Why did Swedish conservatives relax gender-change laws?

In the 2010s the main political dynamic inside western societies could be boiled down to simple left and right. Figures such as Jordan Peterson, and others loosely grouped under the banner of the ‘intellectual dark web’, were only just rising to prominence and had begun to discuss the new-fangled idea of the ‘culture wars’.  These days conservatives are just phoning it in, going through the motions, and collecting their paychecks for as long as they can Today, the battle between progressives and conservatives has been replaced by something far more confusing and unsettling. The recent legislative debacle in Sweden, in which a right-wing government – a government that conservatives cheered

Murder in the dark: The Eighth House, by Linda Segtnan, reviewed

It takes a Scandinavian mother to write like this: ‘Why murder a nine-year-old girl? She wasn’t raped. Rape is the only motive I know of for the murder of little girls, unless the killer is a close relative.’ Linda Segtnan’s The Eighth House benefits from this bluntness. Its author, a historical researcher based in Stockholm, was browsing through a newspaper archive in 2018 when a photograph of nine-year-old Birgitta Sivander caught her attention. The girl lived in a village called Perstorp in southern Sweden until one evening in May 1948 she went out to the football field and did not return. A search was organised, the human chain making its

What we owe to the self-taught genius Carl Linnaeus

Carl Linnaeus and Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon were both taxonomists, born in the same year (1707), but apart from that they had little in common and never met. Buffon was French, Linnaeus Swedish. Buffon was suave, elegant, tall and handsome (Voltaire said he had ‘the body of an athlete and the soul of a sage’), whereas Linnaeus was a bumptious little man (under 5ft), who was widely regarded as uncouth. Buffon’s funeral was attended by 20,000 mourners but Linnaeus died almost forgotten, after suffering from a brain disease for 15 years. Yet the Linnaean system of taxonomy has survived much better than Buffon’s, which was hardly a system at

What does the European centre-right stand for?

Friedrich Merz, the leader of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), dropped the bomb last weekend. In a TV interview, Merz opened the door for collaboration with Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the nationalist-populist party that is home to Germany’s cabal of crackpots and right-wing extremists. He didn’t say what form such co-operation would take, but talked about finding ways to run local councils when the AfD won democratic elections – which happened a few weeks ago when Hannes Loth won a mayoral race in a small town in Saxony-Anhalt. The reactions to Merz’s comments came thick and fast. Politicians from the left questioned his democratic credentials. He’s the ‘wrecking ball of

Why Europe riots

Montpellier A spectre is haunting Europe. In France, Sweden, Germany, Belgium and even Switzerland, the rule of law is being challenged by the rule of gangs. Disaffected young people cut off from society feel nothing but nihilistic contempt for it. Higher temperatures and social media are creating a heated summer. Judging from recent events in Paris and Stockholm, this year could be the worst so far. The rise of gang violence is associated with immigration. Europe has shown itself incapable or unwilling to control the influx of migrants, some of them genuine asylum seekers, others simply opportunists. Nor have European politicians succeeded in dealing with the problems created by immigration,

Why Europe’s shift to the right may cost the Tories

On her recent visit to Washington, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves presented herself as the perfect candidate to be the next chancellor in the modern mould: an environmentalist, interventionist and protectionist similar to Joe Biden and Olaf Scholz. Reeves champions what she calls ‘securonomics’, a sister of Bidenomonics with an environmental twist. But the trouble with Reeves’s approach is that just as she makes plain her direction, much of Europe is heading the other way. Take Finland. Until recently the country was led by Sanna Marin who, with New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, became the face of the international centre-left. Marin was voted out in April’s general election and as of this

Covid and the politics of panic

It is 15 months since Sweden’s Coronavirus Commission presented its final report. The 770-page document analysed how the country handled the pandemic and came up with numerous suggestions for how things might have been done better. The initial response, it concluded, was too slow, but the report vindicated the decision to make social distancing measures voluntary rather than compulsory. Why, then, has it taken the UK’s own Covid inquiry so long even to get going? In two weeks’ time the chair of the inquiry, Baroness Hallett, will finally start to hear evidence for module one – which looks at Britain’s pandemic preparedness – but she has said that she expects

