Transcript for the stop The People's Park
As you enter the park and walk inside, you see a big rose greeting you. Why do you think it is there? Perhaps as the symbol of love? …. Love? Did you listen at all? That’s far to sentimental for Malmö. No, the rose is the logo of the Social Democratic Party. I told you things would be about Social Democracy. In fact, this innocent looking park could very well be said to be the greatest monument of their entire movement. As such it’s a bit modest. As a reaction against the right wing and the communists, the Social Democrats opposed glorification of its leaders, but if you continue past the rose and the big tree you see two busts of men on the grass. Now, the first thing you notice is of course not the two small busts, but the building with the golden domes. And no, this is not a mosque. It’s a pub, restaurant and nightclub. It has always been that in the more than 100 years this building has stood here, they just wanted it to be a bit exotic when they built it.
By now I hope you found the busts. I will start talking about the guy slightly further away, the bald one. After that this extra stop is a bit longer than the others, as we dig deeper into the socialism of Malmö. So while listening, you can look around the park at the same time, or you can find a bench to sit at or grab a beer in the mosque pub or whatever suits you.
So, the bald guy is Per-Albin Hansson, but we just call him Per-Albin. He is probably the most important political leader of Sweden of the 1900s and certainly the most influential person ever born in Malmö. Per-Albin came from a poor working class background in Malmö, went into politics and became the leader of the Social Democrats, winning the election of 1932, making him prime minister for 14 years until he died of a heart attack on his way home from work, on a tram. He had two families, which everyone knew but the press agreed to never write about. He was very popular, getting his party a record breaking 54% of the votes in 1940 even though Sweden had five other parties in parliament as well.
Here I could talk about all the policies he and his successors implemented. State funded education and welfare, paid vacations and parental leave; that system of social security that Sweden is so well known for. Swedish guides tend to boast a little too much about it. But Per-Albin’s legacy is also something else. It’s an idea of the equal society, which he called Folkhemmet, or the People’s home. It’s a bit fluffy, but in a way it’s the end of the class society in a social way. With it everyone lived and acted the same. With the success of Folkhemmet you could find both noblemen and factory workers, living in mass produced houses in middle class areas, with middle class cars and middle class clothes. While weaker today, Sweden still has this unspoken rule: Don’t show off. Don’t think you are better than anyone else. Even if you win millions on the lottery only a few people would buy a car like Jaguar or Ferrari, because what would your friends and neighbours think? A Volvo is better. The bottom line is that we are all the same.
The reason this park is like a monument to the Social Democrats is that it embodies Folkhemmet. This park might look a bit like Istanbul, but is in fact one of the most Swedish places you can find. It’s like IKEA, meatballs or ABBA in its Swedishness. The Social Democratic movement did not only provide a political platform, it also had this park, called Folkets Park, or the People’s Park. It does and/or did provide pubs, dancing, music performances with Frank Sinatra as well as a zoo, a playground for kids and a miniature golf course; something for everyone. The park was at the core of entertainment in Folkhemmet, it was where you went to meet people; and this was owned by a political party. It was not only Malmö, but in every little town or even bigger villages in Sweden there was a People’s Park. Here we are getting at why Sweden and Malmö is so much the home of Social Democracy; not mainly because of politics, but everything else they did. The this movement had, aside from parks and entertainment, newspapers, adult education, housing, supermarkets, occasional factories, and unofficially even the football team of Malmö, Sweden’s most successful team. Especially 50 year ago, you could live your entire life within the structures of the Social Democratic world. The main exception was your factory job, but even there the unions decided a lot. Even when you die in Sweden, you funeral is very likely arranged by a leg of the movement. The Social Democrats have been so influential on so many areas in Sweden, most people fail to realise the enormous extent of it all on everyday life. It’s just normal here.
But there were of course critics on the political right who thought the Social Democratic way made everything too one-dimensional, with too little room for individuality, freedom of choice and personal style. Their problem was that most Swedes supported the left, with the Social Democrats winning every election uninterrupted for a whopping 44 years after Per-Albin got that first big victory. Malmö’s city hall has been left-wing for 94 out of the last 100 years. But eventually there was a point that was too left-wing even for Sweden.
All that social security is tax funded, meaning Sweden has at times been the highest taxed country in the world, and is still close to the top. Despite this, and despite tax levels for some people at 60% today and 80% historically, politicians have been known to lose elections due to promising too much tax breaks. But back 40 years ago when this story takes place things rose a bit high even for Sweden. Astrid Lindgren was the most prominent author from Sweden ever, writing children's stories like Pippi Longstocking and Karlsson on the roof. She had a look at her taxes and found that the 80% she happily paid last year had increased to 102%. Astrid Lindgren expected to sell for two million Swedish krona, but the tax office wanted so much that she would be better off selling nothing. She wrote a story for the newspaper, highly critical of the Social Democrats she usually supported. The finance minister commented, a guy who had been a minister for 31 years. His conclusion was that 102% can’t be right. “The old lady, she tells good stories, but obviously she cannot count”. He was wrong, and Astrid replied “The minister, he tells good stories, but obviously he cannot count. Maybe we should switch jobs”. He was indeed no longer minister after the election a few months later. The right wing won the election for the first time in 44 years, with a majority of 50.8% of the votes. So 102 % in tax was what it took before Sweden figured things had become a bit too left-wing.
Today, Sweden is slightly more like the rest of Europe, and slightly less left wing. Most of these People’s Parks, once so important, are now gone or deserted. Malmö is the big exception. Being unsentimental, the park renews the entertainment on offer all the time and is still popular, especially in the summer. The only day when this park keeps to traditions is on the international labour day at May 1st. The Social Democrats hold their traditional rally here, signing the song of socialism. A song that every socialist, from scandinavia today to the revolutionaries of the Soviet Union has sung. The song they sing is the Internationale.
Listen to it as you exit. You find the exit slightly behind the golden dome building to the right.
The Internationale plays.