The Kingdom of Sweden (Swedish: Konungariket Sverige ) is a Nordic country in Scandinavia, in Northern Europe. It is bordered by Norway on the west, Finland on the northeast, the Skagerrak Strait and the Kattegat Strait on the southwest, and the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Bothnia on the east. Sweden has a relatively low population density and is known for its large peaceful forests and mountainous wilderness.
Main article: History of Sweden
Conclusive archaeological evidence exists that the area now comprising Sweden was settled during the Stone Age (6,000 BC – 4,000 BC), as the inland ice of the Weichsel glaciation, i.e. the last ice age, receded. The earliest inhabitants are thought to have been hunters and gatherers, living primarily off what the sea (later called the Baltic Sea) could offer. Some evidence supports the theory that southern Sweden was densely populated during the Bronze Age, as remains of large trading communities from this period have been found.
Sweden as a name was originally a plural form of Swede and is a so-called "back-formation", from Old English Sweoðeod, the land of the Suiones. During the Scandinavian Viking culture of the 9th and 10th century, the spheres of interest were so distributed, that trade, raiding and colonisation from present-day Sweden primarily went eastward, to Balticum, Russia and the Black Sea, while the Danes (including those in present-day South-Sweden) went southward, and the Norwegians concentrated on Scotland, Ireland and Iceland.
Christianization in the 12th century led to the consolidation of a Swedish state centered at the water-ways of the northern Baltic and the Gulf of Finland. The East-West Schism between Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy was mirrored in frequent wars between Sweden and Novgorod, but stabilized in 1323 by the Treaty of Nöteborg with a border established along a line from the Eastern tip of the Gulf of Finland to the Northern tip of the Gulf of Bothnia.
Like the similarly newly consolidated states of Norway and Denmark, in the 14th century Sweden was struck by crisis that was further aggravated by the Black Death, although Sweden's expansion into the wilderness of the Scandinavian peninsula and present-day Finland continued. The political incorporation into Sweden proper of what would later become Finland is usually dated to 1362, and would last until 1809.
In 1389, the three countries of Norway, Denmark and Sweden were united under a single monarch. The Kalmar Union was entered into as a personal, not a political, union; and during the 15th century, the Swedes resisted attempts to centralise rule under the Danish crown, even to the point of armed rebellions. Sweden ultimately broke away in 1521, when Gustav Eriksson Vasa, from 1523 known as king Gustav I of Sweden, re-established separation of the Swedish crown from the union.
Gustav Vasa's reign was signified by the Protestant Reformation, a renewed consolidation and centralization of the state, the formalization of the taxed yeomanry's participation in decisions on taxes and their use through a four-chamber parliament, and of relatively peaceful international relations. Gustav Vasa is the closest to a Father of the Nation the Swedes know.
The 17th century saw the rise of Sweden as one of the great powers in Europe, due to successful participation, initiated by King Gustavus Adolphus, in the Thirty Years' War. This position would crumble in the 18th century when Imperial Russia took the reins of northern Europe in the Great Northern War, and eventually in 1809, splitting off the eastern half of Sweden, thereby creating the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland. In between, Sweden with Finland had experienced 50 years of early Parliamentarism.
Recent Swedish history has been peaceful, the last war being the Campaign against Norway , 1814, establishing a Sweden-dominated personal union with Norway. The union was peacefully dissolved in 1905, despite some sabre-rattling. A threatening Socialist Revolution was avoided in 1917, following the re-introduction of Parliamentarism, and the country was democratized. Sweden remained a neutral country during World War I and World War II (with a brief exception for the Winter War). It continued to stay non-aligned during the Cold War and still today is not a member of any military alliance.
The first ceremony to award the Nobel Prize, founded by the Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, was held at the Old Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm in 1901; beginning in 1902, the prizes have been formally awarded by the King of Sweden. Remaining outside of World War II military action, except for lucrative contracts with Germany , gave the Swedes a great advantage when Europe was rebuilt after the war, ensuring them a particularly high standard of living for many decades and allowing the foundation of an extensive welfare state.
Main articles: Politics of Sweden
Sweden has been a monarchy for almost a millennium, with taxation controlled by the parliament. Until 1866, the taxed peasantry was represented in one of the four chambers, then Sweden became a Constitutional monarchy with a bicameral parliament, with the First Chamber indirectly elected by local governments, and the Second Chamber directly elected.
