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Approaching the Centrum, Falun, Sweden
Old Age Report: Sweden best! But what life do pensioners, the elderly, actually have?
by Ritt Goldstein
Copyright October 2013

Dalarna, Sweden – Sweden is the world’s best country for the elderly, a UN report saying so this October!  But, some days before news of the UN’s findings on Sweden’s ‘leadership’ broke, another news story exploded here - it was the story of an 84-year old woman’s suicide.  One of the large national papers, Expressen, headlined: ‘Refused nursing home – then the woman took her life’ (“Nekades äldreboende - då tog kvinnan sitt liv”).  

The article revealed that the elderly woman in question had spent ‘several years’ trying to get a place in a nursing home, ‘with her husband’.  The article also reported the chief of the subsequent police investigation as observing that: ‘It is tragic.  And distressing, I think, that two old people shouldn’t be able to live together.’ (“Det är tragiskt. Och beklämmande, kan jag tycka, att inte två gamla människor ska kunna få bo tillsammans.”)  Expressen reported that the suicide occurred when the municipality refused permission for the couple to live at a nursing home ‘together’.

A further quote from the Expressen article observes, ‘The grandchildren believe the municipality has tried to silence what happened.’ (“Barnbarnen anser kommunen har försökt att tysta ner det som hänt.”)  

It’s reported that the elderly woman had jumped to her death from her apartment’s balcony, doing so upon hearing the opinion of the two town care officers which had come to visit her, jumping while they were still in her apartment.  Expressen also noted that red roses and candles lay where she had fallen.  

I must again emphasize that the UN report found Sweden is presently the best place on the planet for seniors, the best!  But, what does that mean?

It was early October when the United Nations Population Fund report emerged, an elderly advocacy group called HelpAge International partnering in the effort to highlight the ‘wellbeing’ of elderly in 91 countries.  Since discovering that Sweden is now officially the best place in the world to grow old (and, at 62, I’m not so young), it’s taken me some time to sufficiently recover from the shock.  For those that might have imagined Sweden as an elderly person’s paradise, I do hope you’re sitting down, perhaps with smelling salts handy.  As for ‘expectations’, care issues do demand a big part of elderly concerns.

Care, caring, and compassion?

Care home staff weigh diapers to save money’, read a headline from The Local (Sweden’s English-language news site) highlighting an elderly care scandal that broke here a couple of years ago.  Privatization of care has indeed instilled a profit motive in those firms ‘devoted to’ our seniors, with a quote from The Local’s article charging: ‘“We’re not allowed to change the diaper until it has reached its full capacity. The aim is clearly to keep consumption down and save money," an anonymous member of staff told daily Dagens Nyheter (DN).’

The UN report had come to this journalist’s attention in a deluge of mainstream media coverage, the Washington Post’s article titled ‘These are the best and worst countries to be elderly’ – it observed that the US ranked eighth.  While I had never much considered the questions which the UN report addresses, I’ve spent quite a bit of time considering the report’s implications, the indirect commentary upon what it suggests our planet’s seniors can expect.  

For any with hope of ‘poor reporting’, Dagens Nyheter (DN) is the so-called Swedish ‘paper of record’, what one might call Sweden’s version of The New York Times.  The Local features Swedish news stories that are put into English, and my experience is that they seem to do a pretty good job of it.  I’ll add that the ‘diaper’ story is far from alone.

Other stories from The Local included: ‘Maltreatment reports increasing in Swedish geriatric care’ and ‘Nurse pressed vomit down patient's throat’, the article summary of this latter piece reporting: “Elderly patients at a nursing home had their own vomit pressed down their throats and were given hard pinches and slaps.”  But there’s more, with last year not exactly being the best either.  ‘Care home reported for maggots in man's foot’ and ‘Elderly woman's maggot-infested leg amputated’ - but two of 2012’s tragedies.

Of course, this is not to say that every elderly Swede has faced similar circumstances, but Sweden is a nation of only about 9.6 million people, not many more than New York City’s 8.3 million.  And of about fifteen ‘ordinary’ Swedes I personally asked about how Sweden’s elderly were treated, not a single person said the country’s seniors are doing well.  But, for those seniors that are ‘affluent’, I am also personally aware that Sweden can be the ‘paradise’ which the UN findings might suggest to some.    

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Photo: Falun, Sweden

Sweden: Roma, Racism, Denial, and a ‘Dangerous Wind’
by Ritt Goldstein
Copyright October 2013

Dalarna, Sweden – Throughout history, there have been many mistaking a willingness to commit wrongdoing as courage, not to mention respecting the rights of others as weakness.  Recent years have seen an increasing elimination of rights pursued by those citing ‘demands of state or security’, and sometimes we have only discovered the effective elimination of such rights after they are gone.  But as terrible a rip in the very fabric of society which this is, perhaps worse still is the phenomenon of ‘denial’, a phenomenon which insulates wrongdoers from perceiving the nightmares they may pursue, simultaneously blinding others to the societal malaise raging among them.

