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Sweden-bashing is when Sweden is subjected to unfair criticism by non-Swedes that is either motivated by a desire for increased standing in their own home countries, or intended to influence Swedish government policies or social institutions.

At a 2016 discussion forum titled "Transnationalizing Swedish–American Relations",[1]:7 Carl Marklund, a postdoctoral researcher in Eastern European studies at Södertörn University, argued that Swedish conservatives had been influenced by American criticism of the Swedish welfare state in the 1970s and 80s.[1]:7 Marklund said that Swedes had "used the United States as a source of inspiration as well as a warning, seeking not primarily to understand the United States but to promote or prevent social change in Sweden."[1]:7 Furthermore, Marklund argued, Sweden was viewed similarly by Americans, "as both a model and a dangerous example of a welfare state." Marklund referred to this as "Sweden-bashing".[1]:7

The term has also been used by journalists and by Swedish government officials[citation needed] discussing Swedish foreign relations, as well as by other commentators.

In academia[edit]

In proposing the use of the term "Sweden-bashing", historian Dr. Carl Marklund posited the phenomenon as follows:[2]:2

[T]he often cited exemplarity of Sweden among progressive countries worldwide—due to its Third World solidarity abroad as well as its social policies at home—also made it the subject of an admittedly marginal, but vocal genre of diagnosis and criticism, first from conservatives, later from liberals, that can be termed "Sweden-bashing." Key themes in this genre include allegedly totalitarian tendencies in the Swedish welfare state as well as a supposedly anti-Western bias in Swedish Cold War neutrality

Sweden-bashing was used in the 1960s U.S. presidential election between Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.[3] In 1960 while addressing the Republican National Committee, President Eisenhower described Sweden as a cautionary tale about socialism and government intrusion into the affairs of individuals.[3] He described Sweden as engaging in an "experiment of almost complete paternalism", and cited what he said were allegedly high rates of alcoholism, suicide, and divorce, as well as a "lack of ambition".[3]

Although American criticisms of Swedish welfare policies were initially[when?] received with skepticism among Swedish conservatives, they gradually became accepted as part of a "shift to the right" in Sweden's self-image and perception abroad.[2]:2 He wrote that this "underscor[ed] how originally distant actors, marginal discourses and random events may be amplified through transnational circulation of ideas and images", and noted that some regarded the shift to the right as evidence of a counter-strategy by business interests to oppose the radical left of the 1970s, or as a "purposive elite strategy of political communication."[2]:2

A renewal of negative American publicity about Sweden followed the Social Democrats' return to power in 1982, focusing on alleged problems of rising racism and xenophobia focused on immigrants.[2]:7 He also noted that Gösta Grassman, a foreign affairs press officer with the Swedish government, had referred to criticism of the Swedish welfare state as "the 1984 reports" due to the portrayal of Sweden as a totalitarian state by such critics.[2]:8 Grassman said that in this new strain of criticism, the previous portrayal of Sweden's welfare state as a ploy to mask what was allegedly a covert form of capitalism had evolved into a similar allegation that the welfare state masked what was allegedly a form of socialism.[2]:8 The point of the reference to Nineteen Eighty-four, the dystopian novel by George Orwell, according to Grassman, was "to shock by reimagining a democratic, egalitarian, and prosperous Western society as 'totalitarian.'"[2]:8

Marklund wrote that in the tumult of debate, "it became increasingly difficult to distinguish the foreign reporting on Sweden and the Swedish debate on Sweden from the Swedish discussion of the image of Sweden abroad."[2]:8 While he acknowledged that the criticisms "can be viewed as examples of legitimate international journalism or political debate in Sweden itself", Marklund argued that they were often blown out of proportion in late 1983, both in foreign press coverage of Sweden and in the Swedish reception of that coverage.[2]:9 He noted that in the Swedish foreign ministry, believing that foreign criticism was amplifying or even distorting the significance of some issues in the political discourse, summoned 150 correspondents of the foreign press corps to receive what The New York Times described as "a lecture on their supposedly less-than-objective articles about Sweden."[2]:9 He wrote that the strategy backfired, as the journalists felt curtailed.[2]:9

As Sweden's international visibility have increased there have developed a market for Sweden-bashing.[4][5][according to whom?]

