Sweden's Middle Way Veers Right

September 20, 1991

Nothing came of the last "bourgeois" party government in Sweden, which lasted from 1976 to 1982. That shaky coalition never created a program to alter the Swedish consensus on welfare socialism, which the ousted Social Democrats had achieved. This time, with a center-right array of parties once more displacing the traditional ruling party, the same could recur. Or it might end the Western world's most generous and simultaneously stifling welfare state.

The drubbing of the Social Democrats in Sunday's election was expected. The economy is dreary, which penalizes a party in power. But confidence in the famous "middle way" between communism and capitalism capsized when there was nothing to be middle between. The collapse of communism gives all socialism a bad name. Sweden had proved that a high-tech, export-driven, private manufacturing sector can coexist with government invasion of social institutions. But the children of that hard-won system wanted something more. They are less sure than their parents were that the famed Swedish way is best, even for Swedes.

Neutrality is a Swedish consensus that is not partisan -- Sweden stayed out of World War II -- but with the end of the Cold War in Europe, nothing is left to be neutral about. As a result, the Social Democratic Party reversed its heritage by deciding to apply for membership in the European Community. The new government will pursue the application. That alone would be a force to reduce public spending as a percentage of gross national product.

Given the fragility of the probable coalition and the dynamism of a new party bent on dismantling the welfare state (that will stay in opposition), predictions are chancy. Carl Bildt, leader of the Moderate Party, is trying to form a government. The police demanded that, for his security, he quit commuting by bicycle. Mr. Bildt may be conservative, but he is still a Swede. Because the world around Sweden has changed, the odds are that this conservative election victory, unlike the one in 1976, is more than respite from Social Democratic rule. It looks more like a turning point in Swedish history.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.