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What is Swedish?

Swedish culture

This question has been answered many times in recent years, especially by those poor individuals who harbour notions that there is no Swedish culture. Others who have been asked have stood wordlessly or stammered out something along the lines of "rune stones" or "Christmas Eve". Let's see what two long-dead Swedes have to say on the matter!

It's hard to put into words an invisible community that exists largely only in our heads. So what is Swedish culture? This is what historian and left-wing social democrat Fabian Månsson (1872-1938) writes about culture:

Fabian Månsson on culture
Fabian Månsson (1872-1938) on culture, from his book Viking Age History: from the Tribes to the Nordic Empires (1939).

The first thing you think of is the visible. A flag, a Midsummer pole, a royal family, a hockey team. If you ask me, it's not those things that matter, and if you asked Vilhelm Moberg when he was alive, he would have said that we can get along just fine without a royal house.

Rune stones, burial mounds and red cottages with white knots are all beautiful parts of our heritage, and I love my palt with lingonberry jam, but what really matters is the living culture - that which is reflected in people's customs, traditions and values.

Vilhelm Moberg devoted his entire life to studying the life and history of the Swedish polymath, and in several speeches and writings he tried to put words to this invisible "Swedish", including a speech in Gävle on 6 June 1944.

So what is Swedish according to him? Swedish is the deep-rooted love of freedom - the urge to rule over oneself. According to Moberg, Swedish is also the love of nature with its desolation and solitude, which shows how he was shaped by growing up in the deep forests of Småland. For most of our history, Swedish has been poverty, but a proud poverty in which one would rather be free than someone else's slave.

Vilhelm Moberg 1959
Vilhelm Moberg, 1959.

"But it is also something else and more," he said, ending his speech in Gävle that June day in 1944 with the passage below:

It is peace and security for life and limb in a peaceful country, where children are born free of free parents. It is a country where even the smallest backwoods children can have the opportunity to test their strength to the limit. It is a country where everyone can grow and develop according to their own individuality, where everyone can be different from everyone else and have different opinions from everyone else - and still retain both their freedom and their lives. For me, this is what Sweden is all about. The inalienable.

Vilhelm Moberg, Gävle, 6 June 1944

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