Legislative power was shared between king and parliament until 1975. In 1971, the Parliament, the Riksdag, became unicameral. Constitutionally, the 349-member Riksdag holds supreme authority in Sweden, and its acts are not subject to judicial review. However, acts of the parliament must at every level be made inapplicable if they obviously are against constitutional laws. Legislation may be initiated by the Cabinet or by members of Parliament. Members are elected on the basis of proportional representation for a four-year term. The constitution, "Regeringsformen" (the fundamental law of constitutional level), can be altered by the Riksdag, which requires a supermajority and confirmation after the following general elections. Sweden has three other laws of constitutional level; successionsordningen (The Act of Royal Succession), tryckfrihetsförordningen (The Freedom of the Press Act) and yttrandefrihetsgrundlagen (The Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression).
Executive power was shared between the King and a noble Privy Council until 1680, followed by the King's autocratic rule initiated by the common estates of the Parliament. As a reaction to the failed Great Northern War, Parliamentarism was introduced in 1719, followed by three different flavours of Constitutional Monarchy in 1772, 1789 and 1809, the latter granting several civil liberties.
Parliamentarism was re-introduced in 1917 as King Gustaf V, after decades of struggle and ultimately fearing a threatening revolution, accepted to appoint ministers that could be expected to have the political confidence of a parliamentary majority. This was followed by common and equal suffrage enacted 1918–21. Parliamentarism was upheld by his successor Gustav VI Adolf until a new constitution in 1975 abolished the monarch's political power.
The monarch remains as the formal, but merely symbolic, head of state with mainly ceremonial duties.
Social Democracy has played a dominant political role since 1917, after Reformists had confirmed their strength and the Revolutionaries left the party. Social Democratic influence over society and government is often described as Hegemony. 1932–1956 Social Democrats and Agrarians formed a stable governing majority, that was widened during WWII. After 1956, the Cabinets have been totally dominated by the Social Democrats, in the parliament often supported by the Left Party (formerly the Communists, and still with a large and influential Communist fraction) and the Greens (Environment party), except for six years 1976–1982 and three years 1991–1994.
The judicial system is divided between courts with regular civil and criminal jurisdiction and special courts with responsibility for litigation between the public and governmental authorities. Swedish law is codified and its court system consists of local courts (tingsrätter/länsrätter), regional appellate courts (hovrätter/kammarrätter), and a Supreme Court (Högsta Domstolen/Regeringsrätten) where the latter are the administrative benches.
Main article: Counties of Sweden
Sweden is divided into 21 counties or län. In each county there is a County Administrative Board or länsstyrelse which is appointed by the Government. In each county there is also a separate County Council or landsting, which is the municipal representation appointed by the county electorate. Each county further divides into a number of municipalities or kommuner, making a total of 290 municipalities, in 2004. There are also older historical divisions of the Swedish Realm, primarily into provinces and lands.
Main article: Geography of Sweden
Sweden in winter (February 19, 2003)
Sweden enjoys a mostly temperate climate despite its northern latitude, mainly due to the Gulf Stream. In the south of Sweden leaf-bearing trees are prolific, in the north pines and hardy birches dominate the landscape. In the mountains of northern Sweden a sub-arctic climate predominates. North of the Arctic Circle, the sun never sets during the summer, and in the winter night is unending.
East of Sweden is the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Bothnia, providing a long coastline, and mellowing the climate further yet. To the west is the Scandinavian mountain chain, a range that separates Sweden from Norway.
The southern part of the country is chiefly agricultural, with forests covering a larger percentage of the land the further north one goes. Population density is also higher in southern Sweden, with centers being in the valley of lake Mälaren and the Öresund region.
Gotland and Öland are the two largest Islands of Sweden.
Main article: Economy of Sweden
Aided by peace and neutrality for the whole of the 20th century, Sweden has achieved an enviable standard of living under a mixed system of high-tech capitalism and extensive welfare benefits. It has a modern distribution system, excellent internal and external communications, and a skilled labour force. Timber, hydropower, and iron ore constitute the resource base of an economy heavily oriented toward foreign trade.
Privately-owned firms account for about 90% of industrial output, of which the engineering sector accounts for 50% of output and exports. Agriculture accounts for only 2% of GDP and 2% of the jobs. The government's commitment to fiscal discipline resulted in a substantial budgetary surplus in 2001, which was cut by more than half in 2002, due to the global economic slowdown, revenue declines, and spending increases. The Swedish Riksbank is focusing on price stability with its inflation target of 2%. Growth is expected to reach 3.5% in 2004, assuming a continued moderate global recovery. However, unemployment has steadily increased since 2001 and stood at 5.7% as of February 2005. The communications and transportation systems of Sweden are important components of the infrastructure.
