“There is a country in the north, they say, where collapse is imminent. Criminal gangs have seized control of dozens of residential areas. Charred skeletons of cars line the streets and the police dare not enter. Rape is out of control and the women fear to leave their homes after sunset. There is talk that this northern land will be the epicentre of a European civil war, overrun by migrants and undermined by locals who are too blind or foolish to resist the erosion of their culture. They’ve even banned Christmas lights. Christmas lights!”
Most people in the world don’t know much about Sweden. But what they think they know is extraordinarily positive, shaped by decades of messages about Swedish technology, Swedish design, the Swedish way of life and the global impact of Swedish brands. Sweden’s stellar reputation is one of the country’s greatest assets. But now it is under attack.
Now there is an alternative story about Sweden. It is a negative tale of failure and crisis, a narrative in which naïve politicians opened the country’s doors to vast numbers of immigrants, turning dozens of suburbs into no-go zones and sending rape numbers soaring. This story is being told all over the world – not only on the fringes of the media but by mainstream news companies, European politicians and even the President of the United States. But it is crude, simplistic and grossly misleading.
What really sets Sweden’s apart from other countries, what it really represents in the eyes of the world, is its highly progressive values of tolerance, openness and equality. This is Sweden’s unique selling point. But these values are not universal and there are powerful forces seeking to reverse their global spread. One way to do that is to claim that Sweden is failing and to fan the flames of discontent in the country.
With fake news and social media, those who seek to discredit Sweden have new and powerful weapons available to them, while the psychology and economics of news create a ‘post-truth’ environment that enables the spread of the alternative narrative.
This book is a warning that Sweden’s reputation can no longer be taken for granted. A battle of values is being fought in a post-truth world and, without action, Sweden’s reputation will be collateral damage. How will that affect Sweden’s global business? How much harder will it be for Sweden to attract talent and investment and tourists? How will Sweden promote its values abroad if they appear to be failing at home?
The rules of the reputation game have changed – and not in Sweden’s favour. You cannot keep playing innebandy while the world is playing ice hockey. You’ll get hurt.