Main article: History of Sweden
Conclusive archaeological evidence exists that the area now comprising Sweden was settled during the Stone Age, as the inland ice of the last ice age receded. The earliest inhabitants are thought to have been hunters and gatherers, living primarily off what the sea (later called the Baltic Sea) could offer.
Some evidence supports the theory that southern Sweden was densely populated during the Bronze Age, as remains of large trading communities from this period have been found.
In 1389, the three countries of Norway, Denmark and Sweden were united under a single monarch. The Kalmar Union was entered into as a personal, not a political union, and during the 15th century, Sweden resisted attempts to centralise rule under the Danish king, even to the point of armed rebellion. Sweden subsequently broke away in 1521, when Gustav Eriksson Vasa, known as king Gustav I of Sweden from 1523, re-established separation of the Swedish Crown from the union.
The 17th century saw the rise of Sweden as one of the great powers in Europe, due to successful participation, initiated by King Gustavus Adolphus, in the Thirty Years' War. This position would crumble in the 18th century when Russia took the reins of northern Europe in the Great Northern War, and eventually in 1809, splitting off the eastern half of Sweden, thereby creating Finland as a Russian Grand Duchy.
Recent Swedish history has been peaceful, the last war being the Campaign against Norway 1814 establishing a Sweden-dominated personal union with Norway. The union was peacefully dissolved in 1905, despite some sabre-rattling. Sweden remained a neutral country during World War I and World War II (with a small exception for the Winter War). It continued to stay non-aligned during the Cold War and is today not a member of any military alliance but has participated in NATO military training.
Main articles: Politics of Sweden
Sweden has been a monarchy for almost a millennium with supply controlled by the parliament (the taxed peasantry constituting one of four chambers). In 1866 Sweden became bicameral, with Första Kammaren (the First Chamber) indirectly elected by local councillors, and Andra Kammaren (the Second Chamber) directly elected. Executive power was shared between the King and a noble Privy Council until 1680, followed by the King's autocratic rule initiated by the common estates of the Parliament. As a reaction to the failed Great Northern War, Parliamentarism was introduced in 1719, followed by three different flavours of Constitutional Monarchy in 1772, 1789 and 1809, the latter granting several civil liberties.
Parliamentarism was re-introduced in 1917 as King Gustaf V, after decades of struggle, accepted the right of the party with the most support in parliament to form the Cabinets. This reform was followed by common and equal suffrage enacted 1918-21. Parliamentarism was upheld by his successor Gustav VI Adolf until a new constitution in 1975 abolished the monarch's political power. The monarch remains as the formal, but merely a symbolic, head of state with mainly ceremonial duties.
Social Democracy has played a dominant political role since 1917, after Reformists had confirmed their strength and the Revolutionaries left the party. Social Democratic influence over society and government is often described as Hegemony. After 1932 the Cabinets have been led and dominated by the Social Democrats except for: a few summer months 1936; six years 1976-1982; and three years 1991-1994.
In 1971, the Parliament or Riksdag became unicameral. Constitutionally, the 349-member Riksdag holds supreme authority in Sweden. It may alter the constitution and its acts are not subject to judicial review. Legislation may be initiated by the Cabinet or by members of Parliament. Members are elected on the basis of proportional representation for a four-year term.
Grundlagen (the constitution) can be altered by the Riksdag, which requires a supermajority and confirmation after the following general elections.
The judicial system is divided between courts with regular civil and criminal jurisdiction and special courts with responsibility for litigation between the public and Government or Municipal authorities. Swedish law is codified and its court system consists of local courts, regional appellate courts, and a Supreme Court.
Main article: Counties of Sweden
Sweden is divided into 21 counties or län. In each county there is a County Administrative Board or länsstyrelse which is appointed by the Government. In each county there is also a separate County Council or landsting, which is the municipal representation appointed by the county electorate. Each county further divides into a number of municipalities or kommuner, making a total of 289 municipalities, in 2002. There are also older historical divisions of the Swedish Realm, primarily into provinces and lands.
Main article: Geography of Sweden
Sweden enjoys a mostly temperate climate despite its northern latitude, mainly due to the Gulf Stream. In the south of Sweden leaf-bearing trees are prolific, in the north ferns and hardy birches dominate the landscape. In the mountains of northern Sweden a sub-arctic climate predominates. In the part of the country north of the Arctic Circle the sun never sets during the summer, and in the winter night is unending.
East of Sweden is the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Bothnia, providing a long coastline, and yet further mellowing the climate. To the west are the Scandinavian mountain chain, a range that separates Sweden from Norway.
The southern part of the country is chiefly agricultural, with forests covering an increasing percentage of the land the further north one goes. Population density is also higher in southern Sweden, with centers being in the valley of lake Mälaren and the Öresund region.
