Sweden - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion

Read about Sweden: language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate ...



Sweden, country in northern Europe, occupying the eastern portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula. Slightly larger than the state of California and roughly similar in shape, Sweden is the largest and most populous nation of Scandinavia. The Swedes’ name for their country, Sverige, means “the land of the Sveas,” an ancient tribe of the region. Stockholm is the country’s capital and largest city.

Sweden is one of the world’s northernmost nations. The country extends nearly 1,600 km (1,000 mi) from north to south, and one-seventh of its territory lies above the Arctic Circle. Thick glaciers that receded after the last ice age scoured the land, rounding mountaintops, scraping out deep valleys, and carving long fjords into the coastline. Nearly 100,000 lakes dot the landscape and cover about one-twelfth of Sweden’s total area.

Sweden shares a hilly land boundary with Norway to the west, and it touches Finland to the northeast. Elsewhere it faces water. The Gulf of Bothnia and the Baltic Sea lie to the east. To the south and southwest lie the waterways separating Sweden from Denmark: the Skagerrak, Kattegat, and Öresund straits. Two sizable islands in the Baltic Sea, Gotland and Öland, are also a part of Sweden. Thousands of rocky islets fringe Sweden’s Baltic coastline, sheltering the mainland from the open sea.

Thick forests, narrow lakes, and swift-flowing streams cover much of the sparsely inhabited northern two-thirds of Sweden. In the far north, above the Arctic Circle, the land is desolate and remains frozen for most of the year. The lowlands of the southern third of Sweden are home to most of the population, agricultural lands, and industries.

Once a relatively impoverished farming nation, Sweden rapidly industrialized beginning in the late 19th century. Swedes turned to their vast forests, extensive waterpower resources, and rich deposits of iron ore to build an economy centered on the export of manufactured goods. Today, services drive Sweden’s economy, but manufacturing remains very important, and the quality of Swedish engineering and industrial design is widely acclaimed. Sweden is famous for its mixed economy, a system in which the government plays an active role in guiding economic life. Swedes enjoy one of the world’s most comprehensive social welfare systems and a standard of living that is unsurpassed.

More than 1,000 years ago, Swedish Viking seafarers dominated the Baltic Sea and established far-reaching trade routes. Swedish armies later conquered an empire that included Finland, much of Norway, and parts of Russia and Germany. Today, Sweden is noted for its neutrality in foreign affairs. Sweden remained neutral in World War I and World War II, and it declined to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) after its founding in 1949. A member of the United Nations (UN), Sweden has helped mediate conflicts in many troubled areas of the world. Swedish voters narrowly elected to join the European Union (EU) in 1995. They have not embraced all aspects of European integration, however. Notably, Swedes have declined to adopt the euro, the EU’s common currency.


The total area of Sweden is 449,964 sq km (173,732 sq mi). The greatest distance from north to south in Sweden is about 1,575 km (about 980 mi), and from east to west about 500 km (about 310 mi). The coastline totals about 3,218 km (about 2,000 mi) in length. Much of Sweden’s coastline is rocky, but there are stretches of sandy beaches in the south.

The Kjølen Mountains, the backbone of the Scandinavian peninsula, form much of Sweden’s hilly border with Norway. The mountains and hills, the source of most of Sweden’s major rivers, drop gradually southeast to the Gulf of Bothnia and the Baltic Sea. The mountains, apart from several of the highest peaks, were rounded by great glaciers that retreated about 8,000 years ago. The ice sheets scraped out deep valleys and created thousands of glacial lakes. Movement of the glaciers deposited moraines—ridges of rock, gravel, sand, and clay—in many areas across the landscape. Some permanent ice fields still remain in the high mountain regions.

Major Regions in Sweden

Geographically and historically, Sweden may be divided into three major regions. They are Norrland, or Northland, in the north; Svealand, or Land of the Swedes, in the center; and Götaland, or Land of the Goths, in the south.

Norrland accounts for almost two-thirds of Sweden’s land area but is home to only about one-sixth of the population. In the far north, within the Arctic Circle, is Swedish Saamiland, a region inhabited by the Saami people. The land is largely treeless and barren with extensive stretches of highlands that hold rich mineral deposits. Sweden’s highest peak, Kebnekaise, rises to 2,111 m (6,926 ft) in Swedish Saamiland.

The central part of Norrland is relatively level and marked by marshlands, peat bogs, and dense stands of forest—chiefly Scotch pine and Norway spruce. The landscape is broken in many places by long narrow lakes, swift-flowing rivers, and stony ridges of glacial origin known as moraines. Farther south is a more developed agricultural and industrial region with richer soils and Sweden’s most important iron ore deposits.

Svealand is also densely wooded, although many parts of this region have been cleared for farming and industrial and urban development, particularly around the cities of Stockholm and Uppsala. The land in central Svealand is generally low and level with fertile soils. Svealand is home to many lakes, including Sweden’s largest lakes.

In Götaland, south of the central lowlands, the land rises again to the highlands of Småland. This area is similar to the moraine and peat bog region of Norrland, except that it has a more moderate climate. Further south, at the southern tip of Sweden, the land drops to the low fertile plains of the province of Skåne. This densely populated and highly developed agricultural region is known as Sweden’s breadbasket.

Islands in Sweden

Southeast of Stockholm in the Baltic Sea are Sweden’s two largest islands, Öland and Gotland. Öland, covering 1,344 sq km (519 sq mi), and Gotland, covering 3,140 sq km (1,210 sq mi), are generally level. The islands enjoy a mild maritime climate and are home to a diversity of unusual plants. Sandy beaches fringe the islands in places, making them popular vacation destinations. Numerous smaller islands ring the waters off the Swedish coast.

Rivers, Lakes, and Canals in Sweden

Sweden has about 100,000 lakes and many swift, turbulent rivers. Most major rivers are in Norrland and flow in a southeasterly direction, toward the Gulf of Bothnia and the Baltic Sea. The rivers, which are often connected to long, narrow lakes, are a valuable source of waterpower. They are also used to transport logs for Sweden’s important lumber industry (Forestry). The principal rivers include the Ångermanälven, Dalälven, Trysilelva, Ume älven, and Torneälven.

In the south central lake district are Vänern, which covers 5,584 sq km (2,156 sq mi) and is Europe’s third largest lake, and Vättern, which covers 1,910 sq km (740 sq mi) and is Sweden’s second largest lake, after Vänern. The two lakes, together with several smaller lakes, rivers, and canals, form an internal water route called the Göta Canal. Built in the early 19th century, the Göta Canal extends for about 386 km (about 240 mi) and provides a scenic transportation link between the Baltic Sea, at Stockholm, and the Kattegat. Sweden’s other large lakes in the district include Mälaren, Hjälmaren, and the famously picturesque Siljan.

Climate in Sweden

Although one-seventh of Sweden’s land lies north of the Arctic Circle and Stockholm has the same latitude as northern Labrador in Canada, the climate of Sweden is much milder than that of most countries as far north. Sweden’s comparatively moderate climate results from the warming influence of winds blowing over the Gulf Stream, which sweep over Sweden from the North Atlantic Ocean. In winter these influences are offset by cold air masses that sweep in from the east.

The climate of northern Sweden is considerably more severe than that of the south, primarily because elevations are higher and because the mountains block moderating marine influences. The average temperature in February, the coldest month, is below freezing throughout Sweden, with an average temperature range in Stockholm of -5° to -1°C (22° to 30°F), in Göteborg of -4° to 1°C (25° to 34°F), and in Piteå, in the northern part of the country, of -14° to -6°C (6° to 22°F). In July, the warmest month, the average temperature range is 13° to 22°C (56° to 71°F) in Stockholm, 13° to 21°C (56° to 69°F) in Göteborg, and 12° to 21°C (53° to 69°F) in Piteå. In summer, the amount of daylight increases as the latitude becomes more northerly. North of the Arctic Circle, daylight is continuous for about two months. In winter, continuous darkness occurs for about two months.

