A quick search on the Riksdag’s website shows that the concept of folkhemmet still lives on. On at least 16 occasions, the word has been used in debates, motions or reports in the past year. It is often used by Social Democrats and often in the sense that you now want a modern people’s home, which should be green. But Sweden Democrats also use the term. Then in a story about a Sweden that was better before and that will become a people’s home again.
The idea of a people’s home also lives outside the minutes of the Riksdag. Some are attracted by the cohesion of Sweden’s population that the term suggests. Others are attracted by the social development that characterizes Sweden during the time period. Folkhemmet became a unifying story that would create broad unity behind major welfare reforms and lift Sweden out of division and poverty. After the war years, we would stick together and, like a family, take care of each other under the protective hand of the state and the common.
The term folkhemmet was seriously introduced into Swedish politics by Per Albin Hansson in 1928 and stood for that Sweden should become a home for the whole people, characterized by equality and consensus. Very good things happened in the name of the folk home and without a doubt Sweden is a good country to live in partly thanks to the reforms that during the decades that followed were initiated and implemented in the name of the folk home or associated with it.
But there was also a downside. A back where many people lived, a back where many people suffered in the name of the folk home.
One must remember that it happened with good intentions. But those intentions applied to the majority population.
– Christer Nylander (L)
Despite the promise that the good home would have no “cuddly pigs and no stepchildren”There were many who were not welcome in the community. Although the strong would not suppress and plunder the weak, or gain advantage at the expense of others, some people became means to the goals of the majority of the people and the desire for a secure community. Some were not considered fit. Others were considered inferior. They got to experience the back of the folk home.
The back of the folk home deals with forced sterilizations, lobotomies and forced care. If undesirable that were placed in institutions. About Roma who did not get the right to vote or the right to health care and school. About parents who were considered living too bohemian and therefore lost the right to their children. About people with intellectual disabilities who were subjected to cruel medical experiments.
One must remember that it happened with good intentions. But those intentions applied to the majority population. Those who were affected were considered secondary specimens, as insane and harmful to the development of the “Swedish tribe”. It was considered detrimental to the majority population if mentally retarded, mentally ill, epileptics, Roma and travelers were allowed to reproduce.
One of many examples are they caries experiment which was carried out at Vipeholmsanstalten, where patients were forced to eat chewy, extra sweet specially made colors so that the researchers could see how the patients’ teeth were affected. The conditions at Vipeholm are described in the podcast series that gave Randi Mossige-Norheim a well-deserved journalist award this year.
Mossige-Norheim describes how people were sorted out, locked up and beaten. Her uncle Inge Torkel was one of the 152 on Vipeholm who had his brain plucked out after death without his or any relatives’ consent.
It is important to remember this for the future. Not only the abuses themselves, but also the fact that they were considered just because they were considered to benefit the majority. It should be remembered to honor the victims and their loved ones. It should be remembered to avoid making similar mistakes again.
The state should therefore give an official apology for the abuses that took place at Vipeholmsanstalten. A truth commission should be appointed to give an overall picture of the people who in this way were abused in Sweden during the first half of the 20th century.
Folkhemmet was not for all. There were people who were treated very badly. Sometimes they were treated badly to serve as a means for the good of the collective. It is an important task to remember this, to give them redress and to learn from history to reduce the risk that new collectivist projects will lead to abuses against individuals or groups of individuals who are not considered fit.
Those who use the folk home in their rhetoric today, those who long back to how it was before and those who long forward to a green folk home, should remember that the folk home had sorted stepchildren who were hit very hard in the name of the collective.