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Sweden’s Multiculturalism

Vi_-r_alla_en_del_av_demokratinBy Sofiya Petkova, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy. Sweden has one of the highest rates of tolerance in Europe. It is one of the most open, secular, democratic and egalitarian societies, with very progressive and generous immigration policies. Religious liberty in Sweden was formally granted in the Religious Liberty Act of 1951, which took effect on January 1, 1952.

In the 1960s, political activity in cultural policy debates rose dramatically, resulting in the first general cultural policy objectives set out in the Government Bill on Culture of 1974. The democratic welfare-state model of cultural policy was now institutionalized. A new government agency, the National Council for Cultural Affairs (later called the Swedish Arts Council) was created. While these activities were the initiative of the national government, the most significant result may have been the substantial strengthening of regional and municipal resources for the distribution and production of quality culture during the following years.

In the last decades of the 20th century, the most important changes in the general conditions for cultural policy have been the result of increasing regionalization, globalization and the media; in particular, the increased movement of people, cultural products and cultural influences across national borders. The main cultural policy responses to these changes can be summed up as a new perspective on Sweden as a multicultural society, and a more positive perspective on the creative industries. In 2009, a new Government Bill on Cultural Policy was passed by parliament, laying out new objectives for Swedish cultural policy.

In terms of regulation and resource mobilization, there is a complex web of interactions between the state, the market, civil society, private patronage and cultural professional associations. The dominant political attitude in cultural policy has favored cooperation between the state and cultural professions while – typically and until recently – being more suspicious towards the market and private sponsorship. Sweden’s traditional tolerance, neutrality and generous welfare may appear attractive to many newcomers; however, language continues to pose a big barrier for most foreigners, and the unemployment rate among immigrants is much higher than the national average. There is now more positivity about the market at both the local and regional levels. At the same time, regional institutions are becoming increasingly important in the cultural policy model.

Immigrants are also involving themselves by founding and funding associations and clubs for foreigners so that they feel more engaged in society and social activities. For example, Bejzat Becirov from Macedonia founded the Islamic Centre in Rosengard in Molmo in 1983 – an organization aimed at fostering openness and independence. Becirov insists that no Muslim group is allowed to impose its agenda on the Center. Another notable figure in the Rosengard community is Diabate Dialy Mory from Senegal – nicknamed “Dallas”. He arrived in Sweden in 1964 and now runs a boxing club, attractive to immigrant boys, many of whom are struggling to settle into Swedish society.


Harding, Tobias. Compendium, Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe, Sweden. Dec 2011. Accessed April 18, 2013. http://www.culturalpolicies.net

Peter, Lawrence. “Sweden sticks to Multiculturalism”, BBC News. September 15, 2006. Accessed April 18, 2013. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/5348622.stm

Center for Cultural Diplomacy Studies Publication
Institute for Cultural Diplomacy


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