smhwpf: (Dr Who Tardis)
Well, it's sufficiently official and generally known by all concerned that I can make it public.

I will be moving to Boston, Massachusetts in the autumn (or fall as I should get used to calling it), to work at the World Peace Foundation, based at Tufts University, as Project Manager for their programme on corruption in the global arms industry and trade. I start there at the beginning of October. I was in Boston earlier this week to meet with them and discuss details and ideas.

I have in fact been involved in this project for the past few years, as part of an international group of academics and civil society people convened by WPF to discuss these issues and produce various materials on the subject (there's a book coming out fairly soon, plus various internet tools). The group includes South African anti-corruption campaigner Andrew Feinstein, whose book on the arms trade, The Shadow World, has recently been made into a movie, which everyone should totally see when it hits the cinemas.

The idea of the programme has been to take a rather broad perspective on the issue of corruption, looking not only at financial corruption, but at how the global arms industry and trade, and the militarist ideologies behind it, can undermine democracy and the rule of law.

Anyway, so this project by WPF has been edging forward for the past few years, but now they are able to hire someone full time, that someone being me.

The position is for 2 years initially, potentially longer if more funds are raised; however, I am taking a 2-year leave of absence from SIPRI, so I will have the option of returning at the end of this 2-year period. I am therefore not technically leaving SIPRI at the present time, but will at any rate be gone for at least 2 years. If anyone wants to apply for my position at SIPRI working on military expenditure (again, 2 years initially), or knows someone who might be interested, the ad is here.

As to whether or not I will return in 2 years, well, a lot can happen in two years, so who knows? But it is good to have the option.

I am very excited by this. It is a really interesting project, and a really good bunch of people I'll be working with, and from all I hear (and the little I've seen so far from the meetings there of our group), Boston is a fantastic city.

I am already a US (as well as UK) citizen, but this will be the first time I have lived in the US, or indeed been there for more than a week at a time. So that too will be an interesting new experience.

I will also be sad to leave SIPRI, and will miss a lot of people there, not least my team, who are also a great bunch to work with. After the storms of 2 years ago, SIPRI is now on what seems to be moving in a very positive direction, so in some ways a strange time to be leaving; but I have been crunching the military expenditure numbers for long enough, and feeling it's been time for a change for quite a while; and this definitely feels like the right move at the right time.

(Well, except that we might have President Trump a few months after I move. But since there are no shuttles to Mars Colony any time soon, there's nowhere to escape the consequences that may bring.)
smhwpf: (Way out)
I have never been so ashamed to be a European. God knows we have a horrific colonial history, and in the modern age there's the whole Neocolonial economic relationship of rich countries with the developing world and so forth.

But it is particularly appalling to witness the utter betrayal of hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees on and within our borders. The utter craven cowardice, the hypocricy, the abandonment of compassion and solidarity, the collective washing of hands.

Read more... )

And what is most shameful as a European, is that our governments are doing this in large measure in response to the views of the majority of their citizens. That even those, like in Sweden and Germany, who were more inclined to compassion and solidarity, have turned against the refugees. Cologne and Kungsträdgården were enough for that.

There are still those, so many, who help.The army of volunteers on Lesvos. Again, Al Jazeera has done some very good coverage of ordinary Greek people, despite their own grim economic circumstances, doing what they can to help through soup kitchens in Athens, providing food, clothing and blankets in Idomeni on the Macedonian border, and elsewehere. The Danish woman convicted of people trafficking for giving a lift and lunch to a family of refugees. So many helping across the continent in so many ways, big and small. These are signs of hope.

But those of us who favour compassion and solidarity towards refugees are, unfortunately a minority. Two weeks ago there were Refugees Welcome protests in 120 cities in 32 European countries. It is hard to find reports of them, apart from that one. I was at the one in Medborgarplatsen again, in Stockholm. But we were far, far, fewer. When Stefan Löfven flattered and lied to the crowds back in September, Medborgarplatsen was full to bursting. This time there was plenty of space, and only a part of the square filled. A few hundred maybe. It is good to have such events; but it is not enough.

I have never felt so ashamed to be a European.


Nov. 17th, 2015 01:21 am
smhwpf: (Winter is coming)
These are strange times in Sweden, both hopeful and foreboding.

In the current European refugee crisis, Germany is taking in by far the most asylum seekers out of the EU nations. But Sweden is next, and by far the most in relation to population. Last month, the Migration Agency doubled its projection for the number of refugees arriving in Sweden this year to between 140-190,000. The last couple of weeks, about 10,000 per week have been claiming asylum. That means that in the past couple of weeks Sweden has received as many refugees as David Cameron has so generously agreed that Britain will take over the next 4 years.

Various notes and musings )
smhwpf: (Default)
So after [ profile] sabotabby left, my dad arrived and stayed for two weeks. (He left yesterday). This did not lead to so much photography, except when we took a 3-day trip to Visby, the capital of Gotland, a large island in the Baltic Sea which forms one of Sweden's 21 counties.

Visby is an extraordinarily well-preserved walled medieval city, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was a major Hanseatic League trading post, founded in the 12th century, which makes it older than Stockholm. The walls are pretty much intact and have basically been in their current form since the 14th Century.

As Gotland also has much extraordinary natural beauty to offer, the island is unsurprisingly an extremely popular holiday destination for Swedes and overseas visitors, especially from Germany I think. Not many Brits seem to have discovered it though. We went in late August, by which time Swedish kids have gone back to school, which made everything much cheaper - SEK95 per person each way on the ferry, a 3 and a quarter hours (82 nautical miles) journey from Nynäshamn, a port at the southern end of the Stockholm commuter train line, which means you can get there on your Stockholm region travelcard.

Visby is also notable for the annual Almedalsveckan in late June/early July, a huge politics festival where all the major parties, along with NGOs, lobbyists, business, unions, think tanks, and a fuckload of media of course, rub shoulders and hold all manner of events. Almedalen park lies just outside the city walls to the west, near the waterside.

But enough of my waffling - here are some photos!

