By Steve Kelman

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The Lectern: Latest news from Sweden!

For those readers of my last post on Swedish debates on homeland security who are on the edge of their seats wondering what has happened -- and perhaps didn't find the answer in The Washington Post or wherever -- I can report:

Late last night, the Swedish Parliament adopted the law allowing monitoring of e-mails and text messages into Sweden from abroad, by a narrow four-vote majority. But this happened only after two young members of Parliament from Sweden's Center Party (one of the coalition parties in the current government) threatened to break Sweden's normally strong party discipline and vote against the bill. One of the two made an emotional statement in the parliamentary debate, where he came close to breaking into tears, citing a conversation with his mother where she said to her son, "Do what you believe in." The two young representatives forced the government to make some last-minute changes in the bill, increasing outside controls over use of the monitoring powers.

Commentators here have noted that opposition to this bill represented the Swedish blogosphere's first major political victory -- though a media researcher was quoted in an article this morning arguing that in Sweden, where traditional newspapers are still very strong, the blogosphere was able to exert influence only after "its" cause was taken up by mainstream media.

Parliament passed the law while virtually all of Sweden's attention was concentrated on the European Cup soccer match between Sweden and Russia. I got to watch the first part of the match (I then left for my hotel to go to sleep, since I needed to be up early this morning for a TV appearance) from the VIP area of the TV station that broadcasts the games and showed them from a giant screen in a park in downtown Stockholm. I have never seen so many Swedish flags in one place (Swedes are not known for public displays of patriotism), and at the beginning of the game, the Swedish team sang the Swedish national anthem -- itself a song that one normally virtually never hears in Sweden -- and then the big crowd in the park broke into applause, just like in the US.

Sweden lost (bet you hadn't heard this!) 2-0, eliminating them from further competition.

On a completely different note, walking around Stockholm I have noted a huge increase in the number of Thai restaurants, even compared with only one year ago. I even saw a street stand selling Thai food -- twenty years ago, the only food such stands in Sweden would have sold would have been hot dogs and hamburgers. Multiculturalism has very much become part of Swedish society, traditionally (but no more) an extremely homogeneous society where somebody whose hair was brown instead of blond would have been regarded as a minority. It was fascinating to see among the fans watching the soccer match from the park last night large numbers of brown and black-skinned kids, wearing blue and yellow Swedish soccer team shirts and speaking Swedish with each other.

Friday is Midsummer Night's Eve, one of Sweden's biggest holidays. Swedes everywhere -- probably including many of the immigrant families whose kids were in the park last night -- will be eating pickled herring and strawberries, and probably drinking a lot as well.

To any Swedish readers: Trevlig Midsommar!

Posted by Steve Kelman on Jun 19, 2008 at 12:10 PM


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