Ice covers all lakes for more than 100 days a year in the south and more than 200 days a year in the far north. The Gulf of Bothnia typically begins to freeze over near the shore in late November, and the ice usually lasts until the approach of June. Fog is common along the Swedish coast.

Precipitation is relatively low throughout Sweden except on the higher mountain slopes. In Stockholm the average annual precipitation is 54 cm (21 in); in Göteborg it is 79 cm (31 in). Rainfall is heaviest in the southwest and in the mountains along the Norwegian border. Most rain falls in the late summer. Heavy snows are common in central and northern Sweden.

Natural Resources of Sweden

The principal natural resources of Sweden are its large deposits of iron and other minerals, abundant sources of waterpower for the production of electricity, and vast forests that cover nearly three-quarters of the country. Less than 10 percent of Sweden’s land is suitable for growing crops, and poor soils dominate much of the available land. Nevertheless, through scientific farming and efficient land management, Swedish farms produce remarkably high yields.

Plants and Animals in Sweden

Alpine and arctic vegetation prevail in northern Sweden. The highest mountain areas are barren of vegetation. The next highest regions are bleak moorlands that support various kinds of mosses, lichens, and a few species of flowering plants. Below the moorlands is a zone of birch and willow trees, often dwarfed and stunted. The next lower, and largest, zone is covered with conifers, primarily Norway spruce and Scotch pine. This vast forest belt extends for more than 950 km (600 mi) with a width that ranges from 160 km to more than 240 km (100 mi to more than 150 mi). In the south, deciduous trees, including oak, beech, elm, and maple are found. On the islands of Gotland and Öland, the mild climate permits the growth of walnut, acacia, and even mulberry trees.

Roe deer and moose are plentiful in Sweden’s forests. Reindeer are common in the north, where they are herded by the Saami. Bears, lynx, and wolves are now quite rare. Lemmings are abundant in the upland moorlands. Various wild birds are plentiful, with many rare species protected in nature preserves.

Fish abound in the North and Baltic seas and in Sweden’s lakes and rivers. Principal marine varieties include mackerel, herring, and cod; freshwater varieties include pike, perch, whiting, and trout. Salmon are found in both fresh and salt water. Shellfish, including lobsters and prawns, live in coastal waters. Thousands of seals inhabit the waters around Sweden. In 1988 an outbreak of a deadly disease called phocine distemper virus (PDV) wiped out as much as 65 percent of the seal population in the North and Baltic seas. By 2002 the seal population had largely bounced back.

Environmental Issues in Sweden

One of Sweden’s major environmental problems is acid rain, which leaches minerals from the soil, acidifies waterways, and defoliates forests. The country has made great strides in reducing sources of acid rain within its own borders. Sweden has an ambitious environmental protection program and was among the first countries to introduce a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. Sweden also has a sulfur tax and has cut its sulfur dioxide emissions by more than two-thirds since the early 1970s. Today, most of the air pollution that causes acid rain in Sweden originates from emissions abroad.

Nitrogen runoff from farms in Sweden has caused severe water pollution and eutrophication, or buildup of nutrients, in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, as well as in many of the country’s lakes. As a result of eutrophication, algae growth has damaged parts of Sweden’s west coast marine environment, and native animal life has declined.


The population of Sweden was estimated at 9,059,651 in 2009. This gives the country an overall population density of 22 persons per sq km (57 per sq mi). Sweden as a whole is thinly populated, but regional population densities vary greatly. The vast majority of the population lives in the southern third of Sweden, especially in the central lowlands, the plains of Skåne, and coastal areas. It is especially dense around the cities of Stockholm, Göteborg, and Malmö. Large areas of the north are sparsely inhabited. About 83 percent of Sweden’s people live in urban areas.

Sweden’s population consists mainly of Scandinavians of Germanic descent. Sweden’s immigrant population and ethnic diversity have increased rapidly in recent decades. For many years, Sweden was a nation of emigrants. From 1860 to World War I, more than 1 million Swedes left the nation, mainly for the United States. Emigration declined significantly after 1930, as the nation industrialized and grew more prosperous. Sweden welcomed many refugees and displaced people after World War II. Since that time, immigration has accounted for nearly half of Sweden’s population growth. Many immigrants have come to Sweden as guest workers or as political refugees. Today, approximately one-fifth of the people are immigrants or have at least one foreign-born parent.

The largest immigrant groups in Sweden are from Finland and the neighboring countries of Norway and Denmark. About 17,000 Saami live mainly in Swedish Saamiland in the far north, although in recent decades many Saami have migrated south, especially to Stockholm. Sweden is also home to large numbers of immigrants who fled fighting in the former Yugoslavia, especially in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (see Wars of Yugoslav Succession); only Germany has received more refugees from that region. Other significant immigrant groups include people from Iran, Iraq, Hungary, Turkey, and Poland.

Principal Cities of Sweden

Sweden’s three largest and most important cities are Stockholm, the nation’s capital; Göteborg; and Malmö.

Stockholm had a population of 761,721 in 2004. The city is located in east central Sweden on about 20 islands and a narrow strip of mainland between Lake Mälaran and the Baltic Sea. It is often compared to Venice because of its many bridges and waterways and its stately architecture. Stockholm’s famous historic quarter, the Old Town (Gamla Stan), located on three central islands in the city’s harbor, is home to the imposing Royal Palace, Stockholm’s city hall (the Stadshuset), and the Great Church, a part of which dates to the 13th century. Stockholm is Sweden’s financial, commercial, cultural, and administrative center.

Göteborg, Sweden’s second largest city (478,055), is located on the Kattegat, a strait separating Sweden from Denmark. The city has an excellent harbor, the largest in Scandinavia, and is the country’s leading port. Göteborg is a transportation hub on the Göta Canal, and is home to an international airport. Although hard-hit by the closure of its shipyards since the 1970s, Göteborg remains an industrial city with plants producing automobiles, automobile parts, and telecommunications equipment. It is also a center for financial services, medical research and pharmaceuticals, and information technology. The city is home to the famous Göteborg Botanical Garden and to Liseberg, the largest amusement park in Scandinavia and one of Sweden’s most popular tourist attractions.

Malmö (267,171) is Sweden’s third largest city. It is one of the country’s major ports and is also a rail, air, and highway hub. Malmö is the center of Sweden’s pharmaceuticals industry and its state-of-the-art fiber optic cable networks support a vigorous information technology sector. In 2000 a 16-km (10-mi) bridge and tunnel opened connecting Malmö with Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, located just 24 km (15 mi) away across Öresund strait. The link, called the Øresundsbron (Øresund Bridge), makes it possible to travel between the two countries in just 15 minutes.

Other major cities include Uppsala, Linköping, Örebro, Norrköping, and Västerås.

Religion in Sweden

Lutheranism is the religion of about 68 percent of the Swedish people. The Evangelical Lutheran Church was the state church of Sweden from the 16th century until the end of the 20th century. From January 1, 1996, children no longer automatically acquired membership in the church at birth, and the separation of church and state was completed on January 1, 2000. Sweden is divided into 13 Lutheran dioceses, each one headed by a bishop. Other Protestant denominations present in Sweden are Baptists, Methodists, the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden, and the Pentecostal Movement. Sweden is home to small communities of Roman Catholics, Muslims (see Islam), Jews (see Judaism), Hindus (see Hinduism), and Buddhists (see Buddhism).

Languages spoken in Sweden

Most Swedes speak Swedish, a Germanic language closely related to Norwegian, Danish, and Icelandic. English and German are widely spoken. Finnish, Saami languages, and other languages are mother tongues for minority groups.

Education in Sweden

Educational facilities in Sweden are extensive and excellent, and illiteracy in the country is practically nonexistent. Sweden first introduced compulsory education for all children in 1842. Today, all children must attend primary school, called the grundskola, from the age of 7 to 16. Most children attend free coeducational schools run by local municipal authorities, although there are a small number of private schools that charge tuition. Students typically begin learning English around the age of 10.

