Sanna Eliasson currently working as the Organisation Secretary of the Swedish Olof Palme International Center. Previously working with non-formal education within the Swedish labour movement, and continuously active within the Social Democratic Party of Sweden and its Youth League.
The Olof Palme International Center was founded in 1992 by The Swedish Social Democratic Party, The Swedish Trade Union Confederation, and The Swedish Cooperative Union. Which were the main determinants back in 1992 for the organisation to be founded?
The Olof Palme International Center had a predecessor called the International Center of the Swedish Labour Movement, which was founded by the three mentioned organizations in 1978. In 1992 it was merged together with the Peace Forum and the International Foundation of the Swedish labour movement. At the same time it got the name of the former Swedish social democratic Prime Minister Olof Palme. Olof Palme was known globally, and still is, for his international work strengthening democracy, peace, and human rights based on the idea of solidarity. The idea behind the establishment of the Olof Palme International Center, and its predecessor, was that the labour movement must be united globally in order to stand strong.
Which are the main objectives of this umbrella organisation for the Swedish labour movement? Which are the main instruments for reaching these targets?
The aim of the Olof Palme International Center is to empower people to change their societies and thereby also their own lives. To do this we believe it is important to build broad alliances in the societies we work in – like the labour movement did in Sweden in order to get power in the Swedish society. We build alliances with different actors within the countries we have projects within and we build as well alliances across nation boarders to help strengthen each other. For the countries in which we have projects, we try to work on three frontiers where it is possible. We work with development cooperation projects with civil society organizations, we support Social Democratic parties with training and the sharing of experiences, and we work to support labour unions to become more legitimate and to get more power within the society. At the same time of doing this, we do also spread information about the situation of these countries in Sweden to increase awareness and further engagement of the Swedish population on the topic.
Have the Swedish model of welfare state managed to be adapted to the most diverse variations of the international climate? Did solidarity manage to empower the people for developing their communities?
As our aim is to empower people to develop and change their own societies, it is very important for the Olof Palme International Center not to dictate the process forward for those societies we work with abroad. We believe that the people know best what their respective societies need. What we want to do is to exchange experiences between our member organisations in Sweden and our partner organisations globally in order to find the best solutions and way forward for the actual context. The Swedish model of welfare state might not be the perfect model for all countries, but the values of solidarity, equality and inclusive welfare are what we work for and what our partner organizations also do share.
Do you see the idea of popular movement as a feasible strategy for stimulating participatory citizenship in the states where there is a significant lack of public engagement?
We think that the idea of popular movement is the main strategy for stimulating participatory citizenship and an inclusive democracy. What we have learned from the Swedish history is that the organizing of big and diverse groups of people around the same vision is the only way to bring extensive changes to the structure of a nation – changes in favour of the broad masses. Changes in favour of the people do in most cases take a lot of time, or in some cases it might never happen, if the people of the country do not demand it from those in charge. So the organizing of people, together with continuous information and non-formal education, is what we see as the main strategy for stimulating participatory citizenship and through this creating structural change of the country in favour of the people.
How do you see the political education? Should the education systems be adapted so as to build a solid political education for the future decision-makers and voters?
I think that it is very important that some form of political education is included in the formal education system. The formal education has the advantage of reaching individuals broadly early in age and it has the opportunity to lay a solid ground for the understanding of how the society works and is governed. Except that, I think that the main role of the formal education is to support the students to become critical thinkers and to get the self-confidence to form their own opinions.
Despite this, I believe that the formal education is not enough. Non-formal education in some way is important as well. If creating opportunities for people to continuously educate themselves, both during young years and throughout the rest of the life, it helps the individuals to be active citizens in politics and the life of society.
Sweden is well-known for youth engagement into politics. How has the Swedish education system been breveted in order to determine the younger generations to adhere to political organisation and be a part of the governance?
The Swedish formal educational system includes, even if not perfectly, education on how the society and politics work formally, what parties there are and what they stand for, but also knowledge about how to become critical thinkers and to try out forming personal opinions.
Notwithstanding the formal educational system is not the only important aspect. In Sweden we have for example also a vivid civil society and in addition independent youth organizations connected to the political parties. Having a tradition of being active in civil society organizations of any kind helps young people to activate themselves for a cause together with others. Then we have the youth organizations connected to the political parties that campaigns and try to recruit as many members as possible. I have myself been active in the youth league of the Social Democratic Party in Sweden. What these organizations usually do is to go to the forums/places where young persons are to be found, recruit them to become members and take part in the activities of the organization. A big majority of the activities of the youth political organizations is focused around educating the youth about politics and to gain useful knowledge for being active in the political life. The aim is not to make all members future full-time politicians, but to make youth politically aware and engaged. The second aspect is as important as the first, if not even more.
Sweden is also praised for the internal stability and rule of law. Has the engagement of all generations in governance determined this state of the things?
I would say that it could have affected, but there might also be many more reasons to it. One aspect to mention here is that Sweden has had time to build up the stability and rule of law. Sweden has for example not been affected by war during the last 100 years. Grave conflicts affect the stability of the country deeply and it takes time to rebuild it. I would say that trust among the people is one of the main determinants here. Trust among the inhabitants, sometimes called social capital, is crucial for people to believe in the politics, their politicians and the legal system. I would say that societal trust and engagement in politics go hand in hand. I believe that strengthening trust for the political and legal system is the main determinant to create engagement in governance – engagement that can foster stability and rule of law.