Photos! )


Nov. 30th, 2014 09:15 pm
smhwpf: (Treebeard)
Waaay too long since I have posted, dear LJ.

So I am going to try doing a regular daily post for Advent. You are most welcome to suggest topics, but I won't do a calendar thing, and if topics are not suggested I will just think of my own.

So, to start, Happy New Church Year, to those who mark that sort of thing. Also, Happy St. Andrew's Day.

Despite being one of the least religious countries in the world, Sweden seems to pay surprisingly much attention to the Church year. I think most people in Sweden would know that today is Första Advent (people in Britain who are not churchgoers seem to think it is tomorrow, 1st December, as that is when the calendars with pieces of chocolate behind each day start).

The lights have been going on all over town for a while already though, I think starting the weekend before Advent - this seems to be when some of the big stately homes have their Christmas markets at any rate. But there's definitely a big uptick of starts and seven-pointed (electric) candles in all the windows (including my own) from last night. And the big Christmas tree on Skeppsbron in the Old Town is alight:

I walked past it on my evening ramble today. It is, apparently, 40 metres (133 feet) high, plus an extra 4m for the star, and thus apparently one of the biggest in the world. It is decorated with 5000 lights along with sundry other stuff, and has had extra branches grafted onto it from 20 trees.

1st Advent is also (as I'm sure elsewhere) a day of many concerts, including my own choir's. A variety of Advent hymns, in Swedish, English and a bit of Latin, and Zadok the Priest to finish with something more weighty. The only context (other than a readthrough I suppose) where you will hear the words "God save the King" from my lips.

Have I only just noticed this, or is it particularly a Swedish thing, that Advent hymns are rather samey? I think we must have blessed every Davidsson and Hosie'd every Anna in the North. Anyway, all went well.

Which Churchly matters kind of brings me round to my big thing that will be happening this Advent, which is that I will be officially joining the Church of Sweden on December 10th. I've been going to a Catechumenate group this year, traditionally something for people preparing for Baptism, but in this case a fairly informal discussion group for people interested in being baptized/confirmed/joining the church/just getting to know more about their faith, etc. Anyway on the 10th is a service that is part of the programme, the "affirmation" service, where one of our group will in fact be Confirmed, we'll all make some sort of re-affirmation of faith, in my case there'll be some small thing to mark my joining the Church, and after the service I will sign the official form.

So I will officially be part of a church again. (I suppose technically I still am, as you can't actually leave the Catholic Church as such, though I suppose I have in effect excommunicated myself. Anyway, I will be part of a church that I actually go to). I'm not sure I really want to call myself a Lutheran, as Martin Luther was a right arse in many ways (though with some very important ideas of course), but the Svenska Kyrkan is not really so picky about the teachings of Luther these days so far as I can gather, so happier maybe to describe myself as "part of a Church in the Lutheran tradition" or something. Also, rather critically, "Part of a Church that has definitively decided that gays are fully equal human beings". The specific church I go to, Katarina, is also a rather big part of it. At any rate, one way and another it feels right.
smhwpf: (Winter is coming)
Sweden has voted. ALmost all the voting districts have been counted, and the results, in terms of shares of votes and seats in the Riksdag, are not going to change in any significant way.

The big news? There is a change of government. The red-green parties - the Social Democrats (Sweden's traditional governing party), the Greens and the Left Party - have between them beaten, narrowly but clearly, the centre-right Alliance government, consisting of the four "Borgerlig" (bourgeouis) parties - the Moderates (by far the largest), the Liberal People's Party, the Center Party and the Christian Democrats.

Frederik Reinfeldt, the Moderat Prime Minister, has announced his own and his government's resignation. Social Democrat leader Stefan Löfven is right now giving his victory speech. The coalition negotiations will be hard (unlike last election, the red-greens did not go in as a block), but Stefan Löfven will be the new Prime Minister.

The big news? The Sweden Democrats, a xenophobic, ani-immigrant, anti-Muslim, quasi-Fascist, nowadays "not racist but" party, but with neo-Nazi roots, more than doubled their votes to 13% (from 6% last time), and in some sense hold the balance of power in Parliament. As the third largest single party, they will get to nominate one of the Parliamentary speakers.

Looking at the figures more closely, what is remarkable is that the red-green parties have won having barely advanced in terms of share of the votes. The big change is that the mainstream centre-right lost a lot of votes to the Sweden Democrats:

Red-Green parties:

Social Democrats (Socialdemokraterna, S) 31.3% (+0,6%) 113 seats
Green Party (Miljöpartiet, MP) 6.8% (-0.5%) 24 seats
Left Party (Vänsterpartiet, V) 5.7% (+0.1%) 21 seats

Total: 43.8% (+0.2%) 158 seats

"Borgerlig" parties (Alliance):

Moderates (Moderaterna, M) 23.2% (-6.9%) 84 seats
Center Party (Centerpartiet, C) 6.1% (-0.5%) 22 seats
Liberals (Folkpartiet, FP) 5.4% (-1.7%) 19 seats
Christian Democrats (Kristdemokraterna, KD) 4.6% (-1%) 17 seats

Total: 39.3% (-10.1%) 142 seats

Evil fascists:

Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna, SD) 12.9% (+7.3%) 49 seats

Not in Parliament - there is a 4% minimum threshold:

Feminist Initiative (Feministiskt Initiativ, FI): 3.1% (+2.7%)
Others: 0.9% (-0.1%)

So, when the Feminist Initiative is included, the left has gone forward a bit, but not all that much. The FI made the news internationally by getting a seat in the European Parliament in the June elections, and they made big advances in this election, but sadly not enough to make the 4% threshold.

A sidebar - as I am not a Swedish citizen (may well do something about that soon), I couldn't vote in the Riksdag elections of course, but as an EU citizen and a resident, I could vote in the Stockholm Kommun (city) and Landsting (county) elections. I divided my vote, voting Feminist Initiative for the City, and Vänster for the Landsting. By the look of things, the FI will get in, fairly narrowly, in the city, and the "red-green-pink" parties between them will have a majority, ending 8 years of center-right rule. At the moment, the Alliance are slightly ahead of the red-greens for the Landsting, with the FI well under the threshold, but there's still a fair few districts to declare.

