If there ever was a time I would geek-out over something, it would have had to been when I visited the Riksdag (Sweden’s Parliament) with my Swedish Politics and Society class for our field study. Seeing the way another country is run from a first-person perspective, instead of through the pages of a textbook or slides of a PowerPoint presentation, really expanded my horizons; it exposed me to the ways the Swedes believed government should operate that as an American I had never considered.
Our tour at the Riksdag began with my class meeting with Karin Enström, a current member of the Swedish Parliament who served as Deputy Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. She’s part of the Moderate political party and so we had an opportunity to sit down and talk to her about Swedish politics. We asked her about what current issues Sweden was facing, how politicians interacted with each other, and what she thought of the U.S political system. After that we took a couple photos with her and she even put us up on her Instagram page!
We met with her in a room where financial committees sat to discuss issues and policies. It was an amazing experience to sit in seats actual government officials sat in when they discussed plans that affected everyone in Sweden.
Plus it was nice playing with the chairman’s gavel when no one was looking, too.
Following that we got a tour of the Riksdag and saw different chambers and offices Parliament members used. Our guide explained to us that the Riksdag was unicameral, meaning it had only one chamber and not two like the United States Congress. Right now there were 8 parties involved in the political process, which was drastically different from the 2-party system that we were all so familiar with back home.
Perhaps the most important room we got to see on our tour was the main chamber where all Riksdag members came when it was time to vote on different measures and laws. This was where the debates between Parliament members would happen and where the Prime Minister would give speeches from:
What was most amazing about this room was that it reflected how transparent the Swedish government was with its people. Anyone, citizen or non-citizen, could come and sit in a special viewing area, called the gallery, to watch Riksdag members debate, vote on different laws, and conduct their business. This decreased the distance between representative and constituent, making people feel like they could access their representatives better and actually see them do their job.
After our tour, we sat down for another incredible discussion. This time it was with Björn von Sydow, who was speaker of the Riksdag from 2002 to 2006. It was such an honor to sit and discuss Swedish, American, and global issues with him. It truly was the equivalent of sitting down and talking to former speaker of the U.S Congress, John Boehner. We had the opportunity to ask him about his job, what challenges he faced as speaker, and ways he thought the Swedish and American Political systems could benefit from one another.
As we were leaving, my Swedish Politics professor explained to us that we had incredible luck with the timing of our visit. We were visiting the Riksdag a couple weeks before it would be in session. Thanks to that, the parliament members were more relaxed and free to talk to visitors. That’s what allowed us to have such long and great conversations with Karen and Björn, who would otherwise have been very busy because both of them worked in such high positions.
A lot of what I know about politics comes from news websites along with the informative and comedic styling of Stephen Colbert and John Stewart. Now I can add my visit to the Swedish Parliament to that source of knowledge. The political system, government, and public attitudes toward government differ so greatly in Sweden from the U.S. Having had the opportunity to tour the highest office of government in Sweden and meet such star players as Karen and Björn has truly expanded my understanding of how a country can be run.