How Denmark helped America spy on Sweden

A large, investigative collaboration between Scandinavian public service outlets and European newspapers such as Le Monde and Süddeutsche Zeitung has revealed a rather sensational espionage story. US intelligence agency NSA has reportedly been snooping on American allies, including Swedish politicians, with the help of…Sweden’s neighbour, Denmark. To make matters worse, the Danish defense minister has apparently been sitting on the information for a whole year, without telling her Swedish counterpart. Ouch. Things will be chillier than usual at this June’s Nato-led maritime exercise (‘Baltops 50’) in the Baltic Sea. Germany has been kept in the dark by the Danes, too The closing of the bridge between Denmark and Sweden to

Has a Quran-burning protest ended Sweden’s Nato dream?

A crowd gathered outside Turkey’s embassy in Stockholm on Saturday afternoon to watch far-right politician Rasmus Paludan burn the Quran. Paludan, who leads the anti-Islam ‘Hard Line’ Danish party, was watched by dozens of photographers, police officers and bemused passers-by. Paludan is no stranger to controversy: he has previously been convicted under racism and defamation law. This latest stunt was called to show his party’s opposition to immigration and, he says, to stand up for free speech. Now, though, the stunt has become a diplomatic crisis for Sweden – and there are fears that its bid to join Nato could go up in smoke. Sweden is in the middle of trying to end

Nato is no longer ‘brain dead’

Finland and Sweden will be formally invited to join Nato today. Them joining the alliance will bolster Nato’s presence in the Baltic and make it easier to defend Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The alliance now has a clear, strategic purpose again Turkey had objected to the two countries joining, regarding them as too soft on Kurdish separatists, whom President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sees as ‘terrorists’ threatening his country. But having received some concessions on that front, Erdogan has dropped his objections. There’s also speculation that the US will sell F-16 fighter aircraft to Turkey in exchange for its cooperation on this matter. It is remarkable that Sweden, a country which has so

The surprising appeal of Sweden’s second largest city

Sweden is often overlooked as a holiday destination by Brits due to lazy misconceptions about the Scandinavian weather and prices. Yet Swedish summers are arguably more predictable than our own, with average temperatures in the low 20s throughout June, July and August and the food, whether dining at a seaside café or grand hotel, is almost invariably of excellent quality, using local produce, and at prices similar to those back home. Sweden’s second largest city Gothenburg has typically sat in the shadow of Stockholm as far as international tourists are concerned, but it has much to reward those who are prepared to venture off the beaten track. As my flight

The danger of learning too much from Covid

When Ray Bradbury was asked if his dystopian vision in Fahrenheit 451 would become a reality, he replied: ‘I don’t try to predict the future. All I want to do is prevent it.’ In the hot embers of the Covid-19 pandemic, it may not be enough to foresee infectious disease threats if we lack the ability to forestall them. After all, predictions were made about 2019. In a Ted talk four years earlier, Bill Gates warned about what he later called ‘Disease X’, a respiratory disease that would cause millions of fatalities. Devi Sridhar, a professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, addressed the Hay Festival in 2018

Why the new Anglo-Swedish pact matters

Boris Johnson has travelled to Stockholm to sign a mutual defence pact with Sweden to tide the country over until it enters Nato. He’ll then travel to Finland to agree similar terms. This is quite significant for a few reasons. To the Prime Minister, the ‘global Britain’ post-Brexit strategy means signing global new trade and defence relationships: with European and global partners. In other words, showing that Brexit Britain has not turned in on itself but is keen to make new and global alliances – stepping up as an ally at times when even America is reluctant. This is one of those times. In theory, the European Union has a mutual defence clause (Article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty) 

Sweden is burning again

Sweden has seen streets riots before. The country has witnessed attacks on police and rescue workers. But what played out this Easter weekend has left Swedes in shock. Rasmus Paludan, a Danish politician on the extreme right who also holds Swedish citizenship, decided to tour the country last week, seeking out immigrant neighbourhoods where he could stage public burnings of the Quran. Paludan’s support in Sweden is isolated to the very fringes of the extreme right, especially since it was alleged last year that he had written sexually explicit messages to underage boys online. But there is no prohibition against blasphemy in Swedish law, which is why the police granted him

Is this the birth of a Nordic Nato?

