What’s Swedishness and who are Swedes?

So, what’s Swedishness and who are ‘Swedes’ who are not ‘Swedes’? This contentious subject has been in the public domain over the decades but the question if there is one definition of Swedishness to which everyone agrees and fits in or does not fit in? For example here’s what I found the following definition of the Swedish government on the wikipedia

Swedishness usually is classified by researchers in five different ways: country of birth (i.e. Sweden), citizenship, consanguinity (i.e. perceived kinship), culture or language; and appearance. Even though the Swedish National Statistics Office doesn’t record ethnicity about 20% of Sweden’s population have foreign background. Some immigrants in Sweden feel that they experience “betweenship” which arises when others ascribe them an identity that they do not hold. However, this fluid and constantly evolving term has more than a dozen definition depending whom you ask. Let’s see how persons with various backgrounds define this term.

Jimmy Åkersson, leader the Swedish Democrats defines Swedishness as being able to sing the National anthem. For Åkersson world’s best-known Swedish Footballer Zlatan Ibramhimovich doesn’t fit to be a true ‘Swede’

Linus Karlsson, a young ‘Swede’ with blond dreadlocks and blue eyes who can’t sing the National anthem, says Swedishness is more than physical appearances. Karlsson who was born and raised in Southern Sweden city of Malmö, a metropolitan town with hundreds of nationalities from around the globe, identifies himself more with those people whom Åkersson considers them unfit to be ‘Swedes’ than ‘Native Swedes’.

For Yeshi Woldemariam, who came to Sweden 3 decades ago as a political asylum seeker from Ethiopia and later becomes Swedish citizen; Swedishness is an abstract term which has different meanings with various context. Celebrating Christmas, Mid-summer, Id-Alfater  (Muslim religious holiday), serving Injera (Ethiopian sour flatbread) along with Salmon or sausages could mean Swedishness.

Daniel Eriksson, representative of Visby’s Tourist Office, Swedishness for him is being lagom (average), mellanmjölk (milk with medium fat) but he admitted this very long-hold values are evolving and Swedes are becoming global with consumerism.

Understanding and respecting the unwritten rules, being loyal to Sweden and able to speak Swedish language is some of the things that qualifies to be a Swede for Mehdi Memarpuri, first generation of Iranian immigrant who came to Sweden 29 years ago. Memarpuri is proud of his Iranian heritages but he said that doesn’t make him less Swede than other Swedes who were born and raised in Sweden.


/Theodros Arega, journalist


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