The State of Sweden
. . . There are also powerful forces within Sweden who do not like what they see and have been forced to live with, lo these many years. By far the most well-financed and effective is the Swedish Employers' Confederation ("SAF"), which represents Sweden's corporate elite and has intimate ties with the Conservative Party.
For the past quarter-century, SAF has been conducting a systematic propaganda campaign whose ultimate aim is to dismantle the Swedish model, which is said to have robbed the people of all initiative and made it nearly impossible to do business. The evidence for such assertions is somewhat weak, however: The people of Sweden have never before achieved so much in so many different areas as today, thanks in large part to the human potential released by the relatively equal distribution of economic resources; and business is booming in a nation of less than nine million souls which has nevertheless produced some of the world's most successful corporations.
Mere facts, logic and human considerations must not be allowed to stand in the way of that overriding objective. In any event, it appears that the SAF-ites have been hammering away at the Nordic model for so long that they have begun to believe their own propaganda. For example: Despite the fact that business is booming in Sweden, many of its loudest voices can not or will not stop complaining about the poor business climate. To the right is a typical outburst of 102 corporate leaders associated with SAF, publicised by Sweden's leading newspaper under the heading of: "Our trust and confidence is now destroyed." This is the kind of thing that forms the basis of "international opinion" on which the bad news about Sweden in turn is based.
SAF represents less than fifteen percent of the business community, and there are indications that its propaganda campaign is not always endorsed by operators of small and medium-sized enterprises. Nor does the SAF crusade have any counterpart elsewhere in Norden; leading business spokesmen in Norway and Denmark, for example, continue to express strong support for the Nordic model, as well as bewilderment over the "Thatcherite" antics of their Swedish colleagues.
A lot of that stuff finds its way into the press, and it is often difficult to determine where the right-wing's public sector ends and the "news" begins. This confusion is particularly evident in the case of Svenska Dagbladet, the traditional voice of Sweden's economic elite. It is a daily newspaper which preaches the virtues of competition and private enterprise, but would have folded long ago if it were not for heavy subsidies from corporations and the state.
To some extent, this merely reflects a familiar journalistic syndrome. Rape, murder and mayhem have always been the bread-and-butter of the news, and there is not always an adequate supply of such alluring "stories" in peaceful Sweden. But as a wise old Frenchman named Durkheim once observed: In a community of saints, an unkind thought would be regarded as a major sin.
While Sweden is no community of saints, the news that it tends to generate is usually much less dramatic than that extracted from the abundant human tragedies of more exciting places like the United States. Visiting journalists have been known to express sympathy for their Swedish colleagues, who must devote so much time and effort to such boring subjects as taxes, women's rights and the latest round of labour negotiations. Swedish journalists in turn seem to labour under the delusion that their foreign counterparts spend all of their time uncovering a Watergate scandal or, even better, covering the accidental death of a former British princess.
But even though Sweden suffers from a crying lack of juicy tragedies and scandals, it is sometimes possible to invent them. There have been a couple of classic examples during the past year, including much ado about Sweden's cowardly neglect to be occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II, as were neighbouring Denmark and Norway, and a brief but intense episode of international hysteria over the issue of forced sterilisation. The latter is a social and medical procedure that appears to have originated in the United States and has been widely employed throughout the western world. But through the efforts of Dagens Nyheter (and co-operating interests?), it was widely depicted in the world press as a uniquely Swedish offence against nature and defenceless women.
A columnist named Mona Charen certainly did not. In the 7 Septmber 1997 edition of the the Baltimore Sun, she added this embellishment: "Those who thought the matter of whether eugenics was a decent field didn't reckon with Sweden.... Memories of Swedish moral preening, particularly at the expense of the U.S. during the Vietnam War, are particularly galling.... The Swedes have equality-- but don't look there for freedom, dignity or honor."
In combination with the news media's desperate quest for excitingly bad news to report, the national habit of self-criticism provides a perfect climate for SAF's ideological campaign, whose constant theme is that just about everything is rotten in the state of Sweden. It is fairly easy for journalists and other interested parties to find a Swede who is willing to state that the sky is falling; but it is generally considered very bad form to praise one's own country.
This may help to explain why most of the major news media have so often supplied various kinds of direct and indirect support for SAF's campaign. There are, of course, many exceptions to this general rule, even in the pages of Svenska Dagbladet and Dagens Nyheter. But that is a minimum requirement in any society with democratic pretensions: A certain measure of non-conventional thinking must be displayed. In some cases, such as those relating to forced sterilisation and World War II survivors' guilt, it is also apparent that at least some reporters and editors are driven by a strong moral pathos-- the same tendency for which Sweden has often been criticised by right-wing critics.
For the most part, however, Swedish journalists appear to behave in the same general fashion as do human beings in all walks of life, i.e. by adapting their thoughts and fundamental premises to those of the powers that be. At this moment in history, that means first and foremost the last remaining superpower and its allies in Sweden and elsewhere.