
(OECD) shortly after World War II. Because EC membership was deemed
impossible , Sweden played a major role in the creation of the European Free
Trade Association (EFTA) in 1960. The country has supported the General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, taking an active part in the various GATT
negotiation rounds of recent decades.
The issue of relations with the EC arose at regular intervals. In 1972
Sweden signed a free trade agreement with the EC covering industrial
products. From the Swedish standpoint this arrangement has worked very
A NUMBER OF FACTORS were responsible for the new European policy adopted by
Parliament in 1990 and the application for EC membership submitted in the
summer of 1991. The most important is undoubtedly the realization that
Sweden is strongly dependent of the EC market for its trade and industrial
growth. Membership is becoming increasingly necessary to prevent important
parts of Swedish industry moving out of their home country.
Also of obvious importance was the fact that the world is no longer divided
into Western and Easter blocs, with Sweden sealing a nonaligned role between
them. Even before its official change of policy, during the late 1980s
Sweden began taking steps to harmonize its legislation and technical
standards with EC norms, and Swedish companies were actively acquiring firms
already base in the EC countries.
Because the Social Democrats accepted the idea of EC membership and the
major parties reached a consensus to hold a referendum once Sweden's
negotiations with the EC are completed (probably in 1994), this once
controversial issue played only a minor role in the 1991 election campaign.
Only the Greens and the Let Party, which together received less than 8
percent of the vote argued against EC membership.
Sweden is an affluent country that has stayed out of wars for nearly two
centuries. I shown both a capacity and a desire to participate in Third
World development efforts. in fiscal 1977/78 it achieved the UN target of
appropriating 1 percent of its Gross National Income for development
cooperation, and it has maintained this percentage ever since. In 1991/92
the Swedish development assistance budget totaled nearly 14 billion kronor.
Unlike many other countries, Sweden applies the principle of non-tied
assistance, i.e. funds are not contingent upon the purchase of goods and
services in the donor country.
The overall objective of Swedish development cooperation policy is to help
raise living standards in poor nations. This includes contributing to
resource growth, greater social equality, independence, democracy and a good
environment . Sweden has a number of bilateral "PROGRAM COUNTRIES" of which
Tanzania, Mozanbique and India receive the largest assistance. One fourth of
the government's development cooperation budget is multilateral; in other
words, these funds are distributed via the UN and other international agencies.
Sweden is increasing its support for environmental clean up measures and
economic reforms in Poland, the Baltic states and other formerly Communist
countries in Europe. For some years, the Moderates and others were critical
of Swedish development assistance to authoritarian regimes in the Third
World, such aid is now being phased out as warranted.
The industrial revolution arrived in Sweden relatively late. Exports of
metals and timber began in the Middle Ages, but the country was still mainly
agrarian in the mid-19th century. Cities were small, accounting for only 10
percents of the population. Compared with many other European countries,
Sweden was poor.
The first wave of industrialization occurred in the 1870 stimulated by
demand for Swedish staple goods -iron and steel, timber and farm products.
Entrepreneurs built pulp mills, sawmills and foundries. Later, iron mining
and the engineering industry became important to the Swedish economy. Such
inventions as the cream separator (Alfa Laval) , the ball bearing (SKF) and
the automatic lighthouse (AGA) played a key role in launching firms that
later evolved into large multinational corporations.
Why did Sweden rapidly gain prominence as an industrial nation in the late
19th and early 20th century?. One factor was its ample supplies of raw
materials. Another was that the country already had a good infrastructure
in place, including extensive railroads, major ports for seagoing vessels
and a growing network of hydroelectric power plants. But this hardly
explains the country wealth of inventions and market leadership in a number
of sector. These are often attributed to the fact that universal education
had reached Sweden at an early stage, and specialized training programs were
widely available. There was a pro-business climate. Around 1900, many
entrepreneurs sat in Parliament.
In 1945 Sweden was one of the few countries in Europe whose production
system was unravaged by World War II. Its mix of engineering goods, forest
products and ore was highly competitive, especially in the light of European
reconstruction needs. Swedish companies conquered new markets and their
successes generated growing prosperity and demand at home.
Swedish economic growth set new records during the immediate postwar
generation, peaking in 1960-65 when DGP growth averaged 5,3 percent annually
and productivity climbed at 5.6 percent a year. Except for brief periods,
inflation was low. Unemployment stayed at around 2 percent. Sweden seemed to
be living in the best of economic worlds. It could afford to implement long
desired reforms, cementing its reputation as a country that successfully
combined economic growth with low unemployment and progressive social
The economic situation in the 1970s and 1980s was less favorable. The oil
crisis, tougher competition from emerging industrial nations and a labor
cost explosion in the mid-1970s led to a sharp decline in Sweden GDP growth
rate. Although some companies performed well, overall industrial production
actually declined between 1974 and 1978. The nonsocialist Cabinet in power
between 1976 and 1982 launched programs to ease the impact of industrial
restructuring Several devaluations of the Swedish krona and official
austerity measures helped turn around the economy by the mid-1980s.
