No. 35




Protests and their political consequences in Sweden

08 June 2017


RiTo No. 35, 2017

  • Katrin Uba

    Uppsala University, Department of Government, Associate Professor

Sweden is well-known for its negotiations-focused political culture, but recent media coverage of the country often focuses on riots and disruptive protests. Does this mean that the country has changed? What are the political consequences of all these protests? This article uses data of the Swedish Protest Database and describes protest trends in Sweden during the last three decades. It also describes the consequences of one specific type of protest events – protests against school closures in Swedish municipalities.

The protest database is based on reports in several national and local newspapers during the period of 1980–2011, and therefore suffers several problems, like a bias towards more newsworthy and spectacular events. Nevertheless, the main conclusion of the analysis is that protest actions in Sweden are mainly smaller local actions, and the general number of such actions is decreasing. Looking at all the actions, participation in demonstrations is increasing, while strikes are losing their importance. The latter trend is also visible in the claims raised by activists – labour-related actions are in decline, and topics have become more diverse in general. While violent protests are still rare, especially in comparison to other European countries, the proportion of police involvement in protest actions has increased since the mid-1980s. Police presence often relates to events where left- and right-wing radical movements mobilize at the same time and place.

While a short article cannot discuss all possible consequences of protests mobilized in Sweden, it focuses briefly on protests against school closures. Such actions – from petitions to illegal school strikes (keeping children at home) – were mainly negatively perceived by all incumbent politicians, regardless their party membership. However, thanks to the disruptive (inconvenience) character of local events, the willingness of the politicians to be re-elected, and well-reasoned arguments put forward by the activists, a large proportion of actions still achieved their goals of keeping the school “alive”.

Considering that similar kinds of anti-school closure protests, as well as other local and national-level protest campaigns are not rare in Estonia, the paper suggests that further systematic research on this topic would improve our understanding of individuals’ non-electoral political activism and its role in democratic processes also in Estonia.