A generally prosperous and peaceful country, Sweden seems able to weather its storms rather easily. Of course, there are always internal tensions and occasional threats to smooth sailing, whether they're economic challenges or political battles. But, overall, a visitor to Sweden gets the sense that the system works quite well. The Swedish word lagom means not too much and not too little, but just right. Sweden strives to embody this concept. It's not perfect, but it's reassuringly consistent.
Strain on the System
Despite its middle-way steadiness over the long term, recently Sweden has seen changes in the economy and the political mood that have led some people to question their assumptions. For decades the country was viewed by left-leaning outsiders as an almost utopian model of a socialist state, a successful experiment that gave hope to progressives everywhere. This is still more or less true. Inevitably, though, as the country has grown, it has had to adjust to modern realities – both economic and socio-political – and some cracks have begun to appear in the facade.
Between 2012 and 2015, Sweden granted asylum to 101,925 refugees. The influx peaked in 2015, when Sweden took in nearly 163,000 new asylum-seekers. The following year, though the population grew by 140,000, only 29,000 were asylum-seekers, a result of the government's late-2015 decision to limit immigration, according to Sweden.se. Sweden has welcomed more refugees per capita in the wake of the Syrian Civil War than any other European country. This growth has caused some political leaders, particularly on the far right, to suggest the country's resources are being stretched too far. Still, a Eurobarometer survey from 2016 showed that 64 percent of Swedes have a positive view of immigration from outside the EU; the EU average is 34 percent.
The government is currently being steered by a coalition of the Social Democrats and the Green Party. The second-largest party are the Moderates, whose former leader Fredrik Reinfeldt was the previous prime minister. The far-right nationalist Sweden Democrats are the third-largest party in Parliament; other parties have been steadfastly unwilling to work with them.
In 2017, Social Democrat leader Stefan Löfven – prime minister since 2014 – faced outrage in the wake of a scandal surrounding an IT security breach. Though many expected his entire government to resign and for snap elections to be called, the prime minister instead reshuffled his cabinet and managed to maintain stability. But the near-disaster revealed a lack of confidence in the leadership.
Löfven said he would seek to continue as Sweden's prime minister during the 2018 general election. Views on immigration – whether it should be restricted or kept relatively open – are now the number one factor as Sweden's many political parties and coalitions grapple for power.
People & Immigration
Sweden’s population is relatively small given the size of the country – its nearly 10 million people are spread across the third-largest country in Western Europe, creating one of the lowest population densities on the continent. Most Swedes live in the large cities of Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö and Uppsala. About 30,000 Finnish speakers form a substantial minority in the northeast, near Torneälven. The interior of Norrland is sparsely populated.
Swedish culture strongly values socially progressive ideas such as gender and racial equality, equal rights for gay people, a free press and free expression, transparency in government, environmental protection and workers' rights. At the same time, racial and religious tensions have increased in recent years, as the number of foreign-born Swedes has grown – state statistics show that crimes against Muslims jumped by nearly 90% between 2012 and 2015. Currently around 15% of the population was born outside Sweden.
Equality is a straightforward enough goal in a small, homogenous society, but Sweden's relatively sudden diversity has required some adjustment, and it hasn't always gone smoothly. Resistance to immigration by fringe groups and far-right political parties has led to some ugly clashes; demonstrations by white-supremacist and neo-Nazi groups have become increasingly visible. Prime Minister Stefan Löfven made a public statement against the rise of neo-Nazi movements in Sweden in 2017, calling on Swedes not to tolerate fascist views.
Sweden first opened its borders to mass immigration during WWII. At the time it was a closed society, and new arrivals were initially expected to assimilate and ‘become Swedish’. But in 1975 parliament adopted a new set of policies that formally recognised the freedom to preserve and celebrate traditional native cultures.
Sweden has been a leader in welcoming immigrants and refugees from Middle Eastern and African countries. In 2014, the Swedish government announced that it would take unlimited numbers of Syrian refugees for permanent residence.