CA Stories

Not really open – On the Swedish political week of Almedalen

The Swedish political calendar starts and ends with the Almedalen week in Visby on Gotland (it’s an island in the baltic for those of you don’t care to check the map). The event started with an off-hand speech from a truck bed by, then minister of education, Olof Palme (in 1969 he became prime minister). Today the Almedalen week is an organized event filled with lobbyists, politicians, national media and civil society. The 3800 seminars/events are open to the public (kind of, more on this later) and hosting some 8000 named speakers/opinion makers.
Picture of crowd in Almedalen

The organizer boasts that all the events are free to attend. And in the spirit of Swedish “walk up and talk to the prime minister”-democracy, the event is in a way “open”. But let’s not kid ourselves. The fact is that the political system along with its media, civil society and business entourage is travelling to an island with 65000 inhabitants and no way near the capacity to host this crowd – meaning that the accommodation and travel costs are simply impossible for anyone without a strong backer or deep pockets to attend. It is exclusiveness through inclusiveness if you will.

This can also be seen in the programme and walking through the streets of Visby. The political parties have a sacred space – the park Almedalen, and each party have their day in the sun – literally, but the rest of the high visibility figures are commercial/national media outlets and consultancy firms. The further away from the central area you move the smaller the organisations become. Ending, sadly, in complete obscurity with the human rights watch.

With one obvious exception, the municipality of Botkyrka made it their mission to at least themselves be inclusive. Inviting the local NGOs, social entrepreneurs and citizen in a format they call Pop-Up Municipality. Instead of hosting seminars that no one would attend on the challenges of dental care in the Stockholm suburbs they invited the second generation migrants, the civil society and local institutions to attend and present their view on whatever they wanted in Almedalen. Pushing all their funds towards the location and very little on speakers they ended up with a venue in the city square of Visby (Donnerska Palatset) presenting everything from the local football club IFK Tumba Fotboll to the coffee luxury brand Johan & Nyström to Multicultural centre running a seminar on the defintion on interculturalism. And with the grand finale basically creating a street party with Redline Records (notorious Swedish HipHop-R&B label) turning the medieval square into a block party worthy of Fittja, Alby and Norsborg.

So, is there democracy in Almedalen? Yes, for the privileged – and for the citizens of Botkyrka.

I work as a Project Coordinator for Subtopia within ECF’s Connected Action for the Commons programme. I started out in the advertising world (which I hated) and soon checked out and ran away with the circus, literally, working as a tour manager for Swedish contemporary circus company Cirkus Cirkör. The last few years I have been working as a Communication Director for Subtopia. When I’m not working with Subtopia, I am pre-occupied with other frameworking and content producing organisations spanning small theatre companies in the rural south of Sweden to European networks. I provide strategic support and organise events for, among others, Halmstad International Street Theatre Festival (Halmstad, SE), Trans Europe Halles (Lund, SE). I represent performing arts on the regional Creative Board of Skåne and spend most of my time in the (objectively) most beautiful place on earth (Swedish south coast).