Main article: Demographics of Sweden
Sweden has one of the world's highest life expectancies and one of the lowest birth rates. The country counts at least 17,000 indigenous Samis among its population. Also some 50,000 of the ethnic Finns of Sweden consist an indigenous minority, although many more of the Sweden Finns descend from 20th century immigrants.
The Swedish nation has been transformed from a nation of emigration ending after World War I to a nation of immigration from World War II and on. Almost 12% of the residents were born abroad, and about one fifth of Sweden's population are either immigrants or the children of immigrants. The largest immigrant groups are from Finland, the former Yugoslavia, Iran, Norway, Denmark, and Poland. This reflects the inter-Nordic migrations, earlier periods of labor immigration, and later decades of refugee and family immigration.
The Finns were the first large group of immigrants to contemporary Sweden. During World War II some 70,000 war children were evacuated from Finland. 15,000 of them stayed after the war, and many more returned as adults. Post-war hardship in Finland pushed large contingents of unemployed Finns to Sweden's booming economy in the 1950s–60s. At its height, over 400,000 Finns lived in Sweden, but following the 1973 energy crisis the unemployment rate in Sweden worsened while steady Soviet trade was to Finland's advantage. Since then, the number of immigrated Sweden-Finns has decreased to below 200,000.
A typical 19th, early 20th century farmer's house
Soviet intervention against the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the 1968 Czechoslovakian liberalization resulted in the first surges of intellectual political refugees. American deserters from the Vietnam War often found refuge among the Swedes, who in international politics took a clear stand against what they typically viewed as imperialism executed by both the Soviet Union and the United States of America. After the 1973 coup in Chile, and the following military dictatorships in Chile and other South American countries, political refugees came to dominate the image of immigration to Sweden, including refugees from Iran, Iraq and Palestine. Of the refugees from the Yugoslav wars, 135,000 remain in Sweden (2001).
Swedish is a Germanic language related to Danish and Norwegian but different in pronunciation and orthography. English is by far the leading foreign language, particularly among students and those under age 50. The Swedish language has held a de facto dominant position to such a degree that making it an official language never has been a political issue. However, the recognition of five minority languages, on April 1, 2000, has raised the issue of whether Swedish should have a standing as the official language in Sweden. Sami, Meänkieli and Finnish may be used in dealing with municipal and government agencies, courts, preschools and nursing homes in parts of Norrbotten County.
Sweden has an extensive childcare system that guarantees a place for all young children from 1-5 years old in a public day-care facility. From ages 6-16, children attend compulsory comprehensive school. After completing the ninth grade, 90% attend upper secondary school for either academic or technical education.
Swedes benefit from an extensive social welfare system, which provides for childcare and maternity and paternity leave, a ceiling on health care costs, old-age pensions, and sick leave among other benefits. Parents are entitled to a total of 480 days paid leave between birth and the child's eighth birthday, with 30 days reserved specifically for each parent. A ceiling on health care costs makes it easier for Swedish workers to take time off for medical reasons.
As of approximately August 12, 2004, the population of Sweden for the first time exceeded 9,000,000, according to Statistics Sweden.
Main article: Culture of Sweden
Swedish 20th century culture is noted by pioneering works in the early days of cinema, with Mauritz Stiller and Victor Sjöström. Later on, filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman and actresses such as Greta Garbo, Zarah Leander, Ingrid Bergman and Anita Ekberg made careers abroad.
Swedish music is in many minds connected with ABBA, although more recently indie bands like Millencolin, Soundtrack Of Our Lives and The Hives have started achieving international fame. Also worthy of mention are bob hund, Roxette, Ace of Base, The Cardigans, and Yngwie J. Malmsteen
In underground circles, Sweden is known for a large number of death metal and black metal acts, often viewed as pioneering or at the forefront of the scene. Swedish metal bands include Bathory, Opeth, Dark Tranquility, Naglfar, and Vintersorg.
Swedish literature is also vibrant and active, Sweden ranking third in the list of countries with most Nobel Prize laureates in literature.
Main article: Holidays in Sweden
The Swedish holiday calendar consists mainly of Christian holidays. Many of these are however a continuation of pre-christian customs, such as Midsummer and Walpurgis Night. Apart from official holidays and a few de facto holidays there are also official flag day observances and minor observances in the namesday calendar.
Last updated: 10-19-2005 18:29:24