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Toppling Governments

Today it's almost inevitable.

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For the longest time Sweden had incomparable political stability with one party running the show from the 1930s and Per Albin Hansson's 'folkhemmet', through the depression and the second world war, through Tage Erlander and Olof Palme. Then things started to happen.

Sweden's world famous film director Ingemar Bergman was readying a play at the Royal Theatre in Stockholm and in fact in the middle of a dress rehearsal when a bean counter from the tax authority walked in and summoned him to an audit.

Pippi Longstocking author Astrid Lindgren also ran into trouble. An agreement between the ruling social democrats, the liberals, and the centre (farmer's) party meant entrepreneurs such as Lindgren were suddenly overtaxed: Lindgren's new tax level was set at 102%.

Lindgren went through the roof.

Lindgren was considered the most powerful person in the country. A lifelong social democrat, Lindgren couldn't wrap her mind around a system that had grown so ridiculous that a person could be taxed for more than 100%.

She also couldn't stomach the fact that the people running her party who'd held power for half a century had grown so complacent and 'pompous'.

Astrid Lindgren set out to teach the social democrats a lesson. Contracting with the Stockholm evening tabloid Expressen Lindgren began a serialised front page fairy tale called 'Pomperipossa i Monismanien'.

The opposition leader Gösta Bohman read excerpts from the series in the parliament; some of the excerpts concerned then finance minister Gunnar Sträng who knew how to sidestep tax laws; Sträng made the mistake of attacking Lindgren, saying she was 'deeply uninformed' about the taxation system, adding that he didn't ask Astrid Lindgren to be able to understand.

Astrid Lindgren went back on the attack. 'But I ask Gunnar Sträng to understand! If someone has miscalculated it's the tax authority - I got these figures from them! Sträng can tell fairy tales but he can't count. Maybe he and I should switch jobs!'

Astrid Lindgren toppled the government.

Opposition to the social democrats has always been a matter of small splinter groups. The government that took over after Astrid Lindgren's coup couldn't stay together and eventually the social democrats came back to power again.

But they were to topple again.

In a television interview prior to the national elections prime minister Olof Palme was asked by Gustaf Olivecrona if he knew how out of control the real estate market had grown - if he knew what it cost to buy a villa in Palme's old home area Vällingby. When Olivecrona told him Palme blurted out the now famous phrase 'det hade jag ingen aning om' ('I had no idea').

The government toppled.

Mona Sahlin was long thought to be the next big prime minister for the social democrats. Then it was discovered she was doing funny things with her cabinet credit cards. When she told the media she'd purchased Toblerone chocolate with taxpayer money she was quietly shuffled out of the limelight and finance minister Göran Persson took over.

The tsunami hit in southeast Asia and Persson's government were caught in their precious holiday break and didn't feel like mobilising to help; this and the way Persson - perhaps Sweden's first corrupt politician in modern times - lined his own pockets and those of his friends meant he wasn't going to last long either.

Telling citizen Astrid Lindgren she can't expect to understand tax legislation that takes 102% of her income; getting out of touch with grass roots; eating Swiss chocolate on a government account; stealing funds and leaving needy people in the lurch and lying to cover things up: Swedes don't take kindly to this.

Time and again Swedes slap their politicians around. They might prefer the social democrats - Astrid Lindgren was a social democrat - but they've grown to understand that now and again they have to teach the politicians a lesson.

Perhaps nowhere but in Sweden will you hear people discussing the elections and explaining why they're going to vote against their party: 'we have to teach them a lesson'.

Fredrik Reinfeldt took over after the Persson scandal. Reinfeldt's government is more of those splinter groups - except today they're calling themselves the 'alliance'. Reinfeldt's been trying to fulfill all his campaign promises - something rather unique in the world of politics - but a lot of those promises concern things the Swedish people wish he'd just forget.

Reinfeldt recently pushed through a revision of the national health care law which states that long term sicknesses will be cured after two and one half years. About as ridiculous - and as pompous - as claiming people should pay more in taxes then they earn.

Now Reinfeldt's back is up against the wall again with the 'FRA law'.

Or as it's called internationally: 'Lex Orwell'.

Reinfeldt took a crappy law the social democrats had tossed in the trash, hardly bothered to dust it off, and then attempted to sneak it past parliament.

As all proposals are sent out on referral, Reinfeldt decided to wait until everyone was in the country for the holiday break to send it out - and he called it back on 2 January before they'd returned to work again.

The outrage at the proposal despite these circumstances was overwhelming. Almost everyone who'd been asked condemned it as quite simply a poor piece of legislation that also attacked personal integrity.

Nevertheless Reinfeldt pushed on. He twisted thumbscrews on everyone.

And meanwhile the protests grew as more and more people got to see the proposal. Demonstrations were held outside the parliament; nightly exposés aired on the television evening news; the blogosphere went wild.

Today Fredrik Reinfeldt doesn't even want to talk about it anymore. People have misunderstood, he insists. Right in the face of the biggest grass roots storm the country's seen in years, Google's outspoken stance on the issue, Momail's intention of leaving the country, and Finnish tele and Interent providers planning to do the same.

Sweden used to be a quiet stable wonderful country with the same government year in and year out. These days governments topple all the time.

Public opinion was so carefully cultivated that when the wise men put forth their proposal in the House of Decisions not a single party dared object.
 - Astrid Lindgren: Pomperipossa i Monismanien

See Also
Expressen: Pomperipossa i Monismanien

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