Sweden’s Contemporary History Part II
The turnaround came seriously in 1996, when Sweden entered its longest continuous period of economic growth and real wage increases since the 1960s, well above the EU average. Unemployment fell significantly, but did not reach the government’s target of 4% until 2006, despite the fact that large resources were spent on publicly funded jobs. Major corporations, especially in telecommunications, IT, finance and automotive, have strengthened their locomotive role in the Swedish economy, following a restructuring on several occasions. But giants such as ABB, Skandia and Ericsson also caused shivers throughout the economic system when a number of top-level economic offenses were uncovered, with the words “culture of greed”. In 2004, a “culture of fiction” was also revealed at the top level in Swedish LO.
Ingvar Carlsson resigned in 1996. Mona Sahlin was the obvious successor, but she was forced to resign after it became known that she had used her official credit card for private purchases – although it turned out that Sahlin had not committed any wrongdoing, and that all bills were paid. The case attracted tremendous attention in Sweden, and Sahlin also left for a time the government and the Riksdag. The Social Democrats had only had five leaders in ninety years (Branting, Hansson, Erlander, Palme, Carlsson), and after Sahlin resigned, the party experienced a leadership crisis. After first saying no, Göran Persson finally lefthe took over, and he took over as party leader and prime minister in March 1996. At the 1998 general election, the Social Democrats declined from 45.4% to 36.6%. But among other things because of. progress for the Left Party, the government Persson was seated.
Göran Persson gradually gained confidence, and he made a very good choice in 2002, when the Social Democrats got 40% of the vote and continued in government. The election was first and foremost a disaster for Moderaterna, which under its new leader Bo Lundgren received only 15% of the vote. However, the relationship between the right and left blocs in Sweden was not changed to any great extent; Social democracy took voters from the Vänster Party, while the decline of the Moderates was offset by the progress of the People’s Party. The popular party under the leadership of Lars Leijonborg has swung a lot in support, but in 2002 gained over 13% support and became Sweden’s third largest party.
In 2003, Foreign Minister Anna Lindh was stabbed with a knife inside the NK shopping center in Stockholm and died from the injuries the following day. The sea of flowers and flowers that formed at the site of the murder reminded of the mark after the Palme murder in 1986, a few blocks away. The 24-year-old perpetrator was sentenced to life imprisonment. No motive was ever clarified, but court proceedings showed that it was a person in severe mental imbalance. The tragedy led to a fierce debate about the psychiatric reform involving the closure of institutions and thus full freedom of movement for patients with violent inclinations; four killings and 40 cases of personal injury in the first nine months of 2003 were linked to this reform.
Anna Lindh was scheduled to take over the top job of the Social Democratic Party before the parliamentary elections in 2006. Thus, Göran Persson had to be the party’s front figure in this election campaign as well, at his tenth anniversary as prime minister. Prior to the 2006 elections, the four bourgeois party leaders – Fredrik Reinfeldt (Moderates), Maud Olofsson (Center Party), Lars Leijonborg (People’s Party) and Göran Hägglund (Christian Democrats) – had systematically built the Alliance for Sweden, a more holistic government alternative than any previous election. Lindh’s successor, Laila Freivalds, had to resign as foreign minister on a case involving freedom of speech and the controversy over the so-called Muhammad drawings in the winter of 2006.
In June 1991, the Riksdag decided to build the Øresund connection between Malmö and Copenhagen. The case was, however, brought before the courts and remanded. The final political decision on construction was made in the summer of 1994. following stubborn opposition from Center Party leader Olof Johansson, who was Minister of the Environment. Johansson resigned from the government after the decision, but the Center Party remained in the Bildt government until the election defeat in the autumn. The Øresund connection came into operation from 2000. The last part of the Barsebäck nuclear power plant was closed in 2005, after several postponements. There were then no more closure plans in line with the referendum and resolutions in the 1980s. On the contrary, the power plant owners announced an extension of the others. In 2006, the government presented a plan for drastic reductions in Sweden’s oil consumption over the next 15 years, with the motto «The green folk home»; the most radical plan then, even in an international context.
Sweden has also been shaken by several serious ferry accidents. The Polish ferry “Jan Heweliusz” crashed and sank on the way to Ystad in the winter of 1993 and 63 people perished. The worst accident in Swedish history occurred in September 1994, when the Estonian ferry “Estonia” crashed and sank on its way from Estonia to Stockholm. 850–900 people died in the accident, of which more than 500 Swedes. Swedish tourists were also the worst hit by the tsunami disaster in December 2004. 534 Swedes perished in the disaster; most lived in the area around Phuket, Thailand. The Swedish authorities, and Foreign Minister Freivalds in particular, had to endure strong criticism for their handling of the tsunami disaster.