The SD already had the "balance of power" in the previous parliament, as the Alliance were just short of a majority, but had very little influence as all the other parties, to their credit, kept to a firm line of having absolutely nothing to do with them. The Alliance even made a cross-block agreement with the Greens on immigration policy to ensure that the SD had absolutely no possibility of influence in this area.

This may be trickier now. The SD, being a right-wing party, tended to vote most of the time with the center-right government. Perhaps this is partly that they were not wanting to "rock the boat" too much, but I suspect it is mostly because their ideology lies on the right, not just on immigration questions. (They occasionally voted with the left on some economic issues where they saw some populist advantage in it). So the likelihood is, I suspect, that they will continue to vote with the right in most issues, which will make it very difficult for a red-green government.

A red-green coalition is no easy thing in any case. The S and the MP disagree on some issues - for example defence, where S want more spending and MP less - but can probably come to an agreement. The V is more difficult, as they have placed so much emphasis on their flagship policy of "No profits in welfare": over the past decades, the principle of "freedom of choice" in health, education and social care has been promoted, especially by the Alliance but also to some degree by the Social Democrats. This means that non-state providers can operate alongside state ones, in a single payer system (with small co-pays in health). This includes profit-making actors, including risk capital fund-owned companies. The Left Party want to exclude profitmaking companies from the mix, a policy that is much more popular than the party itself, but which the Social Democrats are clearly against, although they want to regulate profit-making actors more. So. That will be a difficult one.

Then, how are they going to get a majority in Parliament for their poliies, even if they can solve the red-green coalition puzzle? One thing is not a problem, namely the budget. As I understand it, to vote down a government's budget proposal, you have to have an alternative with more votes. The Alliance will never come to a common budget with the SD, so a red-green budget gets through. But for other measures, they will presumably have to come to an accommodation, policy by policy, with at least one of the Borgerliga parties.

That may be possible: the Borerliga don't agree on everything. The alternative would be to actually try to get one or more of them into the government, most plausibly the Folkpartiet, who while fairly neo-Liberal economically are genuinely liberal on a lot of other issues. But, all four Alliance parties have made absolutely clear that, if they are not in government together as the Alliance, then they will be in opposition. Politicians lie and completely reak their promises of course (waves at Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems), but this would perhaps be just too much of a volte face, certainly for the current party leadership. And, even if the FP (or maybe the C) were willing to join a government with the S and MP, getting them in the same bed as the V would smack a little too much of wolves, goats and cabbages.

So. Tricky. And the trickier it gets, the more this could benefit the Fascists.

So. I am pleased that the Alliance government is out and that Sweden will once again have a Social Democrat Prime Minister, which will hopefully at least put a brake on the slow dismantling of the 'Swedish Model", resulting in Sweden having the most rapid increase in inequality of all OECD countries in recent years. The emphasis of the new government will clearly be on creating jobs and improving social services and welfare rather than tax cuts and privatization.

But it is hard to celebrate that much. Any improvements will be tempered by the likely weakness of a red-green government, and their need for deals with the Alliance parties. And the rise of the Sverigedemokraterna is just plain scary. The cold winds that are blowing all over Europe are as strong here as most places. It is bloody scary.

There are some positives here. Sweden still has a relatively generous policy in welcoming asylum seekers, with a major increase expected in 2014, largely as a result of the wars in Iraq and Syria. There are certainly big negatives, people deported who absolutely should not be, failure to integrate immigrants in the labour market, major racism in all sorts of aspects of society. But what strikes me as remarkable is that ALL the parliamentary parties apart from the SD support a basically open approach to immigration and a generous asylum policy. None of them have tried to move into the SD's ground or take up any of their agenda in this area. The comparison with the UK is stark.

But. Thirteen percent. Doubled vote. Not good. Not good.


Jun. 12th, 2014 01:00 am
smhwpf: (Buffyanne)
I went to hear Billy Bragg this evening! In Stockholm! And he was awesome.

He started off in 1649, hovered round 69 with Ingrid Bergman, visited the 1930s and the 1980s, and of course spent some time Between the Wars, but brought things very much back to 2014, part concert and part political rally, and making it work.

He didhis homework on Swedish politics too. Gave a shout out to the Feminit Initiative, dedicated Power in the Union to the striking rail workers in the south, and Accident Waiting to Happen to the Sweden Democrats.

Boy, could I sing along to Power in the Union with feeling. Of course I've always been pro-union, cheered on the miners in '84 and so on, but this year's been the first time I've really found out for myself what unions mean. Without the unions, we would very probably still be lumbered with our calamitous ex-Director. That includes the local unions (i.e. us), the national union, and all the generations of unionists before us that won such a degree of clout for organized labour in Sweden, still there in spite of the Neoliberalism that's been advancing here as everywhere else.

For his encore, Billy went back to 1983, and his first album, Life's a Riot with Spy vs Spy. The WHOLE DAMNED THING! It's a short album, 7 songs in 16 minutes or so, but damn, that is still some encore!

I said this to myself last time I heard him, but I swear when he sings New England I can hear the ghost of Kirsty McColl singing along with him.
smhwpf: (Going places)
Kate B. asks "If the world-wide web/similar hadn't been invented, and technology had stayed the same as when we were kids, how different would your life be now?"

Wow. Gosh. That's a tough one.

It wouldn't have been that different up to my 1st PhD, the Maths one, in 1996. I'd only recently discovered the web. I mean, I'd used email a bit, but it wasn't my principle means of communication.

Wouldn't have necessarily affected the first job I did so much, the one commercial job I had - I mean, not having the web as a research tool would have been different, but it wasn't yet so central. Or what I was doing as a volunteer with Campaign Against Arms Trade. I mean, it would have affected how I did these things somewhat, but wouldn't have fundamentally affected life path, I think.