After the compulsory school there is a secondary school, called the gymnasium, to which nearly all children go. Following reforms implemented in the early and mid-1990s, all secondary school programs last for three years. The programs are geared to prepare students for a wide range of vocational and technical careers or for further studies at the university level. Slightly less than one-third of Swedish students who complete secondary school proceed to study at the university level.

Sweden has numerous state universities, where tuition is free. The two oldest ones are the University of Uppsala, founded in 1477, and the University of Lund, founded in 1666. The University of Stockholm, founded in 1877 as a private university, became a state university in 1960. Göteborg University was also originally founded as a private university in the 19th century. In 1976 affiliated universities were established at Örebro, Växjö, and Karlstad. Linköping became a state university in 1970, and Luleå University was founded in 1971. Malmö University opened in 1998 and is popular with foreign students; the school is part of the Öresund University system, which combines educational institutions in Denmark and Sweden across the Öresund strait.

Adult education is widespread. Apart from the outstanding universities in all its major cities, Sweden is home to more than 60 national institutions of higher education, including medical and technical institutes for advanced study as well as higher vocational schools. About 100 of the Scandinavian folk high schools, run by county councils and voluntary bodies, offer courses for young adults with no formal education beyond compulsory schooling.

Food and Recreation in Sweden

Swedish food tends to be simple and healthy. Perhaps Sweden’s most famous culinary invention is the smörgåsbord, a self-service buffet that includes an assortment of cold and hot foods. Smörgåsbords frequently include a variety of cold fish dishes, such as gravlax (cured salmon), lutefisk (cod or pollock marinated in potash lye), and pickled herring, and warm dishes such as sausages and Swedish meatballs. Breads, egg dishes, pies, and salads are also commonly included. Daily fare is generally simpler and frequently includes boiled or fried potatoes served with fish or meat. Boiled hot dogs purchased from street vendors (called gatukök) and American-style fast food are especially popular among younger Swedes. Apart from special occasions, most bread served in Sweden is thin and crispy. Swedes love strong coffee, which is served with most meals, and they rank among the world’s highest consumers of coffee per capita. Popular alcoholic beverages include beer, vodka, and aquavit, an aromatic liqueur made with caraway seeds.

Swedes are renowned for their love of sports and the outdoors. One out of five Swedes is a member of a sports club, and nearly all participants in sports are amateurs. Gymnastics are an important part of the physical education curriculum in public schools, and gymnastics teams compete throughout the country. The most popular sport is soccer. In winter Swedes are avid skiers, and many Swedes enjoy ice skating on frozen lakes and canals—especially the canals of Stockholm. Every March thousands of Swedes, joined by many athletes from abroad, participate in the famously grueling cross-country ski race called the Vasaloppet (Vasa Race). Orienteering, a sport that involves navigating using a map and compass, originated in Sweden as a military exercise. It remains a popular summer activity, especially in the challenging wilds of northern Sweden. Many Swedes own or have access to summer cottages for weekends or vacations.

Holidays and Festivals in Sweden

Swedes enjoy several popular festivals during the year. Midsummer Eve celebrations welcoming the return of summer are held during the weekend nearest to the summer solstice. Maypoles are raised and open-air dancing continues until sunrise. Saint Lucia Day on December 13 marks the beginning of the Christmas season. The roots of Saint Lucia Day date to the Viking era; the holiday followed the longest night of the year and marked the return of longer days. In Saint Lucia family celebrations, the eldest daughter dresses in white, wears a crown of candles, and serves her family coffee and cookies in the early morning. Swedes celebrate Christmas, the most important holiday, on Christmas Eve. Traditionally, Swedes enjoy a Christmas smörgåsbord dinner and afterward exchange gifts.


Swedes are proud of their cultural heritage. The late arrival of industrialization helped to preserve fine craftsmanship, and the aesthetic standards of industrial design, even for mass-produced articles, are high. Modest homes are often furnished in sophisticated taste. Until modern times Sweden’s relative poverty and isolation limited its role in European artistic life. Gifted Swedes often had to seek outlets for their talents abroad. Only in the late 19th century did any aspect of Swedish culture become influential internationally. Today, artistic activities receive large state subsidies, and corporations and local governments generously support painters, sculptors, musicians, and architects.

During the 20th century, Sweden made major contributions to art, design, literature, music, and motion pictures. Modern Swedish crafts such as ceramics, furniture, glass, silver, stainless steel, and textiles have received international recognition for their elemental form, simple beauty, and functional design.

Libraries and Museums in Sweden

Sweden has many libraries, including public and county libraries and research libraries connected with universities, institutes, and state museums. Among the largest libraries are those of the universities of Uppsala, Göteborg , Lund, and Stockholm; the Royal Library and the library of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, both in Stockholm; and the city libraries of Göteborg and Stockholm.

Most of Sweden’s large cities have museums. The best-known museum is the National Museum in Stockholm. It holds Sweden’s largest collection of fine arts. Other notable museums are the Skansen, an outdoor museum with displays of rural life; the Contemporary Art Museum; the Vasa Museum; and the Swedish Museum of Natural History. Also of interest are the Göteborg Art Gallery and, in Lund, the Cultural History Museum.

Sciences in Sweden

Swedes have made many outstanding contributions in the areas of science, invention, and engineering. Carolus Linnaeus, a Swedish naturalist, originated the scientific classification of plants and animals. Baron Jöns Jakob Berzelius developed the modern system of symbols and formulas in chemistry. John Ericsson was the inventor of the screw propeller and designed and built the famous American warship Monitor (See also Monitor v. Virginia). Emanuel Swedenborg was an accomplished scientist who made important contributions to mathematics, chemistry, and other scientific fields before achieving even greater fame as a theologian. Among other Swedish inventions are safety matches, ball bearings, milk and cream separators, steam turbines, automated sea beacons, and refrigerators.

Among the most famous of all Swedes is Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite and smokeless gunpowder, who established the Nobel Prizes. According to the instructions in his will, Nobel Prizes are awarded every year to those who have “conferred the greatest benefit on mankind” in the fields of chemistry, physics, physiology and medicine, literature, and peace. In 1968 the Sveriges Riksbank, the central bank of Sweden, created a sixth Nobel award for the field of economics.

Art and Architecture of Sweden

Swedish art originated in the Bronze Age (1500-500 BC). Ornaments dating from this period reveal an independent artistic style. Stone sculptures on the island of Gotland date to about AD 500. The arts, especially sculpture, flourished in connection with the construction of churches from about 1100 to 1350. Since the Middle Ages, broader trends in Europe have profoundly influenced the direction of Swedish art.

Prominent Swedish artists of the 18th century included painters Carl Gustav Pilo and Alexander Roslin and sculptor Johan Tobias von Sergel. Significant artists of the 19th century included Carl Fredrik Hill and Ernst Josephson. Internationally recognized artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were painters Anders Leonhard Zorn and Carl Larsson. Carl Milles was an acclaimed sculptor of the 20th century.

Swedish folk arts, including wood carvings and decorative arts, are widely admired. Modern Swedish home furnishings and Swedish glassware and silverware are known internationally. IKEA, a large Swedish furniture company, is world-famous for its inexpensive and simply designed household goods. Orrefors is a center noted for its artistry in making crystal vases and stemware.

In architecture, Sweden developed the medieval log cabin, which was widely copied in the United States in the 17th century. However, major architectural advances, including the movement toward functionalism, were not made until the late 19th century. Since then, internationally noted Swedish architects have included Ragnar Östberg, Erik Gunnar Asplund, and Sven Gottfrid Markelius.