Decades ago, in 1939, American philosopher John Dewey saw the most serious threat to democracy as “the existence within our own personal attitudes and within our own institutions of conditions similar to those which have given a victory to external authority, discipline, uniformity”, emphasizing that the fight for our freedoms “is accordingly here - within ourselves and our institutions”.

In November 2012, the Swedish government published a report titled ‘Främlingsfienden inom oss’ – I believe one might translate that as ‘The xenophobe within us’.  And, my translation of the last sentence in the report’s summary reads: ‘We must begin with ourselves.’ (Vi måste börja med oss själva.)

Fear and ‘comparisons to the Nazi era’

At the end of August, Swedish representatives were questioned by the ‘UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’ as to what actions had been taken to diminish intolerance.  Prior to the UN committee meeting, Social Democratic MP Aleksander Gabelic (head of Sweden's UN Association) was reported as charging that the last decade had seen little progress, a late-August report the UN Association was party to finding that Sweden’s “indigenous, ethnic and religious minorities continue to suffer discrimination in all areas of life."  And on 23 September, this nation was rocked by a scandal whose nature brought comparisons to the Nazi era.

Police in Southern Sweden were found to have compiled and kept a registry of Roma, a registry even containing the names of over 1000 young children (as young as two), a registry which reportedly runs contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights (among other laws), and a registry for which Sweden’s Justice Minister has apologized to the Roma community.  Meanwhile, The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, commented on his Facebook page: “With this file on Roma people, the Swedish State contributes to alienating from society both its Romani communities and other minority groups. The past has taught us that this is a very dangerous path which risks fuelling racist movements. The police should preserve a democratic State, not endanger it.”

The Swedish ‘paper of record’, Dagens Nyheter (DN - The Day’s News), broke the story, and in a 28 September article addressing events, 'The man who broke the Roma registry scandal', The Local’s (Sweden’s major English-language news site) first paragraph began with the translated DN quote, "Many are scared and worried. Many think of Hitler, which I have noted that a great deal of opinion-makers consider to be tasteless. But the Roma were a part of the Nazi genocide, just like the Jews, although this is less well-known".

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Falun, Sweden - City Hall
Sweden, President Obama’s visit, and a letter from an American that received Asylum  
by Ritt Goldstein
Copyright September 2013

Dateline Dalarna, Sweden - Mr. President, on September 4th you will be coming to Sweden, a country I arrived in sixteen years ago.  You will be coming to a country famed for its Nobel Prize, the so-called ‘Swedish-model’ for an equitable society, not to mention Ikea, Volvos, Ingmar Bergman, and so much more.  But over my sixteen years in Sweden there’s been change, an immensely popular article that was recently published here being, ‘The country we called Sweden no longer exists' (this English version being from The Local, the original, Swedish version, published in Scandinavia’s largest paper, Aftonbladet).  

President Obama, perhaps there are some things that it might prove useful for me to share.

Make no mistake, sir, I personally welcome your visit, my impression being the vast majority here feel similarly.  However, for myself, the fact that you are the son of a Kenyan man of Islamic heritage (who came to the US on a scholarship) is key.  To my eyes, the fact that a black man with an immigrant background was elected to be America’s ‘Chief Executive’ provides an object lesson much needed.

In 2005 the Swedish government did a report titled ‘The blue/yellow glass house’ (Det blågula glashuset) – it addressed ‘structural discrimination’ in Sweden.

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How might you be treated if you were suddenly transported to a 'nasty' town in America's Deep South of the 1960s?  If that sounds far-removed from Sweden, the title's quote of 'daily racism' comes direct from a November 2012 Swedish government report...

Beauty can be deceptive...
Dateline Dalarna, Sweden – It was a couple of months ago when this journalist was warned that rioting was likely.  I was interviewing a senior Swedish civil servant at the time, one long working with discrimination, one which had earlier 'spoken truth to power'.  And substantive discrimination, plus what some might arguably call 'good ol boy' corruption, do seem to exist here, existing in a form that even changed this journalist's life, and not for the better.

In places like the US’s Deep South of another era, or the European fascist states of the 1930s and ‘40s, not everyone was ‘equal’, the term ‘subhuman’ first being coined in the nightmarish maelstrom that was ‘30s Germany.  In November 2012, a Swedish government report spoke of the casual ‘daily racism’ many here face, the xenophobia which is too readily found.  

