Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Sweden broadened its efforts throughout 2008 to fight discrimination. In March, the government proposed a new law to Parliament to prevent discrimination on the basis of age and sexual identity, and in July, an Equality Ombudsman was appointed to oversee existing antidiscrimination efforts. After widespread protests over a new eavesdropping law that was passed in June, the government revised it in September.
After centuries of wars and monarchical unions with its neighbors, Sweden emerged as a liberal constitutional monarchy in the 19th century. Norway ended its union with the country in 1905, leaving Sweden with its current borders. Its tradition of neutrality, beginning with World War I, was altered somewhat by its admission to the European Union (EU) in 1995 and was further eroded by a more pragmatic approach to security presented in 2002. However, Sweden has continued to avoid military alliances, including NATO.
Voters rejected the adoption of the EU’s euro currency in a September 2003 referendum, despite strong support from government and business leaders. The “no” vote was attributed to skepticism about the EU and fears regarding the possible deterioration of welfare benefits and damage to the economy. Just days before the referendum, Foreign Minister Anna Lindh was killed in a knife attack in Stockholm. Her killer, Mijailo Mijailovic, was sentenced to life in prison.
In the September 2006 parliamentary elections, a four-party, center-right alliance headed by Fredrik Reinfeldt of the Moderate Party defeated the Social Democratic Party, which had been in power for 12 years and all but 10 of the previous 89 years. The Social Democrats won 130 seats in the latest balloting. The Moderates took 97 seats; the Center Party, 29 seats; the Liberal Party, 28 seats; the Christian Democrats, 24 seats; the Left Party, 22 seats; and the Greens, 19 seats. High unemployment was a major issue in the 2006 elections.
Sweden broadened its antidiscrimination efforts throughout 2008. In July, Katri Linna was appointed to the newly created Equality Ombudsman position to lead the country’s new antidiscrimination authority.The Equality Ombudsman will oversee efforts to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation, which are currently overseen by four separate ombudsmen. In March, the government proposed a new law to Parliament to add age and sexual identity to the list of protected areas, which are expected to fall under the jurisdiction of the Equality Ombudsman in 2009.
Parliament passed a law in June that would give the government surveillance agency the authority to tap international phone calls, e-mails, and faxes without a court order. Following widespread public protest, the law was changed in September to allow eavesdropping only in cases where external military threats were suspected.
Sweden is an electoral democracy. The unicameral Parliament, the Riksdag, has 349 members elected every four years by proportional representation. A party must receive at least 4 percent of the vote nationwide or 12 percent in 1 of the 29 electoral districts to win representation. The prime minister is appointed by the speaker of the Riksdag and confirmed by the body as a whole. King Carl XVI Gustaf, crowned in 1973, is the largely ceremonial head of state.
Seven political parties are currently represented in the Riksdag. The largest is the Social Democratic Party, also known as the Workers’ Party, which ruled for most of the last century with the aid of the Left Party and the Green Party. Other parties include the Moderates, the center-right Liberals, the Christian Democrats, and the Center Party, which focuses on rural issues.
The principal religious, ethnic, and immigrant groups are represented in Parliament. Since 1993, the indigenous Sami community has elected its own parliament, which has significant powers over community education and culture and serves as an advisory body to the government.
Corruption rates are very low in Sweden, which was ranked with Denmark and New Zealand as the least corrupt out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index. However, there have been political scandals in recent years. Liberal Party secretary Johan Jakobsson resigned after it was revealed that the Liberals had repeatedly hacked into the computer systems of the incumbent Social Democratic Party in early 2006 to obtain campaign strategy secrets. Jakobsson admitted that he had learned about the activity but did little to stop or expose it.
Freedom of speech is guaranteed by law, and the country has one of the most robust freedom of information statutes in the world. However, hate-speech laws prohibit threats or expressions of contempt based on race, color, national or ethnic origin, religious belief, or sexual orientation. Sweden’s media are independent. Most newspapers and periodicals are privately owned, and the government subsidizes daily newspapers regardless of their political affiliation. Public broadcasters air weekly radio and television programs in several immigrant languages. The ethnic press is entitled to the same subsidies as the Swedish-language press. Press freedom faced some challenges, however, during the year. The editor of Ostgota Correspondenten, Ola Sigvardsson, received death threats in March 2008 following the paper’s printing of an image possibly offensive towards Christians. Later that month, a man was fined $650 for carrying a placard that insulted immigrants at an antiracism rally in Angelholm. Also in March, several reporters and photographers were prevented by youths from covering a murder in the suburbs of Göteborg; one photographer was beaten and forced to leave his equipment behind.
Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed. Although the population is 87 percent Lutheran, all churches, as well as synagogues and mosques, receive some state financial support. According to the U.S. State Department, several instances of discrimination toward Muslim women wearing veils occurred during the year. Academic freedom is ensured for all.
Freedoms of assembly and association are guaranteed, as are the rights to strike and organize in labor unions. Domestic and international human rights groups generally operate without government restrictions. Trade union federations are strong and well organized, representing about 80 percent of the workforce.
The judiciary is independent. Swedish courts are allowed to try suspects for genocide committed abroad. The government maintains effective control of the police and armed forces.Swedish prisons generally meet international standards, although overcrowding and lengthy pretrial detentions sometimes occur.In 2003, Sweden passed a hate-crimes law that addressed attacks against homosexuals and covered hate speech.
Sweden was ranked at the top of the Migrant Integration Policy Index in 2007.However, the country changed its immigration policy in 2007, disallowing family reunification for “quota refugees.” Family members will now have to apply separately for visas. After an influx of Iraqi refugees in 2006, Sweden also made it more difficult for Iraqis to seek asylum in 2007 by requiring them to cite specific threats of violence. In 2008, only 40 percent of Iraqi asylum seekers were granted refugee status, compared to 90 percent in 2007. In May 2008, a law was proposed to make it easier for non-EU citizens to obtain work permits.
The state gave formal recognition to adoption by gay couples for the first time in 2003. In 2005, the country granted lesbian couples the same rights regarding artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization as heterosexual couples.
Sweden is a global leader in gender equality. Some 47 percent of Riksdag members are female, and half of government ministers are women. Although 80 percent of women work outside of the home, they still earn only 70 percent of men’s wages in the public sector and 76 percent in the private sector. In June 2008,the telecommunications giant Ericsson was forced to raise the salary of 100 female employees who were found to be paid less than their male counterparts. The country is a destination and transit point for trafficking in persons, particularly women and children, for sexual exploitation. The 2004 Aliens Act helped to provide more assistance to trafficking victims, and a “special ambassador” has been appointed to aid in combating human trafficking.