The work I do now though... it is very hard to imagine doing it without the internet. The vast majority of the research we do is web-based. But SIPRI did collect military expenditure data before the web, so I guess it's like a lot of things where you can't imagine how people did them before, but of course they did.

I certainly wouldn't have a lot of the communities I have. I think. Certainly, there are some people I only know because I know them online. Others... I knew offline originally, but online became a principle mode of interaction. But maybe wouldn't have been so different.

Certainly fandom would never have been a thing. I might have been a Buffy fan, but it wouldn't have been a thing I'd have shared.

Apart from that, I'm trying to think where life-path would really have branched... maybe I wouldn't have been willing to make my first (temporary) move to Sweden back in 2002 had I not had internet community to fall back on. Or maybe I would not have been able to cope with the loneliness. No internet, so how would I have job-hunted back in Britain? THES delivered to my door in Sweden? Mebbe. I think here we've got to factor in the way the internet and other technological developments have made the world smaller. Made regular travel back and forth between countries feasible for people a lot further down the ladder.

So this is a big thing - I don't know whether I would have still gone to work for SIPRI, but it made moving country seem like much less of a huge thing.

So, 2001-2 is a real branch point for me. 2001 is when, after the end of Buffy Season 5, with Buffy's death and wondering whether there was going to be any more Buffy and what was going to happen, that's when I first typed "Buffy" into a search engine and encountered online fandom, and the first online community I was really significantly part of (save a political listserve or two at Warwick I wasn't that deeply into), the BBC Buffy forum, where I first met [ profile] whiskyinmind. Then 2002 when I first went to work at SIPRI.

On the flip side, I wonder if I would have been more productive without the distractions of the internet, but then I found all manner of ways to be unproductive before that, so probably not.

Any one else who wants to request a topic, you are most welcome! You may do so here. I am not out of topics by any means, but Easter is still four weeks away!
smhwpf: (Lion)
[ profile] mirabehn asked:

"- what part of Catholicism do you miss the most?
- and, possibly to go with it, what part of Episcopalianism is making you the happiest?"

This seems a good one to start with on Ash Wednesday.

(Actually it's Lutheranism I'm exploring at the moment, although in the Svenska Kyrkan (Church of Sweden) it's a fairly Episcopal Lutheranism, and I generally go to the Scottish Episcopal Church when I'm at my mum's, and the C of E and SEC are in communion with the SvK and various other Nordic and Baltic Lutherans, so fairly interchangeable really).

For the first part. There's lots of things I love about the Catholic Church. Ignatian spirituality, the Eucharist, the whole High Churchey candles and incense and general sense of holiness that it engenders... but a lot of these things are not unique to the Roman Catholic Church (though of course Ignatian spirituality certainly comes from there); depending on what sort of Anglican etc. church one goes to. But I suppose certainly Lutheran churches, while they do have quite a lot of liturgy, do not do so to the extent of the Catholic church. And this is especially true of my current church, Katarina, which I am very happy with (see below), but I do miss having something a bit more liturgical to some extent. I miss the words "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed" just before communion. The acknowledgement of complete emptiness, of coming to Jesus without pretense or mask and without needing them. But I say it in my head anyway. (They have that in the C of E service too).

I wasn't really getting so much out of the liturgy at my last Catholic church in Stockholm, but I miss St. Thomas More's Manor House. The sense of community, the diversity, the breakfast in Finsbury Park after mass, the music. So much good music - they used to have a liturgy center in the basement, where noted Catholic folk hymn writer Bernadette Farrell operated.

What about Lutheranism is making me happiest? (I hesitate to call myself Lutheran. Mostly because Luther was an arse in so many ways. But that's not the same thing necessarily as the Lutheran church/different Lutheran churches).

Well, the C of S seems to be as heterogenous as the C of E, but what makes me happy about Katarina kyrkan... it's hard to put a finger on, but it is very much the general feel, the sense of community even though until recently I haven't actually talked to people much, the variety in the services, with congregational hymns and choir pieces and invited musicians singing secular music, pop/rock/folk/country/gospel in a way that doesn't seem gimmicky but is really integrated into the service. A couple of weeks ago there was a gospel singer singing Bridge over troubled water, slightly Chirstianized in the final verse which isn't hard to do, and she was just awesome. The wise and good-humoured preaching of the Kyrkoherde (Rector? Head priest? Church Shepherd? Like Shepherd Book?), Olle Carlsson (and his fellow priests are pretty good too).

Most of all, the way the whole conveys in more than words the message of God's unconditional love, of being accepted as you are, of accepting oneself as one is with all one's failings, doubts, weaknesses, sins. As any decent church teaches, but there's a difference between being told that a zillion times and it actually getting through, and for me at any rate Katarina kyrka does it in a way that does get through to me.

I have recently started going to a Catechuenate group as a step towards possibly joining the Svenska Kyrkan. We had a session tonight. (Oh, yes, another thing I missed tonight. We didn't get any ashes at the service before the session. I felt cheated. I want my ashes. Though we had them last year, maybe a different time of the service. I don't know). So this is a good thing, actually meeting people outside of work and talking with them. About religious and theological things and stuff and all. Swedish people! And all in Swedish! Which is HARD WORK I can tell you, but doing wonders for my Swedish. They seem a good bunch.

Generally I like the fact that the Svenska Kyrkan is very much an accepting Church that tries to promote equality. They have women bishops, and gay priests and bishops, and gay marriage. Some would say that they have sold out to the values of the World and to ultra-liberal secular Swedish values in particular, but to those people I say, well, I... would not say that.

Another thing that makes me happy about Lutheranism is the Sarcastic Lutheran blog.

Still got room for plenty of blog requests! Comment with a topic for me to write about here. You may nominate a date within Lent for me to write about it on, but that is optional and no-one has so far.

