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On 3 July, politicians, companies and organisations will gather once again in Visby, on the Baltic island of Gotland, for the Swedish Almedalen Week (Sw. Almedalsveckan). The normally rather quiet park of Almedalen then becomes the absolute centre of Swedish politics and media coverage. This year, the Almedalen Week is shorter and runs from 3 -7 July and hence each parliamentary party will not have one day at their disposal. 2019 was the last year with a 8 day-long festival.
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 3,700 official events and approximately 3,000 unofficial events in 2019.
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. 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. The parties share a day as per below schedule. The parties organise different types of seminars and events during the day. The party that starts the day has its day until 2pm and the party leader will deliver the speech at 11am. The party that has the second part of the day starts its day at 3pm and the party leader will deliver the speech at 7pm.
This year, the schedule for the party leaders’ speeches is:
- Sunday, 3 July: Magdalena Andersson, Social Democratic Party at 7pm
- Monday, 4 July: Ulf Kristersson, Moderate Party, at 11am and Nooshi Dadgostar, Left Party, at 7pm
- Tuesday, 5 July: Ebba Busch, Christian Democrats, at 11 am and Johan Pehrson, Liberals, at 7pm
- Wednesday, 6 July: Jimmie Åkesson, Sweden Democrats, at 11 am and Annie Lööf, Centre Party, at 7pm
- Thursday, 7July: Per Bolund, Green Party, at 11am
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. If you want to join them, arm yourself with the full program for the week, available here, and the app Almedalen Just Nu to ensure you don’t miss a beat!