Claudia Wallin, a journalist and author, Sweden: The Untold Story, in this interview with Abdulkareem Mojeed, says Nigeria and Brazil where she comes from, have a lot to learn from the Swedish political system.
Ms Claudia who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES during her visit to Nigeria also spoke about the educational system in Sweden, the significant role of the media as well as citizens towards promoting democracy, and how Sweden which was among the most corrupt countries in the world, is now the 4th least corrupt countries in the world.
PT: What are your perceptions about politicians and democracy in Nigeria?
I understand very much what it means to be in a corrupt society because I’m originally from Brazil which has an extremely corrupt government. That is why I think it is important to highlight the remarkable Swedish political system. I’ve been living in Sweden for 17 years, that is why I truly believe that we have a lot to learn from Sweden in this sense. The members of parliament in Sweden go to work by bicycles; they live in state apartments as small as 16 square meters. They even wash their own clothes using the laundry facilities inside the parliament. The only privilege that the Swedish politicians have is that they receive a card to use the public transport.
In Sweden, political participation is in democracy, democracy is something that the children start to learn at school. I asked my youngest son what he has learned in school about politics and democracy. He said straight away, I’ve learnt that it is important to have a voice in the society.
The Swedish schools teach the young students how the political system works, how the parliament works, what the political parties represent and what they stand for. They also teach the kids about their rights as citizens. Hence, democracy is something every individual learns at school in Sweden.
PT: Sweden, like other Scandinavian countries, has one of the best educational systems in the world. What stands out for you in the Swedish way of teaching?
Claudia: Education of course was a major fundamental factor for the development of the Swedish society, because if you don’t have an educated population, a society can’t transform itself. If citizens don’t have education, they won’t be able to understand the problems of the society and they won’t be able to demand their rights as citizens from political leaders, because they’re so concerned about survival.
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For Instance, during your(Nigeria’s) elections last year, you had a very low voters’ turnout, which was around 35% if I’m not mistaken, and that calls my attention because in Sweden they have traditionally very high voters’ turnout of about 90%. Even though voting is not compulsory in Sweden, during last year’s election in Sweden, the voters’ turnout was over 87%. Of course, different factors influence voters’ turnout such as income and education .
PT: Unlike Sweden which ranks third freest nation for the press, Nigeria (120th) and Brazil (105th) rank among the worst places for journalists. What must journalists in these zones do to uphold their obligations and how would you say the media has fared in ensuring accountability in governance and informing the people better?
Claudia: The primary task of the media, in any society, is to scrutinize power and to demand transparency. A free press and a transparent system are the major factors that make Sweden one of the least corrupt countries in the world. Sweden was also a relatively corrupt country in the past, until approximately the beginning of the 19th century. But by gradually developing the institutions of its democracy, Sweden transformed itself. In this process of creating a culture of integrity and respect for the public money, the main weapon that Sweden invented was its transparency law – which was the first transparency law in the world, created back in 1766. This law, which is enshrined in the Swedish Constitution, gives not only to the press, but also to all the citizens, the right to assess the official documents of power. Any citizen can, for example, scrutinize the expenses of any member of parliament. And the Swedish journalists are always checking the politicians and their actions. This is an essential part of democracy.
PT: How has it been being a female journalist in Sweden. Are women considered to take leadership positions in newsrooms?
Claudia: Sweden is one of the most gender equal countries in the world and it is important to say that the current Prime Minister Stefan Löfvan has declared his government as a ‘feminist government’ which is the first feminist government in the world. So 11 of the 22 cabinet ministers are women, and in parliament nearly half of the representatives are also women, and women have a strong role in the Swedish society.
Also, they are very important in the workforce; around 80 per cent of women in Sweden occupy positions of leadership not only in the media but also in companies, government, public agencies and so on. Sweden also plays a great role in the recognition of women in the society.