No pasaran

Dec. 22nd, 2013 10:19 pm
smhwpf: (Winter is coming)
Last week, after a number of incidents of extreme-right activity in the area (including swastika graffiti, and incidents where people were chased), about 500 people held a demonstration in the southern Stockholm suburb of Kärrtorp. It was a peaceful demonstration, until it was attacked by Nazis. About 50 of them, throwing bottles and firecrackers. There were several injuries, and despite there having been several warnings of potential violence against the demonstration, there was a tiny police presence that could do nothing to stop the attack. About 28 people were arrested subsequently, and at least 3 have been charged.

The use of the term Nazi is not hyperbole. The attackers were from a group called the Svenska Motståndsrörelsen (Swedish resistance movement - the page is from the anti-fascist organization Expo, don't worry I am not giving the group linkage). According to Expo, the group's aim is to "overthrow democratic society and replace it with a National Socialist government"). So, that would be your actual Nazis.

So this Sunday, between 15-20,000 people attended a new demo in Kärrtorp, yours truly included, to oppose racism and facscism, and to stand up for the equal worth of all people. The demo, like the last one, was organized by a local group, Linje 17 (Line 17, named for the underground line that goes through Kärrtorp. "Sjutton" is also used as a mild swearword in Swedish, presumably a politer proxy for "Satan".) Other demos have been held up and down the country over the weekend.

Being against fascism is not, these days, exactly a radical or controversial position in polite society, and tiny bands such as SMR do not exactly pose an existential threat to Swedish democracy, but when Fascists start attacking people on the streets, you do not let that stand unanswered. SMR may be an extreme outlier, but far right politics is on the advance throughout Europe. In Greece, the Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn are a major force; in Britain, while the electoral system keeps the British National Party out of Parliament, UKIP are a convenient proxy for anti-immigrant sentiment, while to hear some people talk you'd think that the imminent arrival of a few thousands Bulgarians and Romanians spells the End of Civilization as We Know It. In Sweden, the Sverigedemokraterna (Sweden Democrats), who spring from the same poisonous neo-Nazi roots as SMR, have now made themselves over into a 'moderate' party that is not racist, oh absolutely not, 'just' anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim; they got into parliament for the first time in 2010, and are almost certain to increase their representation in 2014. So far, none of the other parties will talk to them, but how long that resolve will continue remains to be seen.

So, in the light of all this, the fantastic turnout at Kärrtorp is a breath of fresh air, as is the fact that this initiative has received support from across the non-fascist political spectrum and the media, is a breath of fresh air. It was good to see the centre-right government parties, as well as the centre-left opposition and left forces generally, represented at the demo; one might well argue that the neo-Liberal policies of the right have helped create the economic climate that allows the Sweden Democrats and their more extreme falanges to thrive, but their commitment to opposing racism and xenophobia is genuine, and to their credit they have not played the race or anti-immigration card.
smhwpf: (Buffyanne)
I was delighted to learn today that Campaign Against Arms Trade has been awarded a Right Livelihood Award by the Foundation of that name.

The awards are sometimes known as the "alternative Nobel prizes", and tend to go to individuals and organizations working for peace, social justice, human rights, the environment, etc. This years other awards went to Hayretting Karaca, a Turkish environmental entrepreneur and activist, Sima Samar, an Afghan human rights (and especially women's rights) campaigner, and Gene Sharpe, an American academic who has massively developed the theory and strategy of non-violence.

Very well-deserved, in my highly non-objective opinion. :-) I know just how much work and creativity the staff and volunteers of CAAT put in on the back of very limited resources to make CAAT the sort of organization to even be considered for such a thing.

And yeah, very proud to have been an active part of it myself for many years. :-)

Hopefully see some of the CAAT folk in Stockholm in December, though only a few of them I know these days...
smhwpf: (Winter is coming)
The Swedish elections took place today. In many ways the biggest - and grimmest - news is that the Swedish racist party, the Sverige Demokraterna (Sweden Democrats, SD) got 5.7% of the vote, thus exceeding the 4% minimum threshold for entering the Swedish Parliament (Riksdag) under Sweden's proportional representation system. This is by any decent person's reckoning grim, dark tidings.

The other main result is that the centre-right coalition that has ruled Sweden for the past 4 years has been re-elected - but just short of an overall majority.

Apart from the SD there are 7 parties in the Riksdag, but for this election they have formed themselves into two blocks (the centre-right had done so before the last election). The centre-right Alliansen, known as the "Borgerlig" (Bourgeouis) coalition consists of the Moderaterna (basically the conservative party), the Christian Democrats (socially conservative, the only party to vote against gay marriage, economically centrist), the Folk Party (Liberal) and the Center Party (traditionally associated with farmers and small businesses, now painting themselves green, as the "Alliance's green voice").

On the left is the Red-Green coalition of the Social Democrats, the traditional party of government, the former-Communist Vänster (left) party, and the Miljöpartiet (the Greens). The Greens are somewhat more "borgerlig" in their domestic economic outlook, but radical on international (as well as of course environmental) issues, and on the key economic/welfare left-right issues they come out left.

The final results are here: overall, the Alliansen have 172 seats in the Riksdag to the Red-Green's 157, with the SD having 20.

The Social Democrats, with 30.8% of the vote, are still narrowly the largest single party, but this is a dreadful result for them. Last time in 2006 they got 35%, which was already one of their worst results for decades. They are seen as having been hurt by their alliance with the former Communists, and their leader Mona Sahlin has come in for a lot of criticism as not being very effective - I'm not sure how fair that's been, and I think there's definitely a gendered aspect to the criticism, but that's the perception. By contrast, the Greens have advanced significantly to become the third party in the Riksdag - benefiting from general green sentiment and their very popular (and very hot) joint-spokesperson, Maria Wetterstrand - and the Moderates also had their best result in over half a century.

The government have also benefited from Sweden having got through the recession far better than most western countries, and with public finances intact. (Though I'd put that down to the very large state sector in Sweden providing much stronger 'automatic stabilizers' - when private sector spending goes down due to banks not lending, the state sector is carrying on and even increasing spending due to increased welfare benefits and stimulus packages).

