Treasurer Lennart Nylund (left) thanked Ambassador Ahlin on behalf of the CNS
“The Nordic Model - does it still exist?” was the topic of the talk given by His Excellency Urban Ahlin, Ambassador of Sweden, on January 22. We don’t call our speaker series ‘The Distinguished Speakers Series’ for nothing,” is what I was thinking as I listened to the Ambassador. His background and experiences as leader of Sweden’s Social Democratic party, Chair of the Committee of Foreign Affairs, and Chair and Speaker of the House of Commons, among many other impressive accomplishments, gave so much weight to his opinions about this topic.
Ambassador Ahlin strongly believes that the Nordic countries (in which group he includes Canada), have a major role to play in a world which is moving rapidly away from liberalism and democracy. He noted that the Nordic countries consistently appear on the lists of best countries to live in, using many different criteria. As managers of the CNS Facebook page, Hanne Sjøborg and I regularly post such lists and in fact, the day after the Ambassador spoke, the Ottawa Citizen published an article about the world’s ten most family-friendly cities. Helsinki came first, followed by Québec City. The list included Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Reykjavik, Calgary, Montreal and Gothenburg. Ambassador Ahlin proposed several reasons why the Nordic countries have been so successful in creating such well-functioning societies.
One reason he cited was their history of never having been feudal states (with the exception of a small amount of feudalism in Denmark and in the southern tip of Sweden.) He suggested that this meant that the Nordic people had therefore never accepted subservience towards the state. They expected to be treated fairly by the state and historically had rebelled against perceived injustice. The Ambassador also believes that Lutheranism, with its emphasis on hard work, good deeds and kindness to others, has had a huge impact on Nordic values. Other factors he mentioned were the public right of access to the forests and countryside, which allows anyone to share in berry and mushroom picking, and the very early establishment of public schools for all children. His final point on the success of Nordic societies was the influence of the harsh climate. People needed to be able to count on each other when times were difficult. Many had a subsistence livelihoods, so disaster and starvation were never far away and co-operation improved everyone’s chances of survival. The Ambassador noted that these were his own, personal thoughts on the background for the Nordic model, but I certainly found them well thought out and interesting.
Ambassador Ahlin then spoke about the rapidly changing conditions of the world we now live in. He mentioned the current worldwide tendency in political debate to focus only on strengthening one’s own beliefs rather than engaging in true debate. This is reinforced by social media which allows the faceless expression of ideas that would never be spoken in public. He noted in particular the enormous amount of hostile online commentary his female political colleagues received. And since traditional media is no longer trusted by many people, politicians can get away with a great deal that they would not have been able to get away with in the past.
The Ambassador sees the Nordic Model as being about trust and seeking consensus when looking for the best solutions. “What happens when trust dissolves?” he wondered. “What happens to democracy?” The Nordic countries, including Canada, stand up for the rights of women, children, LGBTQ, and minorities. Ambassador Ahlin believes that the Nordic countries must co-operate and work together to maintain these values or the world will continue to move in the wrong direction. The liberal world order is losing and the Nordic countries need to back each other up. This was the Ambassador’s strong message and it certainly resonated with the audience. Several questions and spirited discussion followed his talk, and the Ambassador’s experience as Speaker of Sweden’s House of Commons served him well. Several individuals also stayed behind to speak to him personally. It was both an enjoyable and a very thought-provoking evening.
Grete Mohaupt (seated), Åse Boardman (left) and Councillor Kristin Udjus Teitelbaum, attended