Since I moved to Sweden three years ago, I had heard and read quite a lot about Almedalen but it wasn’t until this April that I finally had the opportunity to actively take part in it.
This time I did not participate only as a spectator but also as a speaker at the seminar Sociala medier ritar om kartan (in Swedish), but also as member of Kvinna till Kvinna’s inspiring campaign team Kärleksbomba en aktivist, which definitely allowed me to savour and appreciate the experience even more.
One thing is certain, this is certainly a special democratic experience that attracts the attention of citizens, politicians and of course the media.
And here is a selection of some random thoughts and feelings from six days of intensive campaigning and socializing activities, varsågoda!
– I heard it before and I can confirm it now, Almedalen is all about “networking”. It is hard to find a place that hosts so many people (around 17 000 visitors this year) from the public and private sector, and from the civil society, at the same time, in the same place, in such an informal way, and in addition covered by so many media outlets.
– You might wonder why not organize such an event somewhere in Stockholm or Gothenburg, but the relaxing atmosphere of Gotland is essential to ensure people do not take things too seriously! ;(
– Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the most popular word at Almedalen after the word “seminar” is the word “mingle”! For the uninitiated, the word “mingle” means the evening activities organized by the different entities to entertain and allow guests further informal networking opportunities. This means visitors take their mingling seriously here and try to choose among the various options strategically, since most of them require prior confirmation or some even are require a formal invitation.
– There is a huge selection of seminars and events to choose from (1476 events organized by 760 entities in 8 days!). Hats off to the smooth and well-coordinated organisation as well. This impressively wide choice means however, that one needs to prepare ahead and read more about the events, the speakers and the organizers. In general most of the seminars I attended were interesting and informative but the inspirational ones were really few.
– Although most of the speakers of the seminars are Swedish, yet a considerable number of guest speakers from different countries are also invited, which adds an international flavour to the experience. Personally, I had the feeling that the perspectives and opinions introduced by the foreign speakers where particularly appreciated as they often offered a fresh and unusual perspective. For international guests it is also easier to express criticism and sharper judgments, as they often are not concerned by how the Swedish media will report their views.
– The Arab spring is still a hot item this year, with many seminars were dedicated to analysing it’s development and repercussions on the situation of women and on democracy building in the Middle East. I tried to attend as many of them as I could and the messages I got was: yes, the route to democracy is long and hard but there is no turning back! Anissa Hassouna, one of the guests from Egypt, told me: “Achieving democracy is like giving birth to a baby, you cannot just stop in the middle of delivery, you just have to keep pushing!”
– Talking about this event being a democratic phenomenon means also that there is a big chance that you end up in conversations with people who stand on the opposite side of your values and political spectrum. In my case, I was forced in a debate with one representative of the Sweden Democrats (the far-right party who managed to enter the Swedish parliament for the first time in 2010). And even though I think of myself as someone who has some experience in debating with people who hold intolerant views towards other groups in society, yet, each group has its own specific rhetoric, arguments and language, even though they might share some common characteristics. Living in Egypt, I was fully prepared with religious background information and scripture quotations to be able to debate with extremist religious groups, and living now in Europe, I should also be prepared with adequate background information to continue fending for universal human rights. In general, I think that the issue of the proliferation of far-right extremist groups in Europe is an acute problem that needs to be addressed in the public political discourse.
– And finally, if you travel to Almedalen with the ferry boat, take a good provision of food and snacks for the trip, that if you do not want to queue for two hours to get some food and forget about napping during the trip! You will for sure be surrounded by a huge number of happy, playing children of all ages, accompanying their parents to enjoy their, maybe first, Almedalen experience!
Nadia Elgohary, web editior at Equal Power – Lasting Peace