Sweden is bordered by Norway to the west and Finland to the northeast, with a long Baltic coast to the east and south. Sweden, Swed. Sverige, officially Kingdom of Sweden, constitutional monarchy, N Europe, occupying the eastern part of the Scandinavian peninsula. It borders on Norway in the west, on Finland in the northeast, on the Gulf of Bothnia in the east, on the Baltic Sea in the south, the Kattegat, and the Skagerrak in the southwest. The country includes several islands, notably Gotland and Öland, in the Baltic. Stockholm is Sweden's capital and largest city.
Sweden is a land of cultural contrast, from the Danish influence of the southwest to the nomadic Laplanders in the wild Arctic north. And while urban Sweden is stylish, modern and sophisticated, the countryside offers many simpler pleasures for those in search of tranquility.Approximately half the country is forested and most of the many thousands of lakes are situated in the southern central area. The largest lake is Vänern, with an area of 5540 sq km (2140 sq miles). Swedish Lapland to the north is mountainous and extends into the Arctic Circle.
Sweden’s scenery has a gentler charm than that of neighboring Norway’s rugged coast. Much of Sweden is swathed in forest, and there are thousands of lakes, notably large stretches of water between Gothenburg and the capital, Stockholm. The lakeside resort of Östersund, in the center of Sweden, is popular with Scandinavians, but most visitors opt first for the cities and the Baltic islands: the largest island, Gotland, with its array of ruined medieval churches, is a particular highlight. Another major attraction is the so-called ‘Kingdom of Crystal’, a forested area between Malmö and Stockholm boasting many fine glassworks.
The land, as well as its people, has an air of reserved calm, and while best known for its automotive and musical exports – Volvo and Abba are pretty much household names – a strong historical undertone bubbles close beneath the surface. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Stockholm, where dozens of museums deal with all imaginable aspects of the past, and medieval and Baroque edifices housing boutiques and cafes overlook the attractive harbor.
Sweden’s contact with the rest of Europe is first recorded in the Viking period, when the country traded furs and arms with Russia, along the eastern passage. During the 13th century, a form of feudalism was introduced, a hereditary nobility was established and a thriving middle class of burghers emerged in the towns. Political history in this period is complex but some sense of order, however transitory, was engendered by the accession of Margaret – then Regent of Denmark and ruler of Norway – to the throne in 1387. She made an attempt to establish a united Scandinavia (the Union of Kalmar) but this did not last long after her death and, during the 15th century, the nobility were able to do much as they pleased at the expense of royal authority.
The most significant event of this period was the Massacre of Stockholm in 1520, occasioned by Christian of Denmark’s ill-judged attempt to reassert his authority in Sweden; this led to a national revolt, headed by Gustav Ericksson Vasa. The Danes were defeated and Gustav was crowned Gustav I in 1523, establishing the House of Vasa and heralding the beginning of Sweden’s ascendancy in Europe. Protestantism became firmly established by the Convention of Uppsala in 1593. In 1611, Gustav II Adolf (better known as Gustavus Adolphus), one of the most famous names in Swedish history, became king. Much of the foreign policy of the 17th century was dominated by the desire to transform the Baltic into a Swedish lake – this was the main motivation behind Gustav II’s entry into the Thirty Years’ War in 1629.
Despite his perceived role as a champion of Protestantism, Gustav II soon came to an alliance with Catholic France, in order to oppose their common enemy, the Emperor Ferdinand II. Sweden won the last remaining Baltic territories not under their control – Prussia and Pomerania – but Gustav was killed at the battle of Lützen in 1632. Although the Peace of Westphalia (1648) confirmed Sweden as a major power, this dominance proved to be short lived. Gustav was succeeded by his infant daughter, Christina. She abdicated in 1654 and the reigns of her three successors (1654-1718) were dominated by military campaigns, characterized by a slow retreat (in the face of Russia and Austria) and punctuated by spectacular but indecisive victories, such as Narva (1701).
An alliance against the growth of Swedish power eventually defeated Karl (in the Great Northern War) and by the mid-18th century, Sweden had lost most of its possessions outside Scandinavia. Another casualty of the defeat was absolutism, established by Karl XI but abolished on the accession of his sister, Eleanora. Factions at court involved the country in further European conflicts, including another war with Russia; in 1772, Gustav III felt strong enough to re-impose absolutist rule. Despite an aggressive and successful foreign policy, his regime did not long survive his own assassination in 1792.After the Peace of Kiel in 1814, Sweden was confirmed in possession of Norway but was forced to cede several German regions to Denmark and Finland to Russia, marking the termination of Swedish interests on mainland Europe.
