"Is Swedish culture worth preserving?" Several years ago, at a Nordic conference on integration policy, a Norwegian participant, Hege Storhaug, asked this question of Swedish government representative Lise Bergh. "Yes, what is Swedish culture?" Bergh replied. "And [by asking that] I've answered the question." As Storhaug later noted, Bergh's reply was a perfect reflection of Swedish leaders' contempt for and rejection of their own culture – a mentality that, Storhaug worried, might ultimately spell Sweden's doom.
"What is Swedish culture?" I was reminded of Bergh's rhetoric question the other morning when I was making my way across the lobby of a hotel in Sweden. Suddenly a double column of about a dozen teenage girls and boys, dressed in long white robes and carrying lit candles, began to process into the room, softly singing the traditional song "Santa Lucia." I hadn't realized it was Saint Lucy's Day, on which such processions by children and teenagers (formerly just girls, but now also boys) are common in Scandinavia, especially in Sweden. Tourists all around me responded to this unfamiliar spectacle by yanking out their cameras or cell phones and snapping pictures, but since I've seen my share of Santa Lucia processions and was in a hurry, I rushed right past them, my mind on other things.