Freedom in the World
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Since 1998 Prime Minister Goran Persson has led a left-ofcenter coalition including his Social Democratic Party (SDP), the formerly Communist Left Party, and the Green Party. Sweden's historical position of neutrality became the topic of parliamentary debate after the terrorist attacks in the United States in September 2001. Debate over whether the country should join the European Monetary Union (EMU) continued from years past. Several people were sentenced to prison terms after violent anti-globalization riots during a summit meeting.
Sweden is a constitutional monarchy and a multiparty parliamentary democracy. After monarchical alliances with Finland, Denmark, and Norway between the eleventh and nineteenth centuries, Sweden emerged as a modern democracy.
Sweden has remained nonaligned and neutral since World War I. However, in November 2000, Prime Minister Persson announced his intention to end Sweden's policy of military neutrality, declaring the stance irrelevant in the post-Cold War era. The announcement raised some concern among political opponents that Sweden would have to form alliances in wartime, as well as identify potential enemies. While continuing to rule out NATO membership, Persson insisted that non-neutrality would place Sweden in a better position to address post-Cold War issues such as disarmament, nuclear nonproliferation, and European stability. Instability in the Balkans during the 1990s led to an increase of immigrants to Sweden from Yugoslavia, sparking intolerance and nationalist and extremist violence. Sweden is an active member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program.
Debate over Sweden's traditional neutral stance became more pronounced in the latter part of 2001. After the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, the ruling Social Democrats began speaking openly of breaking from neutrality in the event of a major terror attack close to Sweden. Other members of the governing coalition, including the Greens, declared their wish for Sweden to remain neutral.
In July, several people were sentenced to prison terms for their role one month earlier in anti-globalization riots during a European Union summit in Gothenburg. Swedish police officers, overwhelmed by the violent protestors, opened fire with live ammunition; 90 people were hurt during the riots.
Sweden is faced with the difficult decision of whether to join the EMU. While the country joined the European Union in 1995, it did so grudgingly. The SDP's two coalition partners oppose joining the EMU and are unenthusiastic about Sweden's European Union membership. The SDP has promised a referendum on whether to join the EMU.
In September the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) rated the Swedish economy as the world's most knowledge based. The economy, however, suffered setbacks during the year, especially in the telecommunications sector. Erricson, a major mobile-phone provider, instituted massive layoffs. The company accounts for eight percent of Sweden's annual gross domestic product.
Sweden administers one of the world's most extensive welfare systems. The Persson government has been assailed for maintaining high taxes, which, critics say, make Sweden less competitive and encourages a brain drain of young, educated professionals.
Swedes can change their government democratically. The 310-member, unicameral Riksdag (parliament) is elected every four years through universal suffrage. To ensure absolute proportionality for all parties that secure more than four percent of the vote, an additional 39 representatives are selected from a national pool of candidates. Singleparty majority governments are rare.
Citizens abroad are entitled to vote by absentee ballot in national elections, and non-nationals in residence for three years may vote in local elections. The Saami (Lapp) community elects its own local parliament with significant powers over education and culture. The Saami parliament serves as an advisory body to the government. The role of King Carl Gustaf XVI, who was crowned in 1973, is ceremonial. The prime minister is appointed by the speaker of the house and confirmed by the Riksdag.
The media are independent. Most newspapers and periodicals are privately owned. The government subsidizes daily newspapers regardless of their political affiliation. The ethnic press is entitled to the same kind of subsidies as the Swedish press. The Swedish Broadcasting Corporation and the Swedish Television Company broadcast weekly radio and television programs in several immigrant languages. In recent years, new satellite- and ground-based commercial television channels and radio stations ended the government monopoly on broadcasting. Internet penetration rates in Sweden are among the highest in the world; more than half the population is on-line.
Citizens may freely express their ideas and criticize their government. The government is empowered to prevent publication of information related to national security. A quasi-government body censors extremely graphic violence from films, videos, and television programs.
International human rights groups have criticized Sweden for its immigration policies, which have severely limited the number of refugees admitted annually. Stricter asylum criteria were adopted in the 1990s after decades of relatively relaxed rules. Nordic immigrants may become citizens after two years, while others must wait a minimum of five years. Critics charge that the country does not systematically provide asylum seekers with adequate legal counsel or access to an appeals process. The jobless rate among non-Nordic immigrants is close to 20 percent, whereas among the general population it is about 6 percent. Immigrants, half of whom are from other Nordic countries, make up about 10 percent of the Swedish population. In May reports surfaced that the national immigration board used devious methods to deport asylum seekers. In at least one case, the board summoned an asylum seeker to discuss a supposed job offer to a man from the Balkans. Upon his arrival, he was seized by police and deported.
Dozens of violent incidents with anti-immigrant or racist overtones are reported annually, and the government supports volunteer groups that oppose racism. The Nationalsocialistick Front, the leading neo-Nazi group in Sweden, has an estimated 1,500 members and was recently permitted to register as a political party.
Although the country's 17,000 Saami enjoy some political autonomy, Sweden was the last Nordic country to approve a parliament for its Lappic population.
Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed. Approximately 85 percent of the population is Lutheran. On January 1, 2000, Sweden officially disestablished the Church of Sweden from the state, following the norm in Western Europe to sever ties between the state and an official religion. The move effectively reduced the once-substantial subsidies to the church and redirected them to other religious institutions, including those associated with Catholics, Muslims, and Jews. The growing numbers of non- Lutherans in Sweden prompted the move. There are approximately 200,000 Muslims, 160,000 Roman Catholics, 100,000 Orthodox Christians, and 16,000 Jews in Sweden.
Freedom of assembly and association is guaranteed, as are the rights to strike and participate in unions. Strong and well-organized trade union federations represent 90 percent of the labor force. Despite historical ties with the SDP, the labor movement has become increasingly independent.
The country's independent judiciary includes 6 courts of appeal, 100 district courts, a supreme court, and a parallel system of administrative courts.
Women constitute approximately 45 percent of the labor force, but their wage levels lag behind those of men. Approximately 43 percent of the members of parliament are women, the highest proportion in the world.