The Red-Greens actually had a bit of a late spurt, having been even further behind for some time, when they managed to put the government on the defensive over the large number of people who have been kicked off sickness insurance (80% of salary) and onto subsistence-level means-tested benefit by the government's new rules (sound familiar?) - including a number of high profile cases of severely ill people completely unable to work, including one woman dying of cancer.

What this will mean for the government is... interesting. Clearly the Alliansen, with Fredrick Reinfeldt as Prime Minister, will remain in government. But they will need support from someone else. To their credit they have said, as have said, as have the Red-Greens, that they will never, under any circumstances, co-operate with the racists, and Fredrick Reinfeldt made it clear on TV just now that this includes passive support, that they will not let themselves be "dependant" on the SDs.

Their most likely bet is to seek support from the Miljöpartiet (pronounced "Milieu-partiet", a French loan-word), and indeed Reinfeldt said that this is exactly what he will do. They could probably sell themselves pretty dearly; Maria Wetterstrand though said on TV that there was no way they'd be supporting a Borgerlig politics that through sick and unemployed people out of insurance and that had no real environmental policy. Of course that leaves just about open the possibility that they could support a Borgerlig government that satisfies them on those counts.

I wonder though whether their best bet might be to stand fast with the Red-Green alliance and insist that the Alliansen will have to negotiate their whole programme - not some sort of "grand coalition" which would never work and leave no opposition but the SD, but with the Alliansen forming the government and getting through its less controversial policies, but having to negotiate on the budget and give way on some of the key areas like sickness insurance. Either way, there will be some hard negotiating in the days ahead.

As for me, as a non-citizen I could not vote in the Riksdag elections, but I could and did vote in the Stockholm City and the Stockholm County (Landsting) elections, in both of which I voted for the Greens. All EU citizens can vote in local elections in other EU countries, but Sweden extends that to anyone who has been legally resident for 3 years. It was a close-run thing between them and the Vänster, but a) The environment is, like, REALLY, REALLY important b) They have some really cool election posters that display attitudes that I rather like. (Including one that used the word "heteronorm" which scores points in and of itself) and c) The Vänster party have at least one rather scary policy, but which to explain would require a separate post on the Stockholm housing market.

However, it was clear from the beginning that the Borgerlig coaliton would remain in power in Stockholm City (and county). Unlike other countries, the Social Democrats are strongest in the countryside, perhaps a legacy of the activist industrial policies that ensured industry and wealth was spread beyond the thriving major cities. (Show of Hands "Country Life" really wouldn't work in Sweden).

But to return to the first point; while the Sverige Demokraterna will not likely have any influence on the government over the coming four-year term, their strong advance, doubling their vote share, casts a dark shadow over Swedish politics. Sweden has not previously had a racist party in Parliament, which I think is pretty unusual in countries with proportional systems. But now the danger must be very real that the SDs, benefiting no doubt from their "martyr" status of being ignored by the other parties and shunned by the media, will make further advances and that Sweden could go the way of countries lie the Netherlands where Islamophobia is firmly in the political mainstream.

I really, really hope not. Sweden has some advantages - there's generally a lower level of anti-immigrant sentiment and Islamophobia than other European countries; there is not, for example, a tabloid press that regularly makes it its business to stir up hate against immigrants, and Swedes have generally been in favour of receiving refugees from places such as Iraq. (In 2005, the Mayor of Södertälje ("Soeder-tell-ya") appeared before the US Congress to tell them that his medium-sized town at the southern end of the Stockholm commuter line had taken more Iraqi refugees since the war than the entire USA). But there is racism here as anywhere, and non-white immigrants often have a tough time breaking into the mainstream labour market. There is also significant geographic segregation.

Basically, we have a fight on our hands here. Mona Sahlin said in the studio that the fight againt xenophobia starts in earnest now. They've been fighting it already, but now it needs to get serious. Amen to that.
smhwpf: (Walls)
Well, I have finally finished the grand flat-cleaning prior to my move tomorrow. Phew. Quite the job. Sweat and blood I tell you, sweat and blood. Some would say that, had I but put in a half hour a week more that I did into cleaning regularly, today would have been a lot easier. To such people I say, indeed, but then I would have spent 52 hours over the last two years cleaning, as opposed to the... oh, 12-15 hours today and yesterday. And today would still have been mostly given over to moving-related faff. So I say I come out a winner.

Things not to say to me right now: "I think you missed a bit right there..."

I am moving from Ekerö to Sollentuna. By my reckoning, this will be my 27th address.

Just a few last bits of packing to do, some of which will have to be left to the morning. I have 21 boxes (14 small, 4 medium, 3 large) plus sundry cases, rucksacks and bags.

The best thing about the move is that I will be able to comfortably cycle to work. Except in winter, when I am told, given my location, that it will be pretty much possible to ice-skate to work. I might pass on that option though. A lot easier to get into town, too. (By non-ice-bound routes).

Wild roses

Aug. 17th, 2009 12:13 am
smhwpf: (Default)
Just got back from a fun few days at the Vildrosfestivalen (Wild Rose Festival), a folk/world festival in Southern Dalarna, a couple of hourse train journey north-west of Stockholm. One of my first ventures, sad to say, outside of the Stockholm area in Sweden.

I'd decided to get myself to a folk festival in Sweden this summer, and this one seemed to work in terms of timing, being a worthwhile length but not requiring too much time off, and not being too far away. I'd say it surpassed my expectations. Turned out to be a wholly new festival, quite small - perhaps 300 people there in all - and with an explicitly lefty/green agenda. (Which I hadn't got from the website, but which I had no objections to, and it wasn't pushed too much - a few talks amongst the various concerts.) It was held in some old farm buildings in the middle of the woods by a lake. Mind you "In the middle of the woods by a lake" describes most of inland Sweden. Not being a fan of camping if I can avoid it, I stayed in the Vandrarhem ('wander home' i.e. youth hostel - though as an ex-youth I rather appreciate the non-ageist name!) in the nearest village of Horndal, from which there was a festival bus.

