#Swedengate is the latest Twitter hullabaloo. What started as a conversation about some Swedish people not offering dinner to houseguests erupted into a debate about the culture and history of Sweden as a whole.
Of course, it all began with a Reddit thread.
“What’s the weirdest thing you had to do at someone else’s house because of their culture/religion?” a Reddit user queried in the r/AskReddit subreddit on May 25.
Of the thousands of replies to the question, one became the match that sparked an excavation into the Nordic nation, its cultural norms and its history of racism and colonization.
“I remember going to my Swedish friend’s house. And while we were playing in his room, his mom yelled that dinner was ready,” another Redditor replied the following day. “And check this. He told me to WAIT in his room while they ate.”
'How’re you going to eat without inviting your friend?'
Soon after, a self-proclaimed "guy on Twitter" tweeted a screenshot of the response, writing, “Not here to judge, but I don’t understand this. How’re you going to eat without inviting your friend?”
It is here that the #Swedengate hashtag seems to have originated and, as of Tuesday, the tweet has generated over 140K likes, thousands of retweets, hundreds of replies, and confusion over how quickly attitudes towards the country have changed.
"I cant believe Reddit and Twitter have changed the entire outlook of how people look at Sweden," one user tweeted. "Over 100 years of Sweden being seen as such as a good place to live and a screenshot has ruined them."
Most of the comments are sympathetic to the Reddit user’s experience, with many sharing similar accounts of being excluded from family dinners in Swedish households in which they were guests.
“Laughing at twitter finding out that Swedish people will not feed strangers,” tweeted Lovette Jallow, an author who emigrated to Sweden from Gambia when she was 11. “As a kid growing up here we knew to just go home around dinner time. On the flipside, my mom would feed Swedish kids though.”
Even Swedish pop star Zara Larsson weighed in: "Peak Swedish culture," she tweeted.
“hi Swede here,” another person replied. “This happened to me multiple times growing up. It was always the upper (white) middle-class parents of my friends that made me sit and wait (one time in the hallway) until they finished eating. My mom heard about it and never let me go back. She was right.”
Racism and colonization in Sweden
The conversation took a turn as more people on social media began to share their own understanding of the country and its history.
“I started side-eyeing Sweden when I found out there is a minority of Indigenous people there. Any white country where there are indigenous people and they are a minority, the white majority is trash. I don’t make the rules, it’s a pattern,” one Twitter user wrote, referring to the Sámi, an indigenous population that live in Sweden, Finland, Norway and Murmansk Oblast, a federal subject of Russia.
The history of the Sámi living in Sweden is centuries-long and complex but follows the typical course of nearly any historical event of the colonization of Indigenous people and land.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, Sweden, alongside other Scandinavian states, aggressively used forced assimilation and the assertion of their policies on the Sámi during their attempts to gain sovereignty of their land.
Today, abuse and discrimination against the Sámi and the violation of their freedom, including the restriction of their right to practice their beliefs, language and seizure of their land, have had bleak and lasting implications. The population continues to experience elevated economic and environmental threats due to factors such as oil excavation, logging and commercial development.
But the Sámi conversation is just one of the many plates spinning in the air because of #Swedengate. Many folks shared about the country's history of racism, as well as their own personal experiences with racism in the country.
"Finally, justice is coming to Sweden," one person tweeted. "The Nordic nation’s troubles are hitting the timeline through #Swedengate, having long avoided criticism for its contemporary racism, and historic role in slavery and empire. Note: Sweden made a fortune from manufacturing chains for slaves."
"This started out as sharing a memory. White people shared their experiences as did Black and brown swedes," Jallow wrote in a follow-up tweet. "Do you want to guess which group racist swedish trolls targeted for racial harassment? But sweden is not racist of course. We could never speak on out experiences publicly."
In defense of Sweden
"When people realize that sweden is the bigger giver of donation to other countries by capita," one user argued in a now-deleted tweet. "Biggest immigration last decade with real benefits. Pensions as large as if you worked here all life to immigrants. But no. We must be racists."
Another user commented that "the #swedengate controversy is so overblown and dumb. & actually says a lot on how bigotry goes both ways. sweden has had one of the most generous refugee programs in all of europe & dedicates 1% of their GDP to humanitarian aid."
Various other users added their two cents to the hashtag, highlighting how the country has welcomed asylum seekers at high rates in the past.
"The #Swedengate controversy is really weird to me because Sweden; has one of the largest welfare states on the planet," another user remarked, adding that the country "takes in nearly as many refugees per year as the USA (a country 33x larger), and donates nearly 1% of it’s GNI as development aid (no. 3 in world)."
According to Donor Tracker, Sweden is the world's largest donor in proportion to the size of its economy, and in 2020 spent 1.14% of its gross national income (GNI) on official development assistance.
A report by Statista also showed that the country is expected to receive somewhere around 76,000 refugees from Ukraine as a result of the Russian-Ukraine war by mid-2022. In the past 10 years (despite reforming its open-door policy in 2015), the number of refugees living in Sweden has also continued to climb in the past ten years.
Like most things on Twitter, the conversation around Sweden and its newly minted hashtag continue to unfold like a kaleidoscope, as folks continue to defend the country and recount their experiences with racism in the country.
"Sweden has 10 million in population, 400 000 afro swedes. Over 25% are POC. And 33.3% have one or both parents born outside of Sweden," Jallow wrote in another follow-up tweet. "Many of us who speak on these issues face threats, abuse both online and off. Our silence is violently gaslit and demanded by fellow (white) swedes."