Nordic pragmatism as a recipe for success

The Nordic countries, those up there at the top of Europe often called Scandinavia — Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway — came out on top of all the countries in the world in the Fragile States Index for 2014 published the other day.

Finland came out at the very top, the only country described as “very sustainable,” with Sweden, Denmark and Norway as the top three “sustainable” countries of the world, with Iceland, the fifth Nordic, in eighth place, and with the United States on twentieth place, part of a lower group of “stable” nations.

What do these five nations in northern Europe have in common? They are democracies with clean governments and a highly educated population. They value stability, common sense and results.

Maybe this can explain, at least in part, the unusual “December Accord” — even for Scandinavia — last Saturday, when six of the eight political parties in the Swedish parliament came together and cancelled a snap election scheduled for March and instead worked out a deal under which the minority government of Social Democrats and Greens, only three months old, will be able to govern, albeit on the basis of a budget hammered out by the four opposition parties.

The accord has not been well received by a number of different reasons, both on the left and on the right. But it did avoid a dreaded snap election, a seldom used ingredient in Swedish politics — 1958 was the last time that happened. The next Parliamentary election will now be the ordinary election in 2018.

The “December Accord” also served to continue to hold the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats on the far right at arms length, not including them in any deal, keeping them out of any government, and preventing them from dictating the composition and policies of the Swedish government.

As so many times before in the modern era, the Swedish politicians came together in a serious political crisis, “came to their senses,” as the leading newspaper Dagens Nyheter put it the other day. It was pragmatism for the good of the country, to achieve stability, get results, avoid chaos.  Here is the latest main editorial for those who can read Swedish!

Maybe this overarching pragmatism is the secret behind the success of those small Nordic countries, and a recipe for success for others? Maybe there is even something that those fighting forces in the U.S. Congress can learn from all this? Maybe, as I said.

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Somalis showed their strength at DFL Convention in Minneapolis

The “new Americans” spoke today in Minnesota Democratic politics, and although the Somali American challenger Mohamud Noor did not win the endorsement of the delegates to House District 60B in Minneapolis, he prevented veteran liberal lawmaker, 77-year-old Phyllis Kahn, from winning, thereby forcing a primary runoff in August.DFlNoorSupporters

Kahn, who has represented the district in the State Legislature for 42 years, failed in five rounds of voting to capture the necessary 60 percent of the vote for the endorsement. She came close in the first round – 58.1 percent against Noor’s 41.5 percent. But in the end, in the fifth round, Khan’s support was 56.3 percent against Noor’s 43.3 percent.

Her failure is a victory for what Noor in his speech to the delegates before the vote, called “the new Americans,” like himself, who had fled their bleeding home country and settled in Minnesota in larger numbers than anywhere else in the United States. A victory, he said before the vote, would demonstrate that the Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFL) in Minnesota is “serious about inclusion.” He did not quite make it, but he has another chance to win, in August.

DFLNoorSpeakingNoor, a recent new member of the Minneapolis school board, said that he and his family had “achieved the American dream,” and he stressed the importance of education and pre-kindergarten for all. He was ready to fight for everyone in the district, which includes Somali immigrants in the classic Scandinavian immigrant neighborhood of Cedar-Riverside, students from the University of Minnesota, and scores of progressive activists.

Should Noor win the DFL primary in August, he is practically guaranteed a victory in November in this solidly liberal House district. And if so, he will be the first Somali American in the State Legislature and the highest elected Somali American official in Minnesota. Today, Abdi Warsame, who was elected to the Minneapolis city council last November with overwhelming support from the Somali residents of Cedar –Riverside, holds that title. Warsame also had the support of Phyllis Kahn and today he backed her, splitting the Somali vote in the packed auditorium in DeLaSalle High School on Nicollet Island in the middle of the Mississippi River, just underneath the towers in downtown Minneapolis.

Today’s convention took all day, with breaks for lunch and prayer. The delegates showed remarkable stamina and few left between the five rounds of voting. Still, the 277 total votes cast are only a fraction of the eligible voters in District 60B. The August primary will all be about turnout, and it would be unwise to count out a veteran like Phyllis Kahn.

For the Somali immigrant community seeking political clout just like other immigrant groups have sought before them, it is yet another big challenge.

Pete Seeger was — “Forever Young”

Pete Seeger, dead at 94, sings Bob Dylan’s beautiful “Forever Young.”

His full life by Jon Pareles in New York Times, and, by the way, Pete Seeger, you won, as David Corn writes in Mother Jones.

A man to be admired and missed.

 

Today, 50 years ago, out in California…

Today, 50 years ago, I was walking from class up to the Student Union on the Stanford University campus, when a friend told me that he just heard a bad joke: President Kennedy had been shot.