Absolutism was not finally broken until the mid-19th century, as a result of Liberal opposition to Karl XV. The latter years of the century were dominated by economic expansion and the emergence of Norwegian nationalism, culminating in Norway’s declaration of full independence in 1905. By this time, a parliamentary form of government had emerged in Sweden, with a strong Socialist opposition. The Socialdemokratiska Arbetarepartiet (SAP, Social Democrats) first gained power in the early-1920s and then, apart from a short break in 1936, held power continuously from 1932 until 1976. Since the end of World War II, in which Sweden remained neutral (as it had done in World War I), the country has enjoyed growing economic prosperity with continued investment in, and expansion of, the welfare state. Abroad, it has forged close links with other Scandinavian countries, which have developed an important role on the international stage as well-respected ‘neutrals’. Nobody exemplified this more than Olaf Palme, prime minister and leader of the SAP from 1970 until his assassination in 1986.
By the beginning of the 1990s, the economy was no longer performing as well as it had done and the center-right coalition government of Carl Bildt, which took office in 1991, instituted an austerity program. This was designed to reduce inflation, cut the budget deficit by reducing public expenditure and de-regulate and privatise much of Sweden’s extensive public sector. Relations with the (then) European Community had become the major issue in Swedish politics, although with all the major political parties favoring membership, the issue was less than contentious. Negotiations for full membership began in 1993. These were completed by the September 1994 election, which was won by the SAP; Sweden joined the EU at the beginning of 1995.
Sweden chose not to join the European single currency at its inception in 1999, public support was lacking and the government felt that economic conditions were not right. By 2003, the government was prepared to sign on, but a popular referendum that September rejected the Euro. The minority Social Democrat government that had taken office in September 1998, under premier Goran Persson, was partly hamstrung by the reservations of the ex-communist Left Party and the Greens, upon whose support the SAP relied to hold on to office. Despite the government’s difficulties, opinion poll predictions and the general political shift to the right throughout Europe, the SAP held on to power at the most recent poll in September 2002. It still needs the support of the Greens and the Left Party.
Swedish is a Germanic language, belonging to the Nordic branch, and is spoken throughout Sweden and in parts of Finland. Swedes, Danes and Norwegians can, however, make themselves mutually understood since their languages are similar. Most Swedes speak English as a second language, so lazy tongues can get away without wrapping themselves round those Swedish vowels. Sweden has a Lutheran state church, which all citizens in principle join (in fact about 95% of citizens are members). The state, however, guarantees religious freedom.
Hungry Swedes tuck into fish which is usually poached or fried in lard. Pickled herring is especially popular and the potato is basically indispensable. As well as being the vegetable of ubiquity, spuds are critically important in the production of excellent Swedish aquavit. Strong beer, wines and spirits are sold by the state monopoly Systembolaget at outlets in the cities and towns, which are open weekdays. You must normally decide what you want from price lists and displays and then take a number and wait: Friday afternoon queues can be long.
Swedes like straightforward meals, simply prepared from the freshest ingredients. As a seafaring country with many freshwater lakes, fish dishes are prominent on hotel or restaurant menus. The Scandinavian cold table, called smörgåsbord, is traditional. First pickled herring with boiled potatoes, then perhaps a couple more fish courses, smoked salmon or anchovies followed by cold meat, pate, sliced beef, stuffed veal or smoked reindeer. The hot dishes come next, for instance, another herring dish, small meatballs (kottbullar) or an omelette. A fruit salad and cheese with crispbreads round off the meal. Other dishes to look out for are smoked reindeer from Lapland; gravlax, salmon that has been specially prepared and marinated; wild strawberries; and the cloudberries that are unique to Scandinavia.Swedish liqueur which is traditionally drunk chilled with smorgasbord. It is made under a variety of brand names with flavors varying from practically tasteless to sweetly spiced. Swedish beers are lager- and pilsner-type brews and come in four strengths.
Sweden is a highly industrialized country and has one of the highest living standards in the world. Since 1940 there has been a great movement of workers from farms to cities; nevertheless, agricultural output has increased considerably with the application of scientific farming methods. In the 1990s manufacturing contributed about 20% of the annual national income and agriculture about 2%. Transportation, communication, and trade are also important. Farming is concentrated in the southern part of the country; the leading commodities produced are dairy products, grain (including fodder crops), sugar beets, and potatoes. Large numbers of poultry, hogs, and cattle are raised.
Country Name: Sweden
Area: 450,000 sq km (175,500 sq mi)
People: 90% Swedes, 3% Finns, 0.15% Sami (indigenous Lapp inhabitants)
Language: Swedish, but English is widely spoken. Five Samish dialects are still spoken.
Currency:Swedish krona (Skr)