A military power during the 17th century, Sweden has not participated in any war in almost two centuries. An armed neutrality was preserved in both World Wars. Sweden's long-successful economic formula of a capitalist system interlarded with substantial welfare elements was challenged in the 1990s by high unemployment and in 2000-02 by the global economic downturn, but fiscal discipline over the past several years has allowed the country to weather economic vagaries. Sweden joined the EU in 1995, but the public rejected the introduction of the euro in a 2003 referendum.
conventional long form: Kingdom of Sweden
conventional short form: Sweden
local long form: Konungariket Sverige
local short form: Sverige
Northern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea, Gulf of Bothnia, Kattegat, and Skagerrak, between Finland and Norway
Written records in Sweden survive only from late in the Middle Ages. But the number and variety of fortifications, assembly places, votive sites and graves is impressive. Humankind and metallurgy made late appearances and only in the Bronze Age, after the arrival of Indo-Europeans, was there rich trade. The country's early cultural life is still vividly represented in the hä?llristningar (rock paintings) that survive in many parts of Sweden. In the Mä?laren valley, the first known trading posts were established and monuments with runic inscriptions appeared.
The Viking Age was getting under way by the 9th century, and vast repositories of Roman, Byzantine and Arab coins attest to the wealth and power Swedish Vikings accumulated over the next century. Vikings travelled mostly to the east, making their mark in Russia, as well as trading with (and pillaging) Byzantine territories. Pagan gods and slightly more earthbound kings held sway over the domestic population, with Christianity only taking root in the 11th century. Internal squabbles whiled away the bulk of the Middle Ages until Denmark interceded in 1397, when, together with Norway, they joined Sweden in the Union of Kalmar. A century of Swedish nationalist grumblings erupted in rebellion under Gustaf Vasa, who was crowned in 1523. Gustaf then set about introducing religious reform and a powerful centralised nation-state. A period of expansion resulted in Sweden's control over much of Finland and the Baltic countries.
In 1809, the unrestricted power vested in the monarch was undone by aristocratic revolt and Finland was lost to Russia. The same year, Sweden produced a constitution that divided legislative powers between king and Riksdag (parliament). The post of ombudsman appeared as a check on the powers of the bureaucracy. In 1814 the military enforcement of the union with Norway was Sweden's last involvement with war.
Industry arrived late but was based on efficient steelmaking and the safety match, a Swedish invention. Iron-ore mining (important for at least 300 years) and then steel manufacture began to expand, creating a prosperous middle class. But an 1827 statute that scattered the agricultural villages of much of Sweden's countryside had more immediate and far-reaching effects - the old social fabric disappeared. By 1900 almost one in four Swedes lived in cities, and industry (based on timber, precision machinery and hardware) was on the upswing. In this environment the working class was radicalised.
Sweden declared itself neutral at the outbreak of WWI and was governed bilaterally until 1917. But food shortages caused unrest and consensus was no longer possible. For the first time a social democratic government took control. The social democrats dominated politics after 1932, reworking the liberal tendencies of the 1920s to join economic intervention with the introduction of a welfare state. These trends were scarcely interrupted until the 1970s when economic pressures began to cloud Sweden's social goals. It was then that support for social democracy first wavered, looking particularly shaky after the 1986 assassination of Prime Minister Olof Palme and its murky aftermath.
The social democrats suffered further losses in the 1995 elections, but have managed to cling to power under Prime Minister Gö?ran Persson, who relies on the support of the Centre Right party or the Greens.
In September 2003 Swedes rejected a referendum over entry into the Euro currency zone despite the assassination just days before of the popular foreign minister Anna Lindh, a leading campaigner in favour of the move.
In recent years, Sweden has grown away from its rather homogeneous past, both culturally and economically. Immigration and a new reliance on the information technology (IT) industry have corresponded with factionalisation of the sociopolitical landscape. Whether a function of diversity or dissatisfaction with the status quo, the Alliance for Sweden, a centre-right coalition, narrowly defeated the Social Democrats in the general election of September 2006.
total: 449,964 sq km
land: 410,934 sq km
water: 39,030 sq km
total: 2,233 km
border countries: Finland 614 km, Norway 1,619 km
territorial sea: 12 nm (adjustments made to return a portion of straits to high seas)
exclusive economic zone: agreed boundaries or midlines
continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation
Lutheran 87%, other (includes Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist) 13%
Swedish, small Sami- and Finnish-speaking minorities
Economy - overview:
Aided by peace and neutrality for the whole of the 20th century, Sweden has achieved an enviable standard of living under a mixed system of high-tech capitalism and extensive welfare benefits. It has a modern distribution system, excellent internal and external communications, and a skilled labor force. Timber, hydropower, and iron ore constitute the resource base of an economy heavily oriented toward foreign trade. Privately owned firms account for about 90% of industrial output, of which the engineering sector accounts for 50% of output and exports. Agriculture accounts for only 1% of GDP and 2% of employment. Sweden is in the midst of a sustained economic upswing, boosted by increased domestic demand and strong exports. This and robust finances have offered the center-right government considerable scope to implement its reform program aimed at increasing employment, reducing welfare dependence, and streamlining the state's role in the economy. The govenment plans to sell $31 billion in state assets during the next three years to further stimulate growth and raise revenue to pay down the federal debt. In September 2003, Swedish voters turned down entry into the euro system concerned about the impact on the economy and sovereignty.
Political parties and leaders:
Center Party [Maud OLOFSSON]; Christian Democratic Party [Goran HAGGLUND]; Environment Party the Greens [no formal leader but party spokespersons are Maria WETTERSTRAND and Peter ERIKSSON]; Left Party or V (formerly Communist) [Lars OHLY]; Liberal People's Party [Jan BJORKLUND]; Moderate Party (conservative) [Fredrik REINFELDT]; Social Democratic Party [Mona SAHLIN]
21 counties (lan, singular and plural); Blekinge, Dalarnas, Gavleborgs, Gotlands, Hallands, Jamtlands, Jonkopings, Kalmar, Kronobergs, Norrbottens, Orebro, Ostergotlands, Skane, Sodermanlands, Stockholm, Uppsala, Varmlands, Vasterbottens, Vasternorrlands, Vastmanlands, Vastra Gotalands