In the 1980, resurgent foreign demand for Swedish goods and services led to
higher exports and industrial profits. Investments in the energy,
communications and construction sector again became attractive. Registered
unemployment dropped well below 2 percent and the central government budget
moved from a deficit of 13 percent of GDP in 1982/1983 to a surplus by the
Meanwhile there were signs of deepening economic crisis. Given the tight
labor market, Swedish costs had again climbed faster than those of
competitor countries. Productivity lagged, partly due to high absenteeism.
By 1991, the international recession was hurting Swedish exports. The
current account deficit was growing and the economy was stagnating. Failing
commercial real estate prices pushed some non bank finance companies and
other highly leveraged business into bankruptcy causing major problems in
the banking sector. As companies cut production, unemployment climbed
rapidly. Inflation peaked at about 11 percent, then fell below that of
Germany. By unilaterally linking the krona to the European Currency. Unit
the government made it clear that devaluation were no longer an acceptable
remedy for dealing with Sweden's wage price spiral.
The first generation of industrial firms in Sweden depended mainly on
domestic raw material and cheap hydropower. As late as the 1950s iron ore,
steel, paper, pulp and wood products comprised half of Sweden's exports. The
played a dominant role well into the 1970, but faced increasingly stiff
competition from other countries. It was time to move upmarket into
Around 1975 the Swedish forest product industry began a long series of
mergers, shutdowns and heavy investments in forward integration to more
finished products, both at home and abroad. Today it is again
internationally competitive and continues to account for more net export
earnings than any other sector. The mining and metal industries also began a
long, complex transformation. The surviving companies have emerged as niche
predictors in such areas as iron pellets and specialty steels.
After the war, Sweden built up one of the worlds largest shipbuilding
industries. In the 1970s, shipbuilding experienced an international crisis,
and today nearly all the Swedish shipyards have shut down. Companies in the
Swedish textile and shoe industries underwent an equally dramatic declination.
While some Swedish industries were thus virtually eliminated by recessions
and foreign competition, many older medium- and high-tech companies
underwent successful restructuring. Electrolux emerged as the worlds largest
home appliance manufacturer. Asea, a specialist in electrotechnology, and
Ericsson, the telecommunications and electronics group also performed well
internationally. Other successful companies included the Astra and Pharmacia
Sweden became a large importer of cars and trucks after the war, especially
from the United States, but its own automotive industry soon developed
attractive, competitive products for both the domestic and foreign markets.
Volvo is Sweden's biggest single enterprise. Sweden's others automotive
group. Saab-Scania, has also been successful at home and abroad, especially
with its Scania heavy trucks. But in the late 1980s and early 1990s, lower
demand for Volvo and Saab cars in the U.S. and other markets sharply reduced
One frequent question is whether Sweden is too small for two independent
automakers, but recurrent discussions on merging Volvo and Saab have led
nowhere. Volvo has begun collaboration with France's Renault. Saab
Automobile is now half -owned by General Motors. These alliances are
motivated by escalating competition from Japan and the high of developing
In recent years, Swedish companies selling "knowledge intensive" , goods and
services have typically shown the best grown. One prerequisite of industrial
expansions is thus a well -educated labor force and extensive research and
Agriculture has undergone a major structural transformation in Sweden.
Less than 4 percent of the labor force is now employed in farming, forestry
and fishing. Agriculture has long been heavily regulated and subsidized by
the government, partly to ensure that Sweden would remain self-sufficient
approved a far-reaching deregulation of agriculture and a lowering of
There have been two main trends in the restructuring of Swedish industry
during the 1980s and 1990s. One is internationalization. For example, Asea
merged with Switzerland's Brown Boveri to form ABB, the worlds largest maker
of heavy electrical equipment. The second trend is the growing number of
small firms. Computerization and better communications have encouraged
ENVIRONMENT AND ENERGY
The reactor accident at Three Mile Island (Pennsylvania) in 1979 and at
Chernobyl (Ukraine) in 1986 had a major influence on the nuclear power
policies in many countries. In Sweden, Three Island had a particularly big
impact on national energy policy. Soon after this event, Sweden announced a
referendum on the future of its nuclear power program, which was held in
March 1980. Remarkably, none of the three alternatives offered to the voters
recommended indefinite continued use of nuclear power. Instead , the debate
centered on how quickly Sweden's 12 reactors should be shut down. Those who
advocated a slow phase-out won.
After the referendum, Parliament approved a gradual shutdown of reactors by
the year 2010. Whether and when such a process will now occur is very
unclear, however. In 1991, nuclear energy accounted for half of Sweden's
electricity production. In the new Cabinet, the Moderates strongly support
continued use of nuclear power, while the Center Party supports a phase-out.