The music was a mix of trad Swedish folk music, of which most were small sessiony dance bands, various 'World' genres (Blues, Klezmer, Balkans, Brazilian, African), some prog folk, and some that's quite hard to categorize, generally folky but clearly with multiple influences. Generally seemed to strike a pretty good mix. There were two venues, a main concert hall and a smaller venue where they had the sessiony bands (though some song stuff too) with people dancing. I didn't dare join in the latter, as most of the dancers clearly seriously knew what they were doing, with all manner of elegant footwork and twirls and back-kicks against the palm and stuff. (Though I did venture a couple of waltzes at the larger venue).

Some stand-out bands:

Östblocket - a Swedish Balkans/Klezmer/Generally Eastern band, or rather orchestra, all excellent players, with five brass, traditional percussion, drum-kit, accordion, a fiddler who'd clearly sold his soul to the Devil, and a lead singer with an incredibly expressive and varied voice and marvellous stage presence, and OK very gorgeous too. Sofia Berg-Böhm, apparently also an actress, and apparently singing in Stockholm in September for the Jewish Cultural Day.

The Original Swedish Arvika Blues Breakers - fairly straight Swedish folk style, or maybe with some bluesy or maybe music-hally influences. They had a washboard amongst the instruments. Anyway, generally a lot of fun and very danceable to.

Emma och Gänget (Emma and the Gang). On the zany side. Perhaps one could describe them as something like Luna Lovegood if Luna Lovegood were the lead singer of a Swedish folk band. In their first number, the first line went "[something something something] when along came a policeman...." - and then the double bass player ran onto the stage from the middle of the audience going "GRAAAAAAAAAAAAH". Their numbers were generally punctuated with all manner of interesting sound effects, and at the end as the band were all introduced they each came and stood in front of the stage, then flopped over forwards and did a Silly Monster Dance.

Afenginn - the very last band on Saturday night. I'd probably describe them as Prog Folk. Very lively and intricate stuff. Sadly I had to leave before the end of the concert, as everything was running late except the last bus back to Horndal. One of the downsides of not camping. In fact I had to leave in the middle of a number... which had been going on for about half an hour with no sign of finishing. Which was itself an extract from an album-long number.

Aside from the music, I think the whole experience was rather good for my Swedish. I went with absolutely zero expectations of social interaction with anyone, but ended up talking a fair bit to some of my fellow Vandrarhemers. Although obviously they all spoke English I managed to stick to Swedish most of the time and probably spoke more Swedish in those three days than in the rest of my time here put together (if you don't count the actual Swedish classes). Also went to some of the political talks whcih were of course in Swedish, and understood a fairly good proportion - they were speaking very clearly which is the key thing. One of the speakers was Gudrun Schyman, of the Feministiskt Initiativ, a new party that ran in the Euro elections here.
smhwpf: (Dr Who Tardis)
News from my adopted land.

The Swedish Riksdag voted yesterday by an overwhelming majority to legalise same-sex marriage in churches. Shamefully, the only party voting against (with one exception) was the Christian Democrats. This despite the fact that the Swedish Lutheran Church (to which 74% of Swedes nominally belong) supports the new law. The churches still need to decide whether to conduct same-sex marriages themselves, and the Lutheran Synod will decide in October. I'm presuming, given the above, that they're likely to vote yes. But not holding my breath for the RC Church to come to a similar decision.

Social Democrat leader Mona Sahlin celebrated the passing of the new law by publicly snogging (pdf link) the Vice-Chair of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights. (Some have complained that this cheapens it, as Sahlin is, as far as we know, straight.)

Less positively (IMO), a new IPRED (Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive) law came into force yesterday, allowing copyright holders to require ISPs to disclose details of file-sharers. It led to a 30% fall in internet traffic on the first day.

Well, this is admittedly a rather selfishly-motivated response on my part, as er... someone I know really, really well downloads episodes of House and stuff using BitTorrent, and yes artists do need to be able to make a living... but well, privacy and giving power to corporations and stuff and... well I kind of think that it's a case of sticking one's finger in the dyke, and that actually in an age when data exchange is virtually cost-free, society kind of needs to come up with a better way of rewarding creative artists. Also not convinced that downloading necessarily adversely affects sales in all cases - like quite a lot of people, including this person I know really well often buy CDs/DVDs of something having first got it through file-sharing.

Hum. Well, all the reports say they're going to be going after the major users and the uploaders rather than minor downloaders like... this guy I know really well, but still probably best for such folks to use Pirate Bay's new anonymous surfing service.

In rather more pleasing legislative news, Stockholm's public transport provider, SL, has apparently banned standing on the left on the escalators. There's always been signs telling people to stand on the right, which most people observe most of the time, but now it's BACKED UP WITH FINES!!! Of up to 500 Kröner (about £42). As a Londoner at heart (and a rather impatient blighter at times), this pleases me immensely.

Home again

Jul. 5th, 2008 07:34 pm
smhwpf: (Going places)
Didn't stick around in Copenhagen in the end, even for the Little Mermaid. Got the train over the (very long) bridge to Malmö, only to find that I couldn't change my ticket, all the trains being fully-booked. No standing room apparently, except there were people standing on my train, including me for a while, so I don't know what's with that. Ah well. Looked around Malmö a little, quite a pleasant town. Eventually got home to Ekerö just in time to see injury time in Spain vs Germany. We'd been talking in Ankara, a bunch of us hanging out and watching football in the evenings of the conference, abouthow Spain always look good, but never win. "You can never write off the Germans," said we, "but you can always write off Spain." So there you go.

Since then, back to work, pretty busy but not too bad, and all caught up on sleep, email, source reading and Doctor Who. Of which I will only say OMGSQUEEWTF??!!ONE!! as any more would be spoiling. Going to be impatiently awaiting the finale Torrent going up.

