National Geographic : 1993 Aug
highly visible neo-Nazi groups were cropping up to taunt immi grants, scrawling "Sweden for the Swedes" on trash cans and walls. Even ordinary, decent Swedes were starting to talk openly -another broken taboo-about their distrust of the newcomers. "Sweden is probing itself to come to terms with all this," sighed Leif Hallberg of the National Police Board. We met in his office one slate gray afternoon, our talk illuminated, barely, by the beam of a tiny desk lamp and the light reflected off his glasses. "What kind of nation are we going to be?" he wondered. "This is the big ques tion-the one all Swedes are asking themselves right now." NOWCAPPED MOUNTAINS and a long, cool stare divide Swedes from their cousins in Norway, who descend from the same Nordic ancestors and speak a Ger manic language similar to Swedish, give or take local idioms and the happy little bounce the Norwegians who are regarded by the Swedes as hopelessly rustic-like to give the end of a sentence. Swedes, in turn, are kidded by other Scandinavians for their starchy reserve and often made the butt of regional jokes: Two Danes, two Norwegians, two Finns, and two Swedes were ship wrecked on an island. By the time they were rescued, the Danes had formed a cooperative, the Norwegians built a fishing boat, and the Finns chopped down all the trees. The Swedes were still wait ing to be introduced. There is, it must be said, a hard edge on these jests. As an armed Caught off guard by school-age demonstrators in the streets of Stockholm, Prime Minister Carl Bildt is jostled as he tries to explain proposed restructur ing of the education system most controversial, perhaps, of the cutbacks in services called for by Sweden's new center rightgovernment. "We think it's time for fewer state-supported solutions," Bildt declares, citing the gener ous cushion of benefits that Swedes paid for with some of the world's highest taxes. Like him or not, most Swedes would shudder to see Bildt ac costed: Former Prime Minister OlofPalme was murdered on a Stockholm street in 1986.