Film in Sweden

In motion pictures Swedish artists have won international acclaim, particularly in the era preceding the 1960s, after which a great many Swedish actors and directors moved to Hollywood, California. Important directors include Ingmar Bergman, Lasse Hallström, Arne Edvard Sucksdorff, and Arne Mattsson. Cinematographer Sven Nykvist is known for his collaborations with Bergman, Hallström, and American director Woody Allen. Prominent Swedish film actors include Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo, Mai Zetterling (also a director), Max von Sydow, and Lena Olin. Göteborg stages a well-attended annual film festival.

Literature in Sweden

In literature, playwright and writer August Strindberg is probably Sweden’s best-known figure. Swedish authors to win a Nobel Prize in literature include novelist Selma Lagerlöf; novelist, poet, and playwright Pär Lagerkvist; and author Harry Martinson. Astrid Lindgren is known to children in many countries as the author of the famous Pippi Longstocking (Pippi Långstrump) series of children’s novels. Vilhelm Moberg won recognition for his books about Swedish immigrants in the United States. See Swedish Literature.

Music in Sweden

The greatest Swedish contribution to music has been in the field of song. Choir singing, most often organized by church congregations, remains a very popular social and cultural activity in Sweden. Famous Swedish singers have included Jenny Lind, Christina Nilsson, Jussi Björling, Birgit Nilsson, and Lena Willemark. Swedish folk songs are typically ballads accompanied by the fiddle, the nyckelharpa (a keyed fiddle), among other traditional instruments. Some modern folk musicians, such as Willemark, sing traditional herding calls, (called kulning or lockrop). A high-pitched vocal technique used mainly by women and dating to the Middle Ages, kulning can be piercing in tone and convey a feeling of melancholy.

In the 18th century, a period of cultural flowering, King Gustav III founded the Academy of Music, the Stockholm Opera, and the Royal Ballet. Swedish Italian ballerina Marie Taglioni was an important figure in dance in the 19th century. A Swedish composer who achieved international fame was symphonist Franz Berwald. Modern composers include Hugo Alfvén, whose music is based on Swedish folk songs; Hilding Rosenberg; and Karl-Birger Blomdahl.

Since the 1970s, a number of Swedish pop and rock music groups have achieved international acclaim. Perhaps most famous of these are the bands Abba, Roxette, and Ace of Base. In recent years, a vibrant heavy metal and punk music scene has developed in Sweden.


As in most developed nations, services—including communications and transportation, finance, education and health care, and tourism—are Sweden’s most important economic activities as a share of gross domestic product (GDP). An extensive range of services in Sweden are provided by state-owned enterprises, which are funded by one of the highest levels of taxation in Europe. They include health care, housing for the needy, education, and child care for working parents.

Sweden is also an industrial giant. Sweden’s output of manufactured goods is only slightly less than that of Norway, Finland, and Denmark combined. Sweden lacks a wide range of natural resources, but it does have rich deposits of iron ore, abundant waterpower resources, and extensive forest reserves. Through technological innovation and efficient work processes, Sweden has used its resources to become one of the world’s leading manufacturing and exporting nations. Traditional exports include paper and pulp and steel (Iron and Steel Manufacture). In recent decades newer industries, including information technology, biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals, have grown in importance. Industrial diversification has helped stabilize Sweden’s economy by moderating the effects of fluctuations in international demand. Sweden promotes a liberal trade policy and was a founding member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA, established 1960). In 1995 Sweden became a full member of the European Union (EU), at which time it withdrew from EFTA.

Since the 1930s Sweden has operated a mixed economy (often referred to as the “Swedish model”), a system that has created an unusual degree of economic equality among citizens and a highly developed infrastructure. Although more than 90 percent of Swedish industry is privately owned, the government exerts substantial control over economic life to promote full employment, economic development, and the provision of generous social welfare benefits. Nearly 80 percent of Swedish workers belong to labor unions, one of the world’s highest rates of unionization. Labor-management relations are generally excellent, and strikes are rare. The high level of unionization has created a comparatively high minimum wage, even for low-skill jobs. For many decades the Swedish model has proved remarkably successful, providing Swedes with low unemployment and one of the world’s highest per-capita standards of living.

A severe recession in the early 1990s—the worst to hit Sweden since the Great Depression of the 1930s—raised concerns about Sweden’s ability to maintain its mixed economy. Both the budget deficit and unemployment soared. The Swedish government quickly responded with austerity measures that included tax reforms, a reduction in civil service employment, cuts in some social-welfare programs, and the partial privatization of some state-owned enterprises (particularly in postal services, telecommunications, and railroad transportation). The moves, which resulted in a modest reduction in the public sector, helped restore confidence in Sweden’s economy and promoted an economic recovery that only slowed with the global economic downturn of 2001. The episode refocused Swedish attention on economic growth and marked the emergence of a broad consensus underlining Sweden’s commitment to egalitarian policies while limiting unwise public spending.

A notable feature of Swedish economic life is the cooperative movement. Consumer and producer cooperatives handle a substantial share of all retail trade. Consumer cooperatives were first formed in the 19th century. The largest, the Swedish Cooperative Union, owns supermarkets, department stores, and other retail outlets, and claims about 3 million members. The Federation of Swedish Farmers, to which almost all farmers belong, owns dairies, meat-packing plants, and fertilizer and farm-equipment factories. It oversees most sales of goods such as butter, cheese, milk, eggs, grain, meat, and wool.

Agriculture of Sweden

Just 7 percent of the land in Sweden is cultivated. Nevertheless, agricultural output is quite high. Scientific farming, including intensive fertilization and mechanization, makes possible good crop yields despite generally poor soils, rugged topography, and a short growing season. Agriculture is intensively developed in the southern lowlands, especially in the plains of Skåne. Most agricultural production is for domestic consumption.

Agriculture dominated Sweden’s economy until the 1930s, but today less than 2 percent of the total work force earns a livelihood by farming. Modern Swedish farms vary in size from large estates to small holdings of a few hectares. In recent years, many small farms have been combined into larger units. After World War II, dairy farming, traditionally an important sector of Swedish agriculture, declined compared to the production of cereal grains and vegetables. The leading farm commodities remain livestock and livestock products, especially dairy products. The major crops are wheat, barley, oats, potatoes, canola, rye, and sugar beets. Sweden is also a leading producer of fur pelts, particularly mink.

Forestry and Fishing in Sweden

Sweden has the largest timber reserves in western Europe and is its largest producer of timber products (see Forestry). Forest products account for a substantial portion of Sweden’s yearly industrial output and exports. Timber production in 2007 was 77.2 million cubic meters (2.7 billion cubic feet). Most timber is used for lumber and for making pulp and paper. The most productive timber areas are in the lower slopes of Norrland, a region encompassing the northern two-thirds of the country. Swedes use a network of rivers, channels, and chutes to float logs down to the coast on the Gulf of Bothnia, where sawmills and pulp and paper factories are concentrated. The Småland region is also a significant source of timber.

Fish provide an important part of the Swedish diet, and much of the annual catch is consumed locally. In 2007 Sweden’s fish catch totaled 276,800 metric tons. Herring made up about two-thirds of the annual catch. Other fish caught include sprat, cod, and whiting. Göteborg is an important fishing port.

Mining in Sweden

The mining of iron and copper has been important in Sweden since the Middle Ages. A famously rich copper mine at Falun, in central Sweden, was exploited continuously for 650 years until it was nearly exhausted. Mineral production remains very important for both domestic use and foreign trade. Extensive high-grade iron-ore deposits are located in central and northern Sweden, notably around Kiruna and Malmberget. The country also contains an estimated 15 percent of the world’s uranium reserves, which supply fuel for Sweden’s nuclear power industry.

In 2006 mineral production included 15 million metric tons of iron ore, 268 metric tons of silver, 85,500 tons of copper, and 76,800 tons of lead. Zinc, gold, petroleum, and pyrite also were produced.

