Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
After a series of monarchical alliances with Finland, Denmark, and Norway in the eleventh through nineteenth centuries, Sweden emerged as a modern democracy. Its tradition of neutrality, beginning with World War I, was altered somewhat by its admission to the EU in 1995, and further eroded by a more pragmatic approach to security first presented in 2002. However, Sweden has retained its commitment to stay outside of military alliances, including NATO.
The Social Democrats, led by Prime Minister Goran Persson, have dominated politics since the 1920s. With their partners, the Left (formerly Communist) Party and the Greens, the Social Democrats won 191 out of 349 seats in the 2002 parliamentary elections, promising not to cut back the generous welfare system. An impressive 79 percent of eligible Swedes voted in the poll.
The population overwhelmingly rejected the adoption of the euro in a referendum in September 2003, despite strong support from government and business. The "no" vote was generally attributed to popular fears of deterioration in Sweden's generous welfare state benefits and damage to the Swedish economy. The "no" vote may also have been a reflection of skepticism about the EU as a whole.
On September 10, 2003, just days before the referendum, Foreign Minister Lindh was mortally wounded in a knife attack in a Stockholm department store. The killing sparked considerable debate about security in Sweden, where violence is very rare and politicians regularly travel without bodyguards in order to maintain direct contact with citizens.
In January 2004, Mijailo Mijailovic confessed to the murder, claiming it was a random attack motivated by "voices inside his head." In March, a Stockholm district court sentenced Mijailovic to life in prison, finding him mentally sound and guilty of murder. However, an appeals court overturned this verdict in June and ordered Mijailovic to a closed psychiatric ward after declaring him insane, a decision which rules out prison under Swedish law. The appeals court ruling was met with general dismay by the Swedish population and elicited widespread criticism of the Swedish psychiatric care system. The case was sent to the Supreme Court and was pending as of November 30.
Elections to the European Parliament in June saw only 37 percent of Swedes cast their ballots. Those that did vote gave a surprising 3 seats (of 19) to the euro-skeptic June List, a coalition that formed in the wake of the defeat of the referendum on the euro. The Social Democrats led all parties with 5 seats but garnered a lower percentage of votes than expected, a fate shared by their allies the Green Party (1 seat) and the Left Party (2 seats). The right-of-center opposition parties, who recent opinion polls show are gaining in popularity, earned the rest of the seats: the Moderates won 4 seats, the People's Party captured 2 seats, the Center Party took 1 seat, and the Christian Democrats secured 1 seat. In October, Prime Minister Persson reshuffled his cabinet in hopes of heading off the center-right ahead of the 2006 parliamentary elections.
The principal religious, ethnic, and immigrant groups are represented in parliament. Since 1993, the Sami community elects its own parliament, which has significant powers over education and culture and serves as an advisory body to the government.
Corruption is very low. Transparency International ranked Sweden the 6th least corrupt country in the world in its 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index. However, recent instances of corporate graft have stained Sweden's image. In 2003, some 80 employees of the state-owned alcohol retail monopoly Systembolaget were brought to court on bribery charges. In December 2003, executives from the insurance group Skandia were investigated and found culpable of fraudulent accounting and reaping millions of kroner in excessive bonuses.
Sweden's media are independent. Most newspapers and periodicals are privately owned, and the government subsidizes daily newspapers regardless of their political affiliation. The Swedish Broadcasting Corporation and the Swedish Television Company broadcast weekly radio and television programs in several immigrant languages. The ethnic press is entitled to the same subsidies as the Swedish-language press. Reporters Sans Frontieres has reported that journalists who investigate extreme right-wing groups are regularly threatened and even physically attacked by neo-Nazi militants.
Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed. Although the country is 87 percent Lutheran, all churches, as well as synagogues and mosques, receive some state financial support. Academic freedom is ensured for all.
Freedom of assembly and association are guaranteed, as are the rights to strike and participate in unions. Trade union federations are strong and well organized and represent approximately 80 percent of the workforce.
Sweden's judiciary, which includes the Supreme Court, district courts, and a court of appeals, is independent. The government maintains effective control of the security and armed forces. No instances of human rights abuses by police were reported during the year. A series of highly publicized jail breaks in 2004 called into question the traditional leniency of the Swedish penal system.
The Swedish intelligence service reports that neo-Nazi activity is increasing in Sweden, which is one of the world's largest producers of racist and xenophobic Web sites. However, the movement's main political party, Sweden Democrats, won only 1.4 percent of the vote in the 2002 general election, not enough to win seats in the Riksdag. In December 2003, anti-Nazi demonstrators attempting to break up a neo-Nazi march clashed with police, resulting in 12 injuries. Anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim attacks are on the rise.
The first half of 2004 saw only 10 percent of refugees granted asylum in Sweden, a large drop-off from previous years and the result of stricter government policy toward refugees from Iraq and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Sweden is generally very welcoming of refugees, but its immigration policy has become more restrictive in recent years. In April, Swedish officials revealed that hundreds of asylum seekers were mutilating their fingerprints in order to avoid identification by EU officials, who use a union-wide database to store asylum seekers' fingerprints. If identified as having already attempted to secure asylum status in another EU country, asylum seekers may be expelled from Sweden.
Despite the support of the ruling Social Democrats, in April the Riksdag rejected a proposal to temporarily maintain work permit requirements for nationals from the 10 new EU countries. The proposal aimed to head off an influx of workers from the new EU countries, and was opposed by a diverse coalition of the Left Party, the Green Party, the Center Party, and the Christian Democrats.
Sweden is a leader in gender equality. At 45 percent, the proportion of females in the Riksdag is the highest of any parliament in the world, and half of all government ministers are women. Although 79 percent of women work outside the home, women still make only 70 percent of men's wages in the public sector and 76 percent in the private sector. Prime Minister Persson has announced that the government will tighten already strict laws on gender equality if the gap remains in two years. Women are underrepresented on company boards as well, and the government has threatened to introduce quotas if this does not change. Trafficking in women and children to and through Sweden from other countries is a problem, which the government is taking significant steps to deal with.
In April, the Riksdag established a commission to consider replacing the current law permitting same-sex civil unions with one allowing gay marriage. Sweden gave formal recognition to adoption by gay couples for the first time in February 2003; however, no foreign adoption agencies have agreed to send children to gay households.