“At the student union only minutes later, I understood that it had not been a joke. Kennedy had been shot, in Dallas, Texas. He had been gravely injured, and he died. Everything at the university stopped. Lectures were canceled. The big football game against the University of California was postponed. That Sunday we all went to church, and we cried.” 

About this, and about my first five years as an immigrant/student in California KLAS_Amaz_2K_1_during that tumultuous decade, I write in my book Land of Dreams: A Reporter’s Journey from Sweden to America, which is now out also in English, both as e-book and in print. The book was originally published in Sweden with the title “Amerika – drömmarnas land.”

The book is a personal and political retrospective on my many years in America, from those days in California to today’s Washington, DC.

If you are interested, you can check it out at http://www.amazon.com/Land-Dreams-Reporters-Journey-America/dp/1492809810/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385143222&sr=8-1&keywords=klas+bergman

The Minnesota Orchestra’s silence is not the Minnesota Way

As Finnish music director Osmo Vänskä leads the Minnesota Orchestra in three extra farewell concerts this weekend in Minneapolis, emotions ran high. The man who in ten years has made the orchestra a top orchestra resigned after a year-long conflict between the Board and the Orchestra with no music, only silence, as the result.

Here in Washington, DC, in these days of government shutdown, there is much talk of public trust, or lack of public trust in the government and in Congress. The public trusts the government to stay open, and, in Minnesota, the public trusts the orchestra to play. But the Minnesota Orchestra has not played for a year in a dispute over budget and salaries.

Many of you who read this blog may have noticed that I have been going to Minnesota quite a bit lately, looking for that state’s Scandinavian legacy, stemming from its hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Northern Europe. And I have found plenty of that legacy in its political leaders’ and its inhabitants’ pragmatism, common sense, civic spirit, willingness to compromise, and sense of responsibility to the public. That political legacy has been firmly established for decades, “part of Minnesota’s earth,” as one scholar put it.

But the Minnesota Orchestra’s silence shatters that picture. Minnesota’s former Republican Swedish-American Governor Arne Carlson – the epitome of Scandinavian pragmatism when he was governor — seems to have realized that. On his blog, he pleads for action — from the political leaders, from the whole community — writing that we cannot stand by “while our own world class symphony orchestra disintegrates.”

I understand that times are tough for the Minnesota Orchestra. But the whole issue seems to have been badly handled — not negotiating for months, locking out the musicians, witnessing one orchestra member after the other resigning and leaving a newly renovated Concert Hall empty and silent.

That year-long silence, just like the government shutdown in Washington, DC, is failing the public trust, and, I dare say, that’s not the Minnesota way – “the state that works!”

Lutheran latte, butter princesses, and lots of politics at the Great Minnesota Get-Together

Lutheran Latte at the Great Minnesota Get-Together — Swedish egg coffee with vanilla ice cream — how can you not love it!

Lutheran LatteBut if you for some reason don’t, you can have a Meatball Sundae, or one of Ole’s Candied Bacon Cannoli and a cup of Swedish coffee – that’s “The breakfast of State Fair champions” for those who don’t know it, or Norwegian lefse with lingonberry jam at Lynne’s, fried pickles, and anything on a stick: corndog, shrimp, chicken, turkey, long dog…Or you could drink Minnesota wine and any number of Minnesota microbrews.

And all this in almost one hundred degree heat this past weekend, when over one hundred thousand people visited the Minnesota State Fair, every day — all part of the twelve days of the “Great Minnesota Get-Together.”

It’s been like this for decades at the end of the summer in Minnesota. I’ve never seen anything like it, never imagining watching a sculpture of Princess Kay of the Milky Way as the winner of the Minnesota Dairy Princess Program is called, being carved in 90 pounds of the best Minnesota butter in a walk-in, glass-walled refrigerator with people surrounding and watching. Each of the twelve finalists gets her own butter sculpture made and she gets to take it home after the Fair. What a show!

Butter QueensAnd it seems that no one wants to miss it. Everyone is there. Every radio and TV station, the environmentalists in the Eco building, the art lovers in the big art exhibit, the friends of the state’s national parks, and, of course, the politicians, lots of politicians, almost all of them…

Al Franken at State FairIn one corner is the Minnesota Democrats’ tent, the Democratic Farmer Labor Party as it is called here, and it is buzzing with activity. DFL runs Minnesota, from Governor Mark Dayton to both houses of the State Legislature and both US senators, and with five of the eight members of the House of Representatives in Washington. And just across the street is the AFL/CIO plaza with numerous union representatives and a big banner calling for higher minimum wage.