Yet the issue does not trigger the same emotions as in 1978, when a
nonsocialist Cabinet collapsed over disagreements on nuclear safety issues.
Parallel with the nuclear power debate, there has been intensive discussion
of the environment in general. Many Swedes consider environmental issues the
most important items on the political agenda. During the 1991 election
campaign, more than half the respondents in one poll said that the
environment was "a very important issue." The Green Party was not voted out
of Parliament due to declining interest in the environment, but more because
of its organizational weaknesses and the fact that other parties had
meanwhile expanded their commitment to ecological cause.
One of the first things a foreign visitor notices in Sweden is the wealth of
opportunities for outdoor recreational activities and the high level of
interest in them. The traditional "right of common access" allows people to
walk freely through forests or across open land, pick mushrooms or tie up a
boat on an archipelago isle as long as they do not vandalize, litter or
intrude on the privacy of the owner. Many Swedes have a deeply rooted
reverence for nature.
As in many countries, the Swedes were stimulated to take an even more
active interest in the environment when Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring
was published in the early 1960s. They became aware of the high price that a
country paid for industrial expansion. The pollution of waterways and the
air posed a direct threat to people, flora and fauna. In the mid-1960s
Parliament passed a general conservation act, followed by a series of
National Environmental Protection Agency was established in 1967.
These measures often had rapid, dramatic results. Since the late 1960s,
sulfur dioxide emissions from sources in Sweden have fallen by 75 percent,
the release of mercury into waterways has dropped by nearly 100 percent and
emissions of carbon dioxide by one third. Waterways that were so polluted by
industrial wastes or sewage that they could be used neither for fishing nor
swimming were restore to health. By the mid-1970s, for example, people could
both swim and fish safely in the waterways of central Stockholm.
But other problems emerged, often more elusive and complex. they included
the shrinking ozone layer, the "greenhouse effect" and heavy pollution in
the seas. Residual sludge from sewage plants is often so toxic that it can
no longer be used as a fertilizer.
New steps have proved necessary to combat pollution. Swedish officials are
adopting stricter laws, higher taxes and environmental fees. Each unit of
carbon, sulfur and nitrogen dioxide emissions will thus cost a certain
amount. Authorities are imposing tougher standards on agriculture, which is
responsible for a large proportion of sea and ground water pollution. Much
tighter environmental rules for automobiles are under discussion.
Environmental problems are not country-specific. There are toxic emissions
that originate in surrounding countries, both east and west. The Baltic and
other seas around the long Swedish coastline are subject to heavy pollution,
and acid rain has damaged many lakes in southern and western Sweden. The
government has actively participated in efforts to reach international
agreements on reducing water and air pollution. Environmental issues will be
a key element of future cooperation among the Baltic Sea nations.
Because of its high living standard, cold winter climate and long distances,
Sweden has one of the world's highest levels of per capita energy
consumption. Much of Swedish industry is energy-intensive. Households need a
lot of space heating and are accustomed to relatively low energy costs. Many
people believe that energy supply will be among the most difficult problems
facing Sweden in the coming decades.
About half the country's energy supply is generated from imported oil, and
to a small extent, coal. This makes Sweden sensitive to fluctuating oil
prices and vulnerable to the environmental damage associated with fossil
fuels. Most of the remaining energy comes from hydroelectric and nuclear power.
After the 1986 Chernobyl accident, which caused limited radioactive fallout
over parts of northern Sweden, Parliament approved and energy policy that
mandated the early shutdown of nuclear reactors and lower carbon dioxide
emissions. It also established a moratorium on hydropower exploitation of
the remaining wild and scenic rivers in northern Sweden and called for
maintaining energy prices at levels that do not harm the competitiveness of
But it soon became clear that nuclear power could not be phased out without
simultaneously increasing carbon dioxide emissions from oil-burning power
plants. If long pipelines were built to import natural gas from Norway and
Russia (there is already one from Denmark), even this cleaner alternative
would raise carbon dioxide emissions. Other alternatives include more
hydroelectric power plants or higher energy prices. One of the most
important tasks facing politicians during the 1990s will be to reach a
sensible compromise on these issues.
Especially during the 1970s many Swedes placed great hopes on solar and wind
power and "energy plantations" of fast-growing trees. Bark and other tree
wastes are already a major source of energy in the forest product industry.
Some researcher consider wood and other biofuels a major potential source of
electricity if more efficient combustion methods are used. Retrofitting of
existing buildings and wider use of district heating plants have led to
substantial savings on space heating, and some experts say further energy
conservation measures along similar lines could easily be implemented.
Industrialists and some trade union leaders say that electricity prices
would double if nuclear energy were phased out according to previous plans.
this would hurt such important manufacturing sectors as steel, mining and
chemicals, making their operations internationally
Initiated on May 26th 1996.