Manufacturing in Sweden

Sweden’s highly skilled work force has used the nation’s mining, timber, and waterpower resources to build a diversified and exceptionally modern industrial base. Metallurgical and engineering industries, followed by the lumber, pulp, and paper industries, have long dominated Sweden’s export-oriented manufacturing sector. Sweden produces goods such as iron and high-grade steel, ball bearings, automobiles, agricultural machinery, airplanes, machine tools and precision gauges, appliances, and telecommunications equipment. The Swedish automobile companies Volvo and Saab are widely respected for their well-engineered products. Sweden is also home to vigorous chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

Other important manufactured goods that have earned Sweden a worldwide reputation include furniture of modern design, glassware, textiles, countless handicraft items, cutlery, and processed foods. Important manufacturing centers include Stockholm, Göteborg, Linköping, Malmö, and Trollhättan.

Energy in Sweden

Sweden is endowed with significant waterpower resources, and 44 percent of its electricity is produced in hydroelectric facilities. Some 46 percent is generated in nuclear power plants. After the 1986 Chernobyl’ nuclear disaster in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) (see Chernobyl’ Accident), the Swedish government decided to phase out nuclear power plants in the country by the early 21st century. However, Sweden’s deep economic recession in the early 1990s resulted in the postponement of the program, and numerous nuclear power plants remain in operation. Total annual electricity output in 2006 was 138.6 billion kilowatt-hours.

Because of strict environmental regulations, heavy exploitation of available waterpower sources, and the desire to phase out nuclear power, Sweden is working to develop alternative sources of energy, including biofuel, wind, and solar power.

Currency and Banking of Sweden

The basic monetary unit of Sweden is the krona, or crown, which is divided into 100 öre. The central bank of Sweden is the Sveriges Riksbank, or Bank of Sweden (1668). It issues currency and determines monetary policy in cooperation with government officials. In 2003 Swedish citizens voted down a referendum calling for Sweden’s adoption of the euro, the common currency of the European Union (EU), choosing instead to retain the krona. Sweden has more than 20 commercial banks with many branches, in addition to about 90 savings banks and a few other types of banking and loan organizations. Sweden’s main stock exchange is in Stockholm.

Foreign Trade in Sweden

Foreign trade is important to Sweden’s heavily export-oriented economy. In 2007 exports earned $168.1 billion and imports cost $150.4 billion. Leading purchasers of Swedish goods are Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark, and Finland. Leading suppliers of goods to Sweden are Germany, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, the United States, and France.

Transportation in Sweden

Sweden’s transportation facilities are excellent and well developed. Most roads, railways, and canals are concentrated in the southern third of the country. Sweden has about 424,947 km (about 264,050 mi) of roads, of which 14,577 km (9,058 mi) are national roadways. Railroad trackage totals 9,821 km (6,102 mi), much of which is state owned. Inland waterways include the Göta Canal, which connects the east and west coasts of Sweden. Although the canal is important chiefly as a tourist route, it serves some local commerce. Stockholm and Göteborg are the leading seaports. Numerous ferries ply the waters between Sweden and its neighboring countries. In 1999 work was completed on a bridge and tunnel linking Sweden and Denmark. The 16-km (10-mi) link, called the Øresundsbron (Öresund Bridge), connects the Swedish city of Malmö with the Danish city of Copenhagen via an artificial island. The bridge and tunnel opened to traffic in July 2000.

The Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS AB), operated jointly with Denmark and Norway, is the leading carrier in Scandinavia and provides international and domestic service. The principal international airports are at Arlanda (near Stockholm), Landvetter (near Göteborg), and Sturup (near Malmö).

Communications in Sweden

Swedes are great readers, and nearly all households subscribe to a daily newspaper, making Sweden one of the world’s top consumers of newspapers. Influential dailies include Expressen, Aftonbladet, Dagens Nyheter, and Svenska Dagbladet, all published in Stockholm; Göteborgs-Posten in Göteborg; and Sydsvenska Dagbladet in Malmö.

Until recently, publicly operated radio and television services held a virtual monopoly over Sweden’s airwaves. Commercial television broadcasts began in 1992 and were followed a year later with the first commercial radio broadcasts. The state-owned broadcasters Sveriges Radio and Sveriges Television continue to serve consumers, but today there are a wide variety of commercial broadcasters to choose from. Digital television broadcasts first began in 1999.


Sweden is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy. It is governed under the constitution of 1975, which replaced the constitution of 1809. The 1975 constitution eliminated the last vestiges of monarchical power in governing the country. The monarch remained head of state, an exclusively ceremonial post, but no longer was supreme commander of the armed forces and ceased to preside over cabinet meetings. All power was defined as emanating from the people. The constitution includes a lengthy bill of rights.

The monarchy is hereditary in the direct line of the house of Bernadotte. The constitution was amended in 1978 to permit the first born royal child, whether male or female, to succeed to the throne; the measure went into effect in 1980. Previously, only males could inherit the throne.

Executive of Sweden

In Sweden executive power is vested in the cabinet, or government, which is responsible to the unicameral (single-chamber) national legislature, the Riksdag. The cabinet is composed of a prime minister and department ministers and ministers without portfolio. When a new government is formed, the prime minister is nominated by the speaker of the Riksdag, and members of the Riksdag must then approve the nomination. To remain in office, the prime minister and cabinet must retain the confidence of the Riksdag.

In addition to the cabinet ministries some 50 central agencies administer government-operated services. These agencies, which are headed by government-appointed directors, are nominally subordinate to the cabinet ministries but actually function independently of them.

Legislature of Sweden

In 1971 the Riksdag, formerly a bicameral (two-chamber) body, was changed to a unicameral legislature with 350 popularly elected members; the 1975 constitution reduced the number of members to 349 to prevent tie votes. Members of the Riksdag are elected to terms of four years by the voters under a system of proportional representation. All citizens age 18 or older are eligible to vote.

Judiciary in Sweden

The Swedish judiciary is entirely independent of the other branches of government and comprises a three-tier system of courts: the Supreme Court, six courts of appeal, and district and city courts. The Supreme Court is the court of final appeal in all cases and may also consider new evidence. The appeals courts, in addition to having appellate jurisdiction, are responsible for the administration of the court system in their areas and for the further training of judges. District and city courts are courts of first instance. They are presided over by judges who are assisted by a popularly elected panel, usually consisting of from three to five laypersons. Juries are used only in press libel suits.

A special feature of the Swedish judicial system, copied in recent years by other countries, is the official known as the ombudsman. This official’s duty is to oversee how the courts and administrators observe and apply the laws. An ombudsman may investigate complaints by any citizen and initiate investigations and can bring evidence of error or wrongdoing before a court. Ombudsmen are appointed by the Riksdag for a term of four years.

Local Government of Sweden

For the purposes of local government, Sweden is divided into 21 counties (called län): Stockholm, Uppsala, Södermanland, Östergötland, Jönköping, Kronoberg, Kalmar, Gotland, Blekinge, Skåne, Halland, Västra Götaland, Värmland, Örebro, Västmanland, Dalarna, Gävleborg, Västernorrland, Jämtland, Västerbotten, and Norrbotten. Each county has a governor appointed by the national government and a popularly elected council. County governments have taxation powers and provide services such as education, public health care, and public transportation. Sweden is further divided into approximately 300 municipalities headed by popularly elected local councils.

Political Parties of Sweden

The leading Swedish political groups are the Social Democratic Party, an organization with strong links to Swedish labor unions; the Moderate Party, which emphasizes free enterprise and smaller government; the Liberal Party, which supports free enterprise and broad social welfare programs; and the Christian Democratic Party, a group backed by a number of Protestant denominations. Other influential groups include the Left Party, formerly the Communist Party; the rural-oriented Center Party; and the environmentalist Green Party. Many small extreme right-wing and left-wing parties also compete for votes.

