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On 1 July, politicians, companies and organisations will gather once again in Visby, on the Baltic island of Gotland, for the Almedalen Week (Politikerveckan i Almedalen). For one week a year, the normally rather quiet park of Almedalen is at the absolute centre of Swedish politics and media coverage. The annual Almedalen Week is the focal point of Swedish politics and the park turns into a gigantic open-air lobby-fair, which includes politicians, journalists, activists, lobbyists and NGO workers, to name a few. Most events are free and the idea is that anyone should be able to participate. The number of events taking place during Almedalen Week have grown from fewer than 500 a decade ago to more than 4,000 events and 40,000 visitors in 2017.
It wasn’t always that way. In the summer of 1968, Gotland’s local Social Democratic chapter asked the then Prime Minister Olof Palme to make a speech in Almedalen. Mr Palme and his family had spent their summer holidays on Fårö (an island just north of Gotland) for several years. In that first year, the stage was a lorry platform at Kruttornet and there was an audience of a few hundred. Still, it was a beginning of one of the biggest political events in the world.
Every summer from 1968 onwards, Mr Palme used the Almedalen Park to give speeches on the island. In 1982, the Social Democrats organised the first official Almedalen Week where renowned speakers held seminars on political and economic issues. The event proved so popular that it became an annual affair, with other political parties eventually joining in. Soon the lobbyists started turning up because all the country’s most powerful politicians were there. From the mid-1990s, players other than the political parties have also chosen to hold seminars during Almedalen Week.
For Visby, the Almedalen Week has given an important boost to an economy already geared towards tourism. It has been reported that Visby now lives off of trade, education…and the Almedalen Week. In addition, the media coverage is of significant value, as it includes not only political coverage but also peripheral reporting on Gotland as a whole. But while Almedalen Week has been described as a global beacon of democracy, criticisms and concerns that has become too elitist and business focused has emerged i recent years.
The Municipality of Gotland hosts the Almedalen Week, but the Swedish parliamentary parties are the main organisers and are at the heart of the week. Each political party represented in the Riksdag is allotted its own day according to a rolling timetable. 2011 was the first year with an 8-day Almedalen Week. This was due to the inauguration of Sweden’s eighth Riksdag party, the Swedish Democrats. Typically, the parties’ days start with participation in the TV morning shows and various breakfast meetings. The parties organise different types of seminars and events during the day, or in connection with the speech, which is usually held at 7 pm in the evening.
In 2018, Almedalen Week seeks to give some answers to questions like: What is the potential for the circular economy and plastics? What measures do we still have to take before we achieve true gender equality? What forces control our consumption? How can we inject more facts into the debate on integration?
This year, the schedule for the party leaders’ speeches is:
- Sunday, 1 July: Ulf Kristersson, Moderate Party
- Monday, 2 July:Jonas Sjöstedt, Left Party
- Tuesday, 3 July: Jan Björklund, Liberals
- Wednesday, 4 July: Annie Lööf, Centre Party
- Thursday, 5 July: Stefan Löfven, Social Democrats
- Friday, 6 July: Ebba Busch Thor, Christian Democrats
- Saturday, 7 July: Jimmie Åkesson, Sweden Democrats
- Sunday, 8 July: Isabella Lövin, Green Party
The full program for the week is available here.
Politicos speak of “the Almedalen spirit”. And indeed, the political week on Gotland certainly has a special atmosphere, which anyone interested in Swedish and Nordic politics should experience at least once. Sweden’s accessibility and openness are at the heart of the concept of Almedalen, and is present in the myriad of speeches, seminars, breakfasts, networking get-togethers and political stunts that take place here. The week is associated with an informal ambiance: a combination of vacation, festivities and serious political business. In fact, the social aspects of networking are as important as the official Almedalen agenda, with politicians and journalists mingling together.