Almedalen: A Swedish export the U.S. could use

05.07.2014 - Democracy Now!

By Amy Goodman with Denis Moynihan

VISBY, Sweden—Sixty miles off the coast of Sweden, in the Baltic Sea, sits the island of Gotland. Every summer, for one week, tens of thousands flock here to participate in a unique public event known as Almedalen (pronounced ALL-meh-DAH-len). The name comes from a park in Gotland’s main town of Visby, where, in 1968, Sweden’s education minister at the time, Olof Palme, stood on the back of a flatbed truck and gave one of the rousing political speeches for which he was renowned. Palme went on to become one of Sweden’s most transformative prime ministers, up until his assassination on the streets of Stockholm in 1986. The speech that Palme gave in Visby planted the seed for what has grown into Almedalen, a vibrant, open, festive and freewheeling week of debate and dialogue, demonstration and dissent. A dose of this would no doubt benefit the ailing, gridlocked body politic in the United States.

As a parliamentary democracy, the Swedish government is formed by coalition. Smaller parties have a role here, thanks to the proportional representation voting system, which ensures that any party that gains at least 4 percent of the vote nationally will be represented in parliament. The parties that can create a coalition with more than 50 percent of the members of parliament will then run the government, deciding amongst themselves who gets chosen as prime minister, foreign minister and so on. It is a system of governance that rewards participants for finding common ground. Contrast this with the U.S. government, chosen in “winner take all” elections that marginalize small parties and shore up our dysfunctional, polarized two-party system.

Here in Almedalen, all the major political parties in Sweden come and showcase their ideas, with each party featured on one day of the week. On the morning we arrived on Gotland, the Green Party was featured, with environmental issues at the fore. A crowd gathered around a fair-trade coffee stall, where Per Bolund, Green Party member of parliament, was questioning corporate CEOs about environmental regulations they would like to see. And they were actually responding! Sound pie in the sky?

While Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt of the center-right Alliance coalition led a parade nearby, followed by 50 chanting college-age supporters in matching orange T-shirts, current polling suggests that come September’s elections, they will lose to the Red-Green coalition, which includes the Social Democrats, the Greens, the Left Party and the new Feminist Initiative party. The Feminist Initiative has enjoyed recent success at the polls and is expected to send the first radical feminist to a national parliament.

Full article in Democracy Now!

Categories: Europe, North America, Politics
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