Health and Welfare in Sweden

Sweden provides its citizens with extensive social-welfare benefits that rank among the world’s most generous. All citizens receive old-age pensions, health care, and workers’ compensation disability benefits. An unemployment-insurance plan is subsidized largely by the government but administered by trade unions. Other social-welfare benefits include free day care for parents with children, paid family leave for new parents, generous paid vacations, government-subsidized low-rent housing, and free tuition for students seeking higher education.

Defense of Sweden

Sweden’s tradition of neutrality in foreign affairs and unwillingness to enter military alliances in peacetime has dictated a high degree of military preparedness. As a result, Sweden’s defense spending is high by western European standards. However, Sweden expressed a willingness to review its neutrality in the context of its membership in the European Union (EU). In 2002 Sweden revised its security doctrine to permit cooperation with other nations if threats to peace and security arise. However, Sweden retained its longstanding general commitment to nonparticipation in military alliances. Sweden declined to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) after its founding in 1949, but Sweden is an active participant in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program.

The armed forces of Sweden are headed by a supreme commander and a defense staff that coordinates the activities of the army, navy, and air force. Between 7 and 15 months of military service is compulsory for men between 19 and 47 years of age. Military service for women is voluntary. An important component of the country’s defense is the home guard, a volunteer service organized during World War II (1939-1945); the service has about 250,000 members at present. In 2006 the armed forces included an army of 13,800, a navy of 7,900, and an air force of 5,900.


In the 1st century AD the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus wrote about a tribe called the Svear who had established a kingdom in the regions of Lake Mälaran in southeastern Sweden. At about the same time, Goths and other eastern Germanic peoples had settled in southern Sweden. These tribes, although united in religious beliefs, were generally at war with each other. Before the 10th century, details of Swedish history are obscure.


During the Viking age, which began about AD 800 and continued for nearly three centuries, Swedes and other Scandinavian peoples took to the sea for purposes of trade, exploration, and conquest. Vikings established settlements in England, Iceland, Greenland, and Russia. The Baltic Sea became their private domain. They carried on trade that extended to Europe, North America, Africa, and Asia.

Early Christianity

The 9th century also brought Christian missionaries from England and northern Germany to preach in Sweden. However, it was not until the 12th century that Christianity finally replaced the ancient worship of Odin, Thor, and other Nordic gods. During the 12th and 13th centuries, cities were constructed, many churches were built, laws were made, and a class of soldier-nobles evolved. During the reign of Eric IX, from 1150 to 1160, Swedish power was strengthened. Eric invaded Finland and forced Christianity on those he conquered; during the subsequent two centuries Finland was completely subjugated by the Swedes. Eric was allegedly slain by a Danish claimant to his throne while he was attending mass; he later became the patron saint of Sweden.

As Viking raids decreased, a powerful group of German merchants and traders formed the Hanse, or Hanseatic League, in order to dominate all trade in the Baltic Sea and North Sea. One of their principal centers was the town of Visby on the island of Gotland. In the 13th and 14th centuries feudalism became a controlling influence in Sweden.

The Union of Kalmar

Late in the 14th century, German power in Scandinavia had become so great that Sweden, Denmark, and Norway feared a German conquest. In 1397, in the Union of Kalmar, the three united against Germany and chose Margaret I, already ruler of Denmark and Norway, as their queen. The monarchy established by the triple realm was the largest in Europe in area. When Eric of Pomerania succeeded Margaret in 1412, he made himself unpopular by interfering with rights of the nobility and by involving Sweden in his quarrels with the Hanseatic League.

In 1432 a revolt of the lower classes broke out in the iron-mining district of central Sweden, where iron exports were hampered by a Hanse blockade. After the uprising, Eric fled the Swedish throne and lost the thrones of Norway and Denmark. All three countries chose Eric’s nephew, Christopher of Bavaria, to be king. After Christopher’s death Karl Knutsson, a Swedish nobleman, became king of Sweden, while Denmark and Norway elected Christian I. Karl, who held the title Charles VIII, died in 1470.

Emergence of a Nation

In 1520, after nearly a century of Danish attempts to reestablish the Union of Kalmar by force, Christian II of Denmark captured Sweden’s capital city. In an attempt to subdue Sweden at last, he beheaded 80 Swedish nationalist leaders. But the so-called Stockholm Bloodbath only strengthened Sweden’s resolve for independence. A young Swedish nobleman named Gustavus Vasa raised a peasant army, and within three years the Swedes had driven Danish forces from their land. Denmark, however, retained possession of the southern part of the Scandinavian peninsula. The young nobleman was crowned king of Sweden as Gustav I Vasa.

Gustav immediately set about the task of strengthening Sweden’s economy. In 1527 he began to confiscate Swedish land owned by the Roman Catholic Church. He made Lutheran Protestantism the state religion. He reorganized the government, creating a strong central administration and an efficient civil service. When provinces rebelled, Gustav quickly put down the revolts. Under his reign, agriculture, mining, and domestic and foreign trade prospered.

Sweden as Military Power

During the 16th century Sweden entered a period of expansion. The Reval district of Estonia put itself voluntarily under Swedish protection in 1561. As a result of the Livonia War (1557 to 1582), Sweden acquired all of Estonia from Poland, including the region of Narva. Gradually the kingdom became a major power in the Baltic Sea, and its expansionist policies were furthered by Gustav II Adolph, considered the greatest Swedish king, who succeeded to the throne in 1611. At the beginning of his reign, Sweden was embroiled in unsuccessful wars with Denmark, Poland, and Russia. He built up Sweden’s military and naval power, successfully concluded the wars with Denmark and Russia, and forced the Poles to cede most of Livonia to Sweden.

In 1630 Gustav, a champion of Protestantism, entered the Thirty Years’ War. With a large treasury based on Swedish copper resources and with a military brilliance unparalleled in Swedish history, Gustav attacked Poland, occupied eastern Prussia, fought the Habsburgs and the Catholic League in Germany, and invaded Bavaria. Gustav died in battle 1632, but his policies were continued by his chancellor, the great Swedish statesman Count Axel Oxenstierna. The count directed the government in the years before Christina, Gustav’s daughter, came of age. Christina was crowned queen of Sweden in 1644.

By the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, which ended the Thirty Years’ War, Sweden acquired a large part of Pomerania, the island of Rügen, Wismar, the sees of Bremen and Verden, and other German territory. These German possessions entitled the Swedish sovereign to three votes in the diet of the Holy Roman Empire. Sweden had become the greatest power in the Baltic area. In 1654 Queen Christina abdicated, naming her cousin Charles X Gustav as her successor; she lived the rest of her life in Rome. While the new king was engaged in a military campaign in Poland, Denmark declared war on Sweden. In 1658, Charles X and his army returned from Poland and invaded Denmark. He regained all the southern provinces of Sweden from Denmark as well as control over the Öresund, the main inlet to the Baltic Sea. By the Peace of Oliva in May 1660, Poland formally conceded Livonia to Sweden.

Collapse of the Swedish Empire

When Charles XI came to the throne in 1660, Sweden’s treasury was nearly exhausted. After a treaty with Denmark had been signed in 1679, the king instituted a broad program of domestic reforms that affected every aspect of the Swedish state. Charles struck at fundamental Swedish liberties in a reorganization of the Swedish government, weakening the council of state and the Riksdag, and making himself an absolute monarch. His most important policy proved to be his land reforms. In 1680 he confiscated all large estates. Charles reduced the nobles’ holdings from nearly three-quarters to approximately one-third of Sweden’s territory.

The reign of the 15-year-old Charles XII, who came to the throne in 1697, marked the beginning of the decline of Sweden as a world power. In 1700, Denmark, Poland, and Russia simultaneously declared war on Sweden, beginning a conflict commonly called the Great Northern War (1700-1721). Charles marshaled Sweden’s forces and rapidly won a series of brilliant victories over these enemies. In 1709, against the advice of his officers, Charles invaded Russia. His entire army of 18,000 was captured at Poltava the same year. The young king fled to Turkey, where he remained for five years. Hannover, England, and Prussia now joined the alliance of Russia, Denmark, and Poland against Sweden.