In the past six weeks, Finland and Sweden’s security policies have changed more than they have over the past six decades. In much of what they do, the two countries come as a couple and were militarily neutral during the Cold War – but their defence cooperation has only deepened since Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014. Now, the two are about to break with their long history of non-alignment. Their applications to join Nato are likely to come in the next two months. At a press conference in Stockholm this week, the prime ministers of the two countries – Sanna Marin and Magdalena Andersson – came close to admitting they want

Is Julian Assange on a hiding to nothing?

A question looms throughout this book: is it better to die rather than experience the wrath of a publicly shamed America? The story begins in 2018 when Nils Melzer, a UN Special Rapporteur on torture, received an email: ‘Julian Assange is seeking your protection.’ Melzer’s office receives approximately 50 requests for help each week, and he was initially dismissive of this one. He believed the founder of WikiLeaks was ‘hiding out in an embassy somewhere because of rape allegations’. A few months later, Assange’s lawyers made contact again. This time Melzer read the documents forwarded to him and changed his mind: ‘I began to wake up to my own prejudice.’

How gang warfare took over Sweden’s streets

Nils Grönberg was 19 years old when he was shot and killed: one bullet to his chest and one to his face. Images of his lifeless body lying on the ground in one of Stockholm’s more affluent neighbourhoods – the hyper-modern Hammarby Waterfront Residential Area – soon spread on social media. Many Swedes heard the news from their children. Nils Grönberg, or ‘Einár’ as he called himself, was one of Sweden’s most popular artists. And while middle-class Swedes keep hoping that their kids can be kept away from what goes on among the country’s criminal gangs, the murder of Einár once again proved that this is a mess we’re all

Sweden’s gun crime epidemic is spiralling out of control

The shots were fired at 1pm on a Sunday, in spite of a heavy police presence at the scene. A 44-year-old shop owner was killed by a bullet to the head. The murder victim was a hard-working man who was trying to make a better life for his family. Now he is dead: another victim of Sweden’s gun-violence epidemic. On 28 May, two days before the shooting, riots had broken out in the same neighbourhood, the immigrant area of Hjällbo (pronounced ‘Yel-boo’) in Gothenburg, as a local criminal gang clashed with shop owners and their relatives. On the surface, the events were sparked when a 14-year-old boy was pushed off

Swedish meatballs: a taste of Ikea at home

It’s thought that meatballs were brought to Sweden by King Charles XII. After a disastrous attempt to invade Russia in 1709, he fled in exile to the Ottoman empire. There he fell for a dish very similar to the Swedish meatballs we now know and, when he returned from exile five years later, he took those meatballs back with him. The meatballs grew in popularity and eventually became so closely associated with the country, that they took on the ‘Swedish’ name. But it would be disingenuous to write about Swedish meatballs and not mention that bastion of storage, that flatpack palace: Ikea. It’s no exaggeration to say that Ikea brought

Is Sweden ready for a woke monarchy?

Stockholm The House of Sussex may have flopped in Britain, but elsewhere it does seem to be inspiring others. Here in Stockholm a trendy podcast Värvet (The Task), known for host Kristoffer Triumf’s in-depth interviews with media and entertainment figures, had a surprise guest recently: Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden. He was not so gauche as to attack the constitution or to drop any Prince Harry-style bombs, but his presence on a podcast was seen as the latest part of a royal awokening. Even in exile, Harry has created an interesting challenge for the world’s monarchies. They can be regarded as old-fashioned — normally aligned with the state religion