There has been a bus strike most of this week, which means I've been getting a lot of exercise, as it's 18km cycle ride to work, and 11km to the nearest available non-bus transport. (Not generally worth switching to the tube after the 11, at Brommaplan, as it actually takes considerably longer from there, though I took that option on Friday due to a rather strong headwind.) But gorgeous weather for cycling (wind apart). And the midsummer late evening sun over the fields and waters on the way home... truly a beautiful sight.

Buses are running again now - Dagens Nyheter says that the strike is 'frozen' for negotiations which will take place on Monday. Sounds rather unlikely to start again - calling a strike off and then calling it on again would be tricky, so I doubt the union would do that unless they were pretty close to a resolution.

On trains )

subdividing Europe )
smhwpf: (Giles party weasel)
The SIPRI Yearbook 2008 was launched today in Stockholm. I was one of the panelists introducing various sections of the yearbook, speaking on military expenditure and arms production. The videos of the press conference, including Yours Truly, can be found here.

People say I was very good, but I was quite plainly looking down at my notes too much. I don't normally speak from notes, but we were asked to keep to some tight time limits, so I wanted to have what I was saying very clearly defined. Anyway, it seemed to go OK.

If you are interested in issues of global peace and security, do visit the SIPRI website. We have all sorts of interesting information on military expenditure, arms transfers, arms production, armed conflict, peacekeeping operations, nuclear, chemical and biological armaments and non-proliferation issues, conventional arms control, and much much more.
smhwpf: (Buffyanne)
So, tomorrow is the 1st of May, international labour day, and here in Sweden they take it quite seriously and there are all sorts of demonstrations and stuff by left parties (and, curiously, the centre party), trade unions and others. I'm rather inclined to go on one in Stockholm, the question is which?

The Anarchists could be fun, but they meet at 9.30am. Since when did Anarchists get out of bed so early?

The VänsterPartiet (Left Party), who seem to be Socialist Feminists (Marxist origins but now fluffier), meet at 12pm at Medborgarsplatsen down in Södermalm, marching up to Kungsträdgården, which is a nice route and a civilised time.

There's a Syndicalist gathering in Sergels Torg at 11am. Another leftist party with them, just called something like "The Socialists". Not sure who exactly they are. Still a little early, particularly if I watch the episode of Bones that's just downloaded.

The Socialdemokraterna (Social Democrats), all I can find on their website is the talk by some of their leader-like people in the afternoon. I can't believe they don't have a march as well, but I can't find it. They're wishy-washy reformists of course, but they'd probably have the unions with them. Hmm. From the Swedish Trade Unions federation (Landsorganisationen) website, they give exactly the same as the Social Dems. Just talking the talk, not walking the walk. Very strange.

Oh, finally. Shoulda been looking at the local website, not the national. Ah, a whole program which actually includes the Anarchists' thing. It's a demonstration for the Spanienfrivilliga. Spanish free will? Aaaaaaaah, the monument to the volunteers in the Spanish Civil War. Then there's visits to Anna Lindh's and Olof Palme's graves, then a gathering at 1 and a march at 2 followed by the talks. That's better.

Pretty much comes down to a choice bewteen the main moderaty socialist/trade union demo or the Vänsters, and either way there's an option on getting up hideously early for a holiday to honour the Spanish Civil War martyrs. The Vänsterpartiet are probably closer to me ideologically (apart from wanting to leave the EU which I don't), although there's something to be said for the big demo with all the trade unions and stuff.

Either way, I clearly need to learn the Internationale properly. (Yes I know, shocking that I haven't already.) But will they be singing it in Swedish or the original French?

Well, all this calls for:

[Poll #1180499]

And Happy May Day/Beltaine!

ETAOh yes, and Happy Ascencion Day too! (Yep, going to that too later on.)
smhwpf: (Buffyanne)
Went on an anti-Iraq war demonstration today, one of a number around the world to mark the fifth anniversary of the war in a few days time. Hum, trying to find a picture. Ah, here are a few. Not such a trendy activity these days, but the turnout was better than I expected - maybe up to 1,000. Dagens Nyheter said 'hundreds', which is consistent with that.

A lot of Iraqis there, who were carrying a giganimous Iraqi flag near the head of the demo. Sweden has been very good at taking in Iraqi refugees from the war, compared to other EU countries - though now they are apparently being monumentally stupid, with the immigration authorities apparently now deciding that there is not a war in Iraq, so they can refuse asylum claims to new arrivals. (Not sure of the details, whether they're actually sending people back). Also a large number of Iraqis, principally Kurds, from a previous generation of refugees, though I imagine many of their attitudes towards the war might be (understandably) rather different.

A plus point compared to the British demos was that there was a bit of a rally at the start as well as the end. With music, including a blues band from the Left Party, who gained loads of awesome points in my books by playing A las Barricadas. Also some hip-hoppers.

Lots of chanting in Swedish of course, which makes a change from the British ones - also quite good for language in terms of getting one's mouth properly round the sounds - somewhat like. I think my favourite was

Vad tänker vi om Bush?

Illa! Illa!

Hur illa?

Skit illa! Usch! Usch! Usch!

Also nice clear, slowly-spoken speeches, which is good listening practice, as my ear is lagging badly behind my reading and even my speaking. Could actually get a reasonable proportion of what they were saying, which is encouraging.

More seriously, a young Iraqi teenager, Ayat Suleiman and her father Ismail spoke - she had been badly injured by a US cluster bomb, leaving her with 65% burns. Four of her brothers, Ishak, Yakub, Yosef and Yassin (sp?) were killed in the explosion.

Cluster munitions are weapons that spread a large number - sometimes hundreds of small submunitions or bomblets over a wide area. Delivered from land or air, their aim is to act as an area-denial weapon. This makes them fundamentally indiscriminate, and even if there are no civilians in the area at the time, a significant proportion of submunitions (even so-called 'smart' ones) fail to explode, and remain as a deadly leftover - especially as a lot of them are brightly coloured and can look like children's toys. (One of Ayat's brothers did just that and brought one home, the source of the Suleimans' tragedy.) War is always hell, but cluster bombs add one more gruesome circle. There is an international campaign to ban them.


smhwpf: (Default)

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