In 1715 Charles returned home to try to strengthen Sweden’s defenses. However, he was killed in 1718 in a futile invasion of Norway, and Sweden had to conclude a series of treaties that stripped the country of most of its possessions. By the treaties of Stockholm and Nystadt in 1721, Sweden lost much of its German territory and ceded Livonia, Estonia, Ingria, part of Karelia, and several important Baltic islands to Russia. The Swedish empire was reduced to half its former size, and it was never again to dominate the Baltic. Russia, led by Peter the Great, was now the region’s dominant power.

Revolution and Constitutional Reforms

Charles XII was succeeded by his sister, Ulrika Eleanora, conditional on her acceptance of a new constitution abolishing the absolute monarchy and vesting legislative power in a Riksdag of four estates (or groups)—nobles, clergy, burghers, and peasants. Two new political parties known as the Hats and the Caps came into being. Executive power became the province of a secret committee of the first three estates, permitting aristocratic control of the government. Sweden’s so-called “era of liberty” ushered in a half century of rivalry, political strife, and foreign and domestic blundering.

In 1771 Gustav III came to the throne and, capitalizing on popular dissatisfaction with the high-handed policies of the aristocracy, managed to take over the government. He promulgated a new constitution that restored the absolute monarchy. Gustav also reorganized his country’s military forces. Dreaming of restoring Sweden to the position of a world power, he declared war on Russia.

Considered an enlightened despot, Gustav initiated domestic, civil, and land reforms. He also set up academies of literature, science, and art, and he ordered the construction of state theaters and opera houses. His war with Russia, however, went badly, and his policies met increasing opposition from the Riksdag, particularly from its nobles. In 1789, with the onset of the French Revolution, Gustav again revised the constitution, giving himself such sweeping powers that the period is referred to as that of Gustavian Absolutism. The following year, Sweden defeated the Russian navy at Svensksund and the two nations negotiated a peace. Two years later, a group of embittered nobles assassinated Gustav.

Napoleonic Wars

Gustav’s son and successor, Gustav IV Adolph, strongly opposed Napoleon of France, and in 1805 he participated in the Third Coalition against Naopleon, joining Britain, Russia, and Austria. Russia deserted the coalition for an alliance with Napoleon in 1807 and a year later invaded Finland, then a Swedish possession. Gustav was deposed by an army revolt in 1809. The Riksdag then formulated a new constitution, which remained in force until 1975, and in 1809 elected as king the ex-king’s uncle, Charles XIII.

Sweden concluded two treaties, one with Russia in 1809, ceding most of Finland and Ahvenanmaa (Åland Islands), and another with France in 1810, by which a pro-Napoleonic policy was adopted. Charles XIII was childless and left no heir to the Swedish throne. In an effort to appease Napoleon, the Riksdag chose Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, prince of Pontecorvo and a field marshal of Napoleon, as crown prince. Bernadotte accepted the offer. An act establishing the succession in the Bernadotte dynasty was enacted in 1810.

Bernadotte almost immediately withdrew his allegiance to France. Instead of attempting to regain Finland by attacking Russia, Bernadotte turned against Napoleon and participated in the defeat of France at Leipzig in 1813. He then attacked Napoleon’s ally Denmark and forced the Danes to cede Norway to Sweden. The Congress of Vienna, in 1815, recognized the union of Norway with Sweden. Bernadotte thus brought about a union of Sweden and Norway that lasted from 1814 to 1905. In 1818, Bernadotte became King Charles XIV John. His army was the last in Sweden’s history to go to war.

The Early Bernadottes

The reign of Charles XIV John (1818 to 1844) was characterized by a conflict for control between the throne and the Riksdag. As a foreigner, the king was unpopular. But he was an able administrator, and under his rule the united kingdoms of Norway and Sweden made considerable progress materially, politically, and culturally. His successors, Oscar I, Charles XV, and Oscar II, were accepted as Swedes, and they initiated an extensive series of constitutional and social reforms. Free enterprise was encouraged, and free public education was instituted. During the reign of Oscar II, Sweden made notable progress in social legislation, including the introduction of factory safety laws, accident insurance and pension funds for workers, and the limitation of working hours for women and children. The reforms culminated in 1865 with the replacement of the Riksdag’s four traditional estates with a bicameral (two-chamber) elected legislature.

Industrialization and the Modern Era

In the 19th century there was a tremendous growth in Sweden’s population. However, repeated crop failures in the second half of the century led to massive waves of emigration, which reached their peak in the 1880s. The majority of emigrants came to the United States, where Swedish communities were established throughout the Midwest. By 1900 one-fifth of Sweden’s population had emigrated to the United States. While many Swedes were leaving the country, others moved from the farms to the cities. During the 1870s, Sweden’s transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy proceeded at a rapid rate. New methods of processing minerals made formerly unproductive mines profitable once again, and new markets for manufactured goods inspired still more industrialization.

As Sweden’s economy changed toward the end of the 19th century, so did its politics. The Social Democratic Party was founded and many trade unions (see Trade Unions in Europe) and cooperatives developed. So did a strong temperance league. When the Norwegian parliament voted to end the union with Sweden in 1905, Sweden reluctantly agreed. In 1907 Gustav V succeeded to the throne, and two years later constitutional amendments extended the voting franchise and inaugurated proportional representation.

During World War I, Sweden remained neutral while retaining its commitment to trade freely with belligerent nations, including Germany. The Allied Powers, in turn, enforced a blockade that brought Sweden’s trade to a virtual standstill. Food shortages and other hardships in Sweden ensued. Sweden subsequently entered an agreement with Norway and Denmark to defend its neutrality and to protect the common economic interests of the Scandinavian countries. By 1918 universal suffrage was adopted. Sweden joined the League of Nations in 1920.

Led by the great Swedish statesman Karl Hjalmar Branting, the Social Democratic Party became the leading force in Swedish politics, and in 1920 the world’s first freely elected labor government took office in Sweden. Socialist governments remained in power until 1928, enacting wide-ranging social reforms. The Conservative Party gained power in 1928, but the Social Democrats regained office in 1932 amid the worldwide depression.

Neutrality and Defense Questions

In the late 1930s, when another world war seemed imminent in Europe, military preparedness and national defense became of paramount interest. On the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Sweden again declared its neutrality. However, when German forces captured Norway and Denmark, Sweden had to allow German troops and supplies to cross its soil. Swedish sympathies were with the Allied Powers, and the country sheltered more than 200,000 refugees from Germany’s Nazi government (see National Socialism). Raoul Wallenberg, a young member of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families, played a heroic role in the closing months of the war. Working from Swedish diplomatic offices in Budapest, Wallenberg saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from Nazi extermination by distributing Swedish passports, operating “safe houses,” and other measures.

In July 1945, after the close of hostilities in Europe, the wartime coalition cabinet resigned and the Social Democrats, under Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson, resumed full control of the government. Social Democratic leader Tage Erlander, formerly minister of education and religious affairs, became prime minister in October 1946, after the death of Hansson. The following month Sweden joined the United Nations, just as it had joined the League of Nations 26 years earlier. Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjöld, who served eight years as the UN’s secretary general beginning in 1953, was influential in developing the powers and scope of the secretary general’s office.

Sweden maintained a neutral stance in the ensuing Cold War. In 1948 it joined the United States-sponsored European Recovery Program, along with the other Western European nations, but it refused to become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, formed in 1949. Failing in efforts to form a Scandinavian defense bloc without ties to the East or West, Sweden began systematically to strengthen its defenses. In 1950 King Gustav V died and his eldest son, Gustav VI Adolph, assumed the Swedish throne.