Japanese Sweden-bashing often focus on the care of the elderly.[6]

Discussion among politicians and government officials[edit]

Conservatives may engage in Sweden bashing as Sweden managed to have both economic efficiency and equality, something they feel is impossible.[7]

In a February 2016 report to the Swedish Foreign Ministry, the Swedish Embassy in London indicated that the widely distributed "right-wing UK tabloid newspaper", the Daily Mail, said to be known for its "vigorous anti-immigration stance", was running a campaign against Sweden's refugee policy.[8] The report said that Sweden was "being used as a deterrent and an argument against allowing more refugees into the UK" and was being characterised by the Daily Mail as "naive and an example of the negative consequences of a liberal migration policy."[8]

In mid-January, 2017, Czechoslovakia-born Swedish author Katerina Janouch made claims in an interview with a Czech television station which the Swedish government labelled as a "bizarre declaration".[9] Janouch said that "Swedes were learning to use guns to defend themselves as a result of increased immigration,"[10] that Swedish seniors do not have enough money for food, cancer patients were dying because of the long waiting lines caused by tens of thousands newly arrived refugees—77% of whom are men pretending to be minors—women are being raped, and 150,000 left Sweden for the United States and the UK.[9] Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven spoke of "increasing negative media coverage abroad"[10] at Davos[9] and in interviews with the local Swedish media with reassurances that there was still "great respect for the Swedish model'.[10]

After Donald Trump claimed at a 2017 rally that Sweden had serious crime and social problems related to immigrants, Olle Lönnaeus published an article in Sydsvenskan accusing Trump of spreading fake news, and said that "[a]s Trump wants to close the US border to Muslim immigration, it is in his interest to spread the idea that Europe’s most refugee friendly country is on the road to perdition."[11] In response, Jimmie Åkesson and Mattias Karlsson of the far-right,[12] anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats party published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal arguing that Trump had understated Sweden's problems, not exaggerated them, and that riots, attacks on emergency service personnel, gang violence, gun violence, and anti-Semitism were booming as a result of immigration.[13] Reacting to the editorial, Sweden's justice and migration minister Morgan Johansson accused Åkesson and Karlsson of lying about the immigrant crime situation, saying "They're painting a picture of a country characterized by violence, when it's the exact opposite."[14]

Discussion among journalists and other commentators[edit]

In a 2002 opinion article in New York Times Magazine, progressive economist Paul Krugman used the term "Sweden-bashing" in arguing that American conservatives attacked Swedish welfare policies as part of an effort to spread a misguided view that redistribution of wealth to poorer citizens promotes economic inefficiency.[15] Krugman argued that one influential conservative economic critique of Swedish policy was misguided because it focused on per-capita income, which Krugman argued was not a good measure of quality of life in Sweden, and because high wealth inequality in the United States skewed the available data.[15]

In an editorial titled Political Strategy Behind Sweden-Bashing in the daily newspaper Sydsvenskan, Joakim Palmkvist and Olle Lonnaeus identified possible political motives that might explain some Israeli criticism of Swedish press freedoms, such as a desire by the critics to gain domestic support, to pressure Sweden as chairman of the European Union in advance of coming peace talks on the Palestinian conflict, or even to prompt a press crackdown by the Swedish government.[16]

In 2013, Pertti Joenniemi, senior research fellow at the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) in Copenhagen, wrote[17] that

Sweden has been categorized as a 'Nordic banana republic' (an expression used by the leader of the DPP) and seen as a 'Prozac nation' (doped into tranquility). It has been positioned in the 'Balkans' and labelled 'East European' (an expression employed by a DPP member of the European Parliament). It has further been talked about as being 'Asian' as well as 'totalitarian'. At large the discourse turned, at least for a while, quite aggravated and Orientalist."

According to government agency Swedish Institute, while much of the foreign media reporting on how Sweden was to handle so many migrants at one time was accurate, some people with a political agenda turned to Sweden-bashing.[18] Sweden-bashing peaked again in 2016 as foreign media criticized Sweden's open immigration policies as swelling numbers of displaced peoples, refugee, and asylum seekers—many of whom had Sweden as their destination—travelled to Sweden via other European countries.[18]