It was 26 May, unrest going strong in Stockholm’s suburbs and far beyond, when Sweden’s major conservative paper, Svenska Dagbladet (SvD), had a front-page headline that read: “The truth is that you received a surge of setting the powers that be in their place” (‘Sanningen ar att du far en kick av att satta makten pa plats’).  The quote was delivered by one of those involved in the unrest, amply highlighting the feelings of frustration and anger that were being widely expressed - the ever spreading reports of burning cars further emphasized the point.  Long-smoldering tensions had begun to burn.

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Consider how folks in The States would react if every major print, radio and TV network ran simultaneous coverage suggesting an alleged Russian threat.

22 April Swedish Media Coverage
22 April Swedish Media Coverage
Photo: Ritt Goldstein

Sweden, Russia, Nato, and the Military-Industrial Complex Show?

The Russians are coming!  The Russians are coming!
by Ritt Goldstein
Copyright May 2013

Dateline Dalarna, Sweden:  Sometimes truly extraordinary events occur, though the word ‘surreal’ was the first which came to my mind during this one, events during the last third of April indeed seeming best described by it.  Of course, too much has too long been overblown, the strongest of adjectives too frequently employed to mask the weakest of circumstances; but in this instance, I feel as if  words can’t convey what I’ve witnessed, although events indeed seem ‘overblown’.

“After looking at the warlike newspaper headlines this week one might get the impression ‘Sweden is under attack by the Russians’!”, is what a Swedish acquaintance here emailed me.  More to the point, events which the Swedish Air Force Chief of Staff, Anders Silwer, termed “Normal” precipitated events.

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Photo by Chiara Marra

Some Vital History, Revisited - 'Welcome to the 1930s'

It was a decade ago when I wrote the following article, the below version yet appearing at 'Indybay' Indymedia, unchanged from the way it's stood for the last ten years.  Unfortunately, it arguably seems the devastating truths I discuss have sadly become increasingly evident...and, now we face the question of 'where do we go from here'?

As reposted from Indybay...

By Ritt Goldstein

On the floor of the US Senate, the senior senator from West Virginia, Sen. Robert Byrd, charged that the American people "have been lured into accepting the unprovoked invasion of a sovereign state", Iraq. He added, "like it always does, the truth will emerge".

As regards that truth, "Iraq Bloodbath" had read a wartime headline of Scandinavia's largest daily, Aftonbladet, corpses dotting a picture of what the Bush administration's war machine manufactures. The article reported an American officer as saying that mounds of the dead were piled on sidewalks, a large proportion of the dead feared to be civilians. And amid numerous allegations of Administration fabrications, the much proclaimed weapons of mass destruction have yet to be found, most now believing they never existed. But Iraqi democracy has been put on hold, and a Defense Department report (Strategic Assessment 1999) has surfaced which starkly highlights Oil War as Pentagon policy. So as those who perceive themselves grossly wronged threaten to strike back at us, visions of another era's Blitzkrieg, occupations, attempts to build Empire - is this what they are seeing.

Explaining the Iraq War, of course it is easy to understand that terrorism must be fought, the killing of innocent women and children stopped. But most experts agree that Iraq had no meaningful ties to al Qaeda, and what of dead Iraqi women and children. What of the price our Country's loyal troops have paid and are paying.

As early as 1996, former US National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brezinski described a vision of American empire quite succinctly, discussing "the grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy". But, only recently is the pressing question of American Empire under debate.

While the horror of the Iraqi conflict is disturbing, more disturbing is the issue of its being a symptom of an older, deadlier disease, a social-disorder which previously claimed the lives of tens of millions. And what if the return of this fatal societal contagion had gone largely unrecognized.

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It was 1998 when I read Zbigniew Brzezinski’s ‘The Grand Chessboard’, and while much of what I read troubled me, I seem to recall both the effective acknowledgement of American Empire and what I interpreted as an observation suggesting that democracy made it difficult to govern.  Well, in the years since, in my opinion it seems the powers that be have been trying to make The Empire easier to run.

Since 1980, the population of America’s Federal Prisons has risen about 880%, according to a new report by the Congressional Research Service, and the US does seem the unchallenged leader among nations in the imprisoning of its citizens.  Of course, debate is currently ongoing regarding the ‘extrajudicial killing’ of American citizens, and it is unfortunate that a 2010 Bill to prohibit such acts did fail in Congress.  But, we do know the Government is doing its best to ’keep an eye on things’, especially as drones will soon be patrolling US skies, Congress working on the “Integration of Drones into Domestic Airspace” as you read this.

Gosh, it’s good that America is ‘the land of the free’, think of what might be going on if it wasn’t!

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