Expanded Welfare State

Conflicting proposals for financing the expansion of Sweden’s old-age pensions stirred a national controversy in 1957. In a popular referendum held in October, the Social Democrats’ proposal, which called for compulsory contributions and for a government guarantee of the value of the benefits against inflation, won a plurality but not a majority of the votes. Nevertheless, the Social Democrats pressed for enactment of the plan, leading their coalition partners, the Agrarians, to withdraw from the government. A new government headed by Tage Erlander and consisting wholly of Social Democrats was formed late in October.

In April 1958 the United States agreed to grant Sweden financial aid to construct a nuclear reactor. In the same month the Erlander government fell because of interparty disagreement over the pension plan, but elections in June returned him to power. The government won parliamentary approval of the pension plan in May 1959. Later that year Sweden became a founding member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Elections in 1960 resulted in another Social Democratic victory, and Erlander remained prime minister.

The Swedish economy boomed during the 1960s, making the country one of the world’s richest in per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) by the end of the decade. When Erlander retired from his post in 1969, the vigorous and youthful Olof Palme, former education minister, was named to succeed him. Palme’s tenure marked the continued expansion of the welfare state and a decrease in wage differentials among all workers through collective bargaining and government policies. A constitutional revision effective in 1971 reorganized the legislature into a unicameral body and implemented a new electoral system. In 1973 Gustav VI Adolph died and was succeeded by his grandson, Carl XVI Gustaf. On January 1, 1975, a new constitution, dissolving the remaining powers of the king, came into force.

Swedish opposition to the Vietnam War strained relations with the United States beginning in the late 1960s. Many young U.S. opponents of the war received political asylum in Sweden. Criticism of U.S. military actions by Prime Minister Palme in 1972 led the United States to nearly sever diplomatic relations with Sweden until 1974.

Fall and Return of the Social Democrats

Sweden weathered the world economic slump of 1974 and 1975 well, but it was troubled by growing inflation and foreign debt and by large annual budget deficits. Many Swedes grew dissatisfied with the high rates of taxation required to fund the country’s generous welfare state. At the same time, the Center Party attacked the government’s nuclear energy program as dangerous to the environment. In the September 1976 general elections the Social Democrats were ousted after 44 years in office, losing to a coalition of the Center, Conservative, and Liberal parties.

In 1977 the center-right government of Prime Minister Thorbjörn Fälldin introduced austerity measures to dampen inflation and encourage sales of Swedish goods abroad. Fälldin’s Center Party also sought to abandon Sweden’s nuclear program, a proposal opposed by the party’s coalition partners. The government resigned in 1978 after Fälldin failed to win support for a national referendum on the nuclear issue. Fälldin returned to the helm after the 1979 general elections to lead another center-right coalition government, and in 1980 a referendum on the future of nuclear power was held. Approved by a narrow majority, the referendum authorized the continued development of small-scale, nuclear power generation, with the eventual phasing out of all nuclear power plants during the early 21st century.

In May 1980, in the midst of escalating inflation, a rare general strike brought the country to a virtual standstill for ten days. In October of that year the government survived a no-confidence motion by just one vote. In May 1981 thousands of white-collar workers went on strike as the government coalition split over economic policy and tax reforms. Fälldin then formed a Center-Liberal minority government to lead Sweden pending the 1982 general elections.

The Social Democrats reclaimed power in the 1982 elections following a campaign that focused on Sweden’s lagging economic performance. Olof Palme returned as prime minister to implement an economic program based on greater state intervention in the economy. The government increased public expenditures, provided subsidies to key industries, and devalued the krona, the national currency, to make Swedish exports more competitive. In addition, the government backed the creation of highly controversial “wage-earner funds,” to be controlled by organized labor and used as a source of investment capital. By 1984 inflation and unemployment had declined, and industrial production reached record levels.

The Social Democrats retained their dominance in the 1985 elections, gaining a mandate to continue the government’s economic policies. On February 28, 1986, Prime Minister Palme was assassinated in Stockholm by an unknown assailant. The assassination shocked Sweden—a nation accustomed to domestic peace and a long tradition of political compromise. He was succeeded by Deputy Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson, who retained Palme’s cabinet and vowed to remain loyal to his predecessor’s policies.

The Social Democrats held their comfortable majority in the 1988 elections. But Carlsson faced growing labor strife, scandals, and after 1990 a rapidly deteriorating economy. Environmental concerns remained prominent with marine animal deaths in coastal waters and growing apprehension over air pollution and global warming. Carlsson resigned in 1990 after the Riksdag rejected a proposal for a temporary freeze on wages, prices, and rents. He later formed a new government, and a modified austerity program was adopted that allowed some wage increases.

In the September 1991 elections the Social Democrats suffered a stunning upset, although it remained the largest party in the Riksdag, with 138 seats. Ingvar Carlsson resigned, and the leader of the Moderate Party, Carl Bildt, formed a coalition of the Moderate, Center, Liberal, and Christian Democrat parties. Amid the worst economic recession in Sweden since the 1930s, the new government began to accelerate deregulation of the economy, including the eventual privatization of several dozen state-owned companies. It also made some cuts in government spending and removed restrictions on foreign-controlled enterprises in Sweden.

The new coalition’s tenure was brief, however. In elections in September 1994, the Social Democrats returned to power, garnering just over 45 percent of the popular vote. The party better than recouped its losses from the previous election, winning a total of 161 out of the 349 seats in the Riksdag. The elections were notable also for the strong showing of women; the number of seats held by women increased from 116 to 143, or 41 percent of the Riksdag. After the elections, Ingvar Carlsson was asked to form a coalition government, but he opted instead for a minority government. Carlsson resigned as prime minister and chair of the Social Democratic Party in March 1996. He was succeeded by Göran Persson, a moderate Social Democrat who had served as finance minister.

European Union Membership

Prior to joining the European Union (EU) in 1995, Sweden conducted trade with other EU member states through a free-trade zone called the European Economic Area (EEA). The EEA was created in 1994 by Sweden and other members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), a trading bloc established in 1960. Sweden first applied for EU membership in 1991, and formal negotiations for Sweden’s admission began in 1993. Sweden’s EU application sharply divided the Swedish public; many Swedes voiced concern that membership in the organization—including participation in a common foreign and security policy—would compromise the country’s traditional neutrality and sovereignty. Other Swedes argued that neutrality was less relevant in a post-Cold War Europe.

In May 1994 the European Parliament recommended Sweden for EU membership, which was narrowly approved by Swedish voters in a November referendum. The referendum drew 83 percent of Swedish voters, 52.2 percent of whom backed Sweden’s membership bid. The Riksdag formally ratified membership in December, and Sweden entered the EU on January 1, 1995, at which time it also withdrew from the EFTA.

Recent Events

Led by Göran Persson, the Social Democrats maintained their hold on power in the 1998 and 2002 elections, each time forming a minority government. To achieve a working majority, Persson obtained support from the Left Party and the Green Party in exchange for allowing the two smaller parties some influence over government policies. However, as part of the partnership, the Greens and the Left Party retained their prerogative to oppose the government on European Union (EU) issues, especially the Social Democrats’ effort to lead Sweden to adopt the euro, the EU’s single currency. Persson pledged to hold a referendum on the euro in 2003, and in September of that year Swedish voters resoundingly rejected the euro.

The Swedish government was heavily criticized over its slow response to the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster on December 26, 2004. An estimated 500 Swedes who were vacationing in Thailand and other parts of the region struck by the tsunami were killed or remain missing. The disaster was the country’s largest peacetime loss of life since the sinking of the ferry Estonia in 1994, which killed 551 residents of Sweden.

The general election of September 2006 was closely contested, with a center-right alliance led by the Moderate Party’s Fredrik Reinfeldt defeating Persson’s Social Democrats by just 7 seats in the 349-seat legislature, the Riksdag. Reinfeldt campaigned on a platform of cutting taxes and reforming Sweden’s generous social security system, seen as one of the best but also one of the most expensive systems in the world. Reinfeldt officially became prime minister in October 2006.

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