This is Sweden
Sweden is the fourth largest country in Europe. Its area is more or less equal to that of Spain or the state of California. Half of its land area is covered by forest. Less than ten per cent is farmland, most of which is to be found in the southernmost part of the country.
The distance from north to south measures 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles), which means the country’s natural features are quite varied. Nearly 100,000 lakes are connected in a lacework of waterways. A long coastline with thousands of islands also contributes to the character of the country. A bridge connects Sweden to its southwestern neighbour, Denmark.
Sweden has a population of 9 million. About 80% live in cities and urban areas. More than a third of them live in the three largest cities, Stockholm, the capital, Gothenburg and Malmö. The population density, 20 inhabitants per square kilometre (54 per square mile), makes Sweden one of the most sparsely populated countries in Europe.
For many years, Sweden was ethnically very homogeneous, with the exception of the Sami people, an ethnic and linguistic minority in the north. During the 1960s and 1970s, more than half a million immigrants moved to Sweden for work. Over the last few decades, Sweden has also received refugees from a number of countries troubled by war. Today, 1 out of every 20 inhabitants is a foreign citizen.
A brief history
Fourteen thousand years ago, Sweden was entirely covered by a thick ice cap. As the ice melted, settlers during the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages gradually populated the country.
The best known period in early Swedish history is probably the Viking Age (800–1050 A.D.). The period was characterised by expeditions during which the Vikings both traded and undertook raids. The Swedish Vikings went eastwards along the coast of the Baltic Sea, as well as deep into Russia, and westwards to France, England and even into the Mediterranean.
Sweden’s expansion in the east continued during the 12th and 13th centuries, and Finland was incorporated into the Swedish kingdom after several crusades. Trade increased during the 14th century, especially between the German towns and the Swedish ports along the Baltic Sea. In 1397, through inheritance and family ties, the crowns of Denmark, Norway and Sweden were united in what became known as the Union of Kalmar.
In 1523, a Swedish nobleman, Gustav Vasa, was elected king. The foundations of the Swedish national state were established during his reign. This was also the time of the Reformation, when many Catholics broke away from their old religion and Protestantism evolved. Since then, the Scandinavian countries have been Protestant.
After the disintegration of the union with Denmark and Norway, Swedish foreign policy aimed at gaining domination of the Baltic region and this led, from the 1560s onwards, to repeated wars with Denmark. Successive Swedish kings intervened, with mixed success, in several European wars over a period of several centuries. However, since the beginning of the 19th century, Sweden has not been involved in any wars. Since World War I, Sweden has by tradition pursued a foreign policy of non-alignment in peacetime and neutrality in wartime.
The country joined the League of Nations in 1920 and the United Nations in 1946 and has within the framework of these organisations taken part in several international peacekeeping missions and played an active role in international affairs. Sweden joined the European Union in 1995.
Government and administration
Modern Sweden is a constitutional monarchy with a one-chamber parliament, the Riksdag. The Riksdag consists of 349 members, elected every 4 years by a system of proportional representation. King Carl XVI Gustaf ascended the throne in 1973. Although the king is head of state, he exerts no political power, performing only ceremonial duties as the official representative of Sweden.
The political power rests with the Prime Minister (Statsminister) and his Cabinet (Regering). The traditional political parties of the Riksdag are, from right to left in the political spectrum, the Christian Democrats, the Moderates (or Conservatives), the Liberals, the Centre Party, the Green Party, the Social Democratic Party, and the Left Party. The Social Democratic Party has dominated the political scene since the 1930s, but lost power to the right-wing Alliance in the latest election
About 80 percent of the Swedish population belong to the Lutheran Church. However, only a small percentage attends church regularly. There are also about 160,000 registered Catholics in Sweden. Several Evangelical churches, as well as Eastern Orthodox churches, exist in the country. Other religions, such as Islam and Hinduism, are also represented.
The Swedish language
Swedish belongs to the North Germanic branch of the Germanic languages. In addition to those living in Sweden today, about 300,000 people in Finland and 300,000 Swedish immigrants in the United States and Canada speak Swedish.
Swedish is very similar to Danish and Norwegian, and speakers of these two languages also understand Swedish. English is taught as a second language in Sweden, and most Swedes speak and understand English.
Sweden is located so far north in Europe that the Arctic Circle cuts through Lapland, the northernmost province. Fortunately, the warm Gulf Stream of the Atlantic Ocean gives Sweden a quite mild climate, considering its location.
Winter temperatures in Växjö and Kalmar can, however, drop to -15° Celsius, but are generally just above or below the freezing point. That said, the wind often adds to the chill factor. Because of this, warm and windproof outdoor clothing is essential during winter.
Industry and economy
At the beginning of the last century, the Swedish economy was largly agrarian, and the country was one of the poorest in Europe. However, a rich domestic supply of iron ore, timber and water power, clever engineers and skilled workers led to rapid industrialisation, transforming Sweden into a modern welfare state.
The Swedish labour force consists of about 4 million people. Due to a strong business sector, the growth of the public sector, and ambitious labour market policy, unemployment has by international standars been low. The unemployment rate in September 2009 was 9%.
The standard working week is 40 hours by law. Employees are entitled to five weeks statutory paid holiday.
Health care and social welfare are considered government responsibilities and are supported by a national social insurance scheme. All Swedish residents are covered by a national health and preventive dental care plan.
Nine years of schooling are compulsory for all children from the age of 6 or 7. About 98% of all students go on to the upper secondary school, which offers both vocational and academic programmes. Schools are run by municipalities and provide instruction, books and lunches free of charge. A separate municipal education system enables adults with inadequate schooling to reach the same level of education as young people.
There are some 40 post-secondary institutions in Sweden. The majority are government-funded, providing instruction free of charge. Women make up about half the student population, and a large number are students over 25. More than one-quarter of adult Swedes have some post-secondary education.
Public access to the the countryside
Allemansrätten, the Right of Common Access, is a Swedish tradition which allows the public access to to private land. Allemansrätten entitles anyone to hike in forests and fields, pick berries and mushrooms, swim or boat on private waters on condition that land owners’ privacy is not violated, or that damage or littering occurs. For further information, see www.naturvardsverket.se
Public holidays and traditional festivities
New Year’s Day (Nyårsdagen) 1 January
Epiphany (Trettondagen) 6 January
Good Friday (Långfredagen) in March or April
Easter Sunday (Påskdagen)
Easter Monday (Annandag Påsk)
May Day (Första maj) 1 May
Ascension Day (Kristi Himmelfärdsdag) always on a Thursday in May
Whit Sunday (Pingstdagen) in May or June
National Day of Sweden 6 June
Midsummer Day (Midsommardagen) towards the end of June.
All Saints’ Day (Allhelgonadagen) always on a Saturday in early November
Christmas Day (Juldagen) 25 December
Boxing Day (Annandag jul) 26 December
Most traditional holidays in Sweden are of religious origin. Shops, banks and offices may also be closed on the eve of the holiday. The following days are public holidays:
Facts and figures
Area: 450 000 km²
Longest north-south distance: 1574 km
Longest east-west distance: 499 km
Population: 9 million inhabitants
Currency: 1 krona (SEK) = 100 öre
Religion: 82 % belong to the Lutheran Church of Sweden
Constitution: Constitutional monarchy, parliamentary democracy
Parliament: The Riksdag, with 349 members in one chamber
Head of state: King Carl XVI Gustaf
Head of government: Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, leader of the Moderate Party
More information: www.sweden.se