Main article: Economy of Sweden
Aided by peace and neutrality for the whole of the 20th century, Sweden has achieved an enviable standard of living under a mixed system of high-tech capitalism and extensive welfare benefits. It has a modern distribution system, excellent internal and external communications, and a skilled labour force. Timber, hydropower, and iron ore constitute the resource base of an economy heavily oriented toward foreign trade.
Privately-owned firms account for about 90% of industrial output, of which the engineering sector accounts for 50% of output and exports. Agriculture accounts for only 2% of GDP and 2% of the jobs. The government's commitment to fiscal discipline resulted in a substantial budgetary surplus in 2001, which was cut by more than half in 2002, due to the global economic slowdown, revenue declines, and spending increases. The Swedish Riksbank is focusing on price stability with its inflation target of 2%. Growth is expected to reach 3.5% in 2004, assuming a continued moderate global recovery.
Main article: Demographics of Sweden
Sweden has one of the world's highest life expectancies and one of the lowest birth rates. The country counts at least 17,000 indigenous Samis among its population. Also some 50,000 of the ethnic Finns of Sweden consist an indigenous minority, although many more of the Sweden Finns descend from 20th century immigrants.
The Swedish nation has been transformed from a nation of emigration ending after World War I to a nation of immigration from World War II and on. Almost 12% of the residents are born abroad, and about one fifth of Sweden's population are either immigrants or children of immigrants. The largest immigrant groups are from Finland, the former Yugoslavia, Iran, Norway, Denmark, and Poland. This reflects the inter-Nordic migrations, earlier periods of labor immigration, and later decades of refugee and family immigration.
The Finns were the first large group of immigrants to contemporary Sweden. During World War II some 70,000 war children were evacuated from Finland. 15,000 of them stayed after the war, and many more returned as adults. Post-war hardship in Finland pushed large contingents of unemployed Finns to Sweden's booming economy in the 1950s–60s. At its height, over 400,000 Finns lived in Sweden, but following the 1973 energy crisis the unemployment rate in Sweden worsened while steady Soviet trade was to Finland's advantage. Since then, the number of immigrated Sweden-Finns has decreased to below 200,000.
Soviet intervention against the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the 1968 Czechoslovakian liberalization resulted in the first surges of intellectual political refugees. American deserters from the Vietnam War often found refuge among the Swedes, who in international politics took a clear stand against imperialism both by the Soviet Union and the US. After the 1973 coup in Chile, and the following military dictatures in Chile and other South American countries, political refugees came to dominate the image of immigration to Sweden, including refugees from Iran, Iraq and Palestine. Of the refugees from the Yugoslav wars, 135,000 remain in Sweden (2001).
Swedish is a Germanic language related to Danish and Norwegian but different in pronunciation and orthography. English is by far the leading foreign language, particularly among students and those under age 50. The Swedish language has held a de facto dominant position to such a degree that making it an official language never has been a political issue. However, the recognition of five minority languages, on April 1, 2000, has raised the issue of whether Swedish should have a standing as the official language in Sweden. Sami, Meänkieli and Finnish may be used in dealing with municipal and government agencies, courts, preschools and nursing homes in parts of Norrbotten County.
Sweden has an extensive childcare system that guarantees a place for all young children from 2-5 years old in a public day-care facility. From ages 6-16, children attend compulsory comprehensive school. After completing the ninth grade, 90% attend upper secondary school for either academic or technical education.
Swedes benefit from an extensive social welfare system, which provides for childcare and maternity and paternity leave, a ceiling on health care costs, old-age pensions, and sick leave among other benefits. Parents are entitled to a total of 480 days paid leave between birth and the child's eighth birthday, with 30 days reserved specifically for each parent. A ceiling on health care costs makes it easier for Swedish workers to take time off for medical reasons.
Main article: Culture of Sweden
Swedish 20th century culture is noted by pioneering works in the early days of cinema, with Mauritz Stiller and Victor Sjöström. Later on, moguls like Ingmar Bergman and actresses such as Greta Garbo, Zarah Leander, Ingrid Bergman and Anita Ekberg made careers abroad.
Swedish music is in many minds connected with ABBA, although more recently indie bands like Millencolin, Soundtrack Of Our Lives and The Hives have started achieving international fame. Also worthy of mention are bob hund, Roxette, Ace of Base, The Cardigans, and Yngwie J. Malmsteen
Main article: Holidays in Sweden
The Swedish holiday calendar consists mainly of Christian holidays. Many of these are however a continuation of pre-christian customs, such as Midsummer and Walpurgis Night. Apart from official holidays and a few de facto holidays there are also official flag day observances and minor observances in the namesday calendar. The National Day of Sweden, celebrated on June 6, is not yet a full holiday.