By 2017 Sweden became the symbol of everything that many Republicans believe is wrong with Europe: feminism, environmentalism, and openness to refugees.[19] Donald Trump has been criticized for engaging in the Sweden-bashing by the hard-core American right.[20] The former ambassador Zvi Mazel performed some Sweden bashing in the Israeli press where he came with several absurd statements.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Dag Blanck and Adam Hjorthén (2016). "Transnationalizing Swedish–American Relations: An Introduction to the Special Forum". Journal of Transnational American Studies. 7 Number=1. Retrieved February 23, 2017. Finally, the circulation of discourses and ideas of Swedish and American modernity is a theme explored in this Forum through the article by Carl Marklund, dealing specifically with the phenomenon of "Sweden-bashing" during the years of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. Marklund argues that critical American discussions about the Swedish welfare state in the 1970s and 1980s were incorporated into the discourse of Swedish conservatives. This is one example were notions about American and Swedish modernities have resonated with each other during the twentieth and twenty-first century.32 Both Swedish conservatives and liberals used the United States as a source of inspiration as well as a warning, seeking not primarily to understand the United States but to promote or prevent social change in Sweden. Sweden has, in fact, occupied a similar position in the United States, as both a model and a dangerous example of a welfare stateCS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Carl Marklund (2016). "From "False" Neutrality to "True" Socialism: US "Sweden-bashing" during the Later Palme Years, 1973–1986". Journal of Transnational American Studies. 7 (1). Retrieved February 22, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c "Därför beskrivs Sverige som en dystopi", Dagens Nyheter, February 21, 2017, retrieved February 22, 2017
  4. ^ USC Center on Public Diplomacy: Sweden’s Public Diplomacy Must Adapt to Its New Global Role
  5. ^ Campus Helsingborg: James Pamment: Sweden's public diplomacy must adapt to its new global role
  6. ^ Dagens Nyheter: Mord på svensk myt
  7. ^ Debating Democracy: A Reader in American Politics, p. 317
  8. ^ a b Daily Mail running migrant campaign against Sweden, The Local, February 27, 2016, retrieved February 23, 2017
  9. ^ a b c Anne-Françoise Hivert (January 30, 2017), Stockholm dit stop au "Suède bashing", Malmö, Sweden, retrieved February 22, 2017
  10. ^ a b c 'There's great respect for the Swedish model': Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has said that the world still has great respect for the Swedish model, despite increasing negative media coverage abroad, The Local, January 18, 2017, retrieved February 22, 2017
  11. ^ Olle Lönnaeus (February 21, 2017), Trump loves to hate Malmö - this is why, Sydsvenskan, retrieved February 22, 2017
  12. ^ Downs, William M. (2012), Political Extremism in Democracies: Combating Intolerance, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 33, 149
  13. ^ Jimmie Åkesson and Mattias Karlsson (February 22, 2017), Trump Is Right: Sweden's Embrace of Refugees Isn't Working: The country has accepted 275,000 asylum-seekers, many without passports—leading to riots and crime, The Wall Street Journal, retrieved February 23, 2017CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  14. ^ Emma Löfgren (February 22, 2017), Minister blasts Sweden Democrats' Wall Street Journal op-ed: 'They're lying about Sweden', The Local, retrieved February 22, 2017
  15. ^ a b Krugman, Paul (October 20, 2002). "For Richer". www.nytimes.com. The New York Times. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
  16. ^ Palmkvist, Joakim; Lonnaeus, Olle (August 24, 2009). "Political strategy behind Sweden-bashing: There are two possible reasons for Israeli political leaders to attack Sweden". www.sydsvenskan.se. Sydsvenskan. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
  17. ^ Pertti Joenniemi (2013), Viatcheslav Morozov, ed., Chapter 10: Disputed Democratic Identities: the Case of Danish-Swedish Discord, Decentring the West: The Idea of Democracy and the Struggle for Hegemony, New York and London: Routledge, pp. 199–201, ISBN 9781409449706, retrieved February 23, 2017
  18. ^ a b 'Sweden bashing' peaked during 2015 migration wave, Sweden: Sveriges Radio, February 17, 2017, retrieved February 22, 2017, Some would like Sweden to be an element in their story of a failed state.
  19. ^ Aleksandra Eriksson (February 20, 2017), Sweden fights back as foreign leaders make up bad news, Brussels: euobserver, retrieved February 20, 2017
  20. ^ Salon: Sweden is the gateway to the alt-right anti-immigrant agenda in Europe
  21. ^ <Trelleborgs Allehanda: Sweden condemned in Israeli press