Senator Al Franken, who is up for re-election in November 2014 also has his own booth, and so does the other Minnesota senator, Amy Klobuchar. Both are at the Fair, on separate days, this steamy weekend, working the crowd and talking to their constituents.

Franken says he loves coming here because he gets to meet people from all across Minnesota, and he asks for support from the trade unions as well as the faithful in the DFL tent, where voter registration forms in Somali, Hmong, and Spanish reflect the new immigrant groups in Minnesota. He loves to quote the former liberal Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone, whose untimely death in an airplane crash in October 2002 in many ways still haunt Minnesota politics, who said, “we all do better when we all do better,” and Franken launches into a fierce defense of unions, of a higher minimum wage, of investments in infrastructure, of college affordability, of protecting social security and Medicare, and of the importance of the Affordable Care Act – he never used the term “Obamacare” – which brings so many good things to America’s citizens. He ends by asking for help in next year’s re-election, when he hopes to get more than the 312 votes by which he defeated Norm Coleman in 2008 – somewhere, he says, in between that number and what Amy Klobuchar got in 2012 when she was re-elected in a landslide, 58 percent to 38.

Amy KlobucharFor Amy Klobuchar in the brutal heat, it was the first time, she said and laughed, that she wore shorts to the Fair. No speeches. She is not up for re-election until 2018. But there were plenty of one-on-ones with the curious and the well-wishers, and at the end, judging a food contest.

The Republicans are at the State Fair, too, and so are the Minnesota Tea Party, the Libertarians, the Greens, and many others. But in these blue days for Minnesota, they fight a losing battle for attention at the Great Minnesota Get-Together.

In search of Minnesota’s Scandinavian legacy…

Swedish writer and feminist activist Fredrika Bremer once wrote way back in the 1850s, “what a glorious new Scandinavia might not Minnesota become.”  Minnesota did become that new Scandinavia, with hundreds of thousands of Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Danish, and Icelandic immigrants settling here during many decades, up until 1930.

Still today, 32 percent of Minnesota’s 5.4 million inhabitants are of Scandinavian, or Nordic, descent, an important part of Minnesota’s legacy and an important part of modern Minnesota.

It’s still winter in the Upper Midwest, just south of the Canadian border, as I noticed during a recent visit, with piles of  graying snow along the roads and icy sidewalks. The air bites, and as in my boyhood’s Stockholm by this time of the year, everyone longs for spring.

The Twin Cities — Minneapolis and St Paul – do not look much like Stockholm between Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea, although the Mississippi River meanders impressively through the two cities. The prominent New York City restaurant “Aquavit” opened here a decade or so ago, but had to close a few years later. Last year, “The Bachelor Farmer” opened and, according to the New York Times, “has given Scandinavian food a much needed adrenaline shot.”

It’s a nice, modern, friendly place, and difficult to get a table. It seems that Minnesotans like what  they serve, although I couldn’t find much that resembled traditional Swedish cuisine, like gravlax, herring, meatballs, or even the wonderful Västerbotten cheese.

American Swedish InstituteFor that, one has to go to “Fika” — the modern restaurant in the American Swedish Institute’s (ASI) splendid new wing, the Nelson Cultural Center, which opened last year. It sits next to the classic mansion that Swedish newspaper publisher Swan Turnblad donated in 1929 and what eventually became the American Swedish Institute.

What a sight it now is, dominating Park Avenue in the middle of Minneapolis!  None of the other Nordics have anything similar, and ASI director Bruce Karstadt is rightly proud and excited about his institute’s future.

In the search for Minnesota’s Scandinavian legacy, Scandinavian Studies programs are alive and well at several universities like Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, St. Olaf College in Northfield, and the gigantic University of Minnesota in the middle of the Twin Cities. Swedish language classes seem to thrive and the students’ knowledge of Swedish was impressive.

But maybe the most impressive proof of Minnesota’s Scandinavian heritage one finds at the gorgeous State Capitol in St Paul, designed by the prominent architect Cass Gilbert. The front of the Capitol is dominated by three statues of former governors, Knute Nelson, born in Norway, Swedish-American John A. Johnson, and Floyd B. Olson (photo), the legendary Norwegian/Swedish-American, who led Minnesota during the Depression, but who died young, just as he was about to achieve national prominence.Floyd B. Olson

And inside, the halls of the Capitol are filled with the portraits of previous governors —  John Lind and Adolph O. Eberhart, both born in Sweden, and of a long series of Norwegian-, Swedish-, and Danish-Americans by the name of Anderson, Andersen, Benson, Burnquist, Christianson, Rolvaag, Petersen,  and Arne Carlson — between 1991 and 1999.

After Carlson, Minnesota has been led by Jesse Ventura, Tim Pawlenty, and, now, Mark Dayton – none of them Scandinavians.  An end of an era, or?