Jonas Sjöstedt, Swedish chairperson of the Left Party.
As we broadcast from Almedalen Week, a unique political festival in Sweden, we are joined by Jonas Sjöstedt, Swedish chairperson of the Left Party and member of the Swedish Parliament. Sjöstedt describes the Left Party as a modern socialist, left-wing party with roots in the labor movement and a new focus on tackling climate change and privatization. "Sweden has become kind of an experiment for privatization, especially in the education system, in healthcare and the homes for the elderly," Sjöstedt says. "We want to ban all profit-making companies from these welfare sectors."
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn right now to, well, a very familiar face in U.S. politics. Well, it looks like before we turn to that very familiar face in U.S. politics, we’re going to turn now to a familiar face in Swedish politics. He is head of the Left Party here. We are turning right now to one of the leaders of the Left Party. We’re broadcasting from the Swedish city of Visby. We are at a political gathering unlike any other in the world. We are joined right now by Jonas Sjöstedt, chairperson of the Left Party. But I’m going to start off by asking him to pronounce his own name—people speaking for themselves.
JONAS SJÖSTEDT: Yeah, my name is Jonas Sjöstedt.
AMY GOODMAN: Jonas Sjöstedt, talk about what the Left represents here, the Left Party in Sweden, especially given it looks like your party is surging in the polls and this red-green alliance may well soon take power in the September elections.
JONAS SJÖSTEDT: Well, we are a socialist party. We have our roots in the labor movement, but we realized many years ago that we need to broaden our perspective, so we consider ourself being a red-green party. The climate issue is essential for us. And we’re also a feminist party. So, you could say that we are a modern socialist, left-wing party. There are similar parties in the other Scandinavian countries.
AMY GOODMAN: And what are the issues that are most important to you right now?
JONAS SJÖSTEDT: The main issue we’re campaigning on is against privatization. Sweden has become kind of an experiment for privatization, especially in the education system, in healthcare and in the home for elderly. And we said that we want to ban all profit-making companies from these welfare sectors, meaning that we would have the public sector working as it should be, but also allowing other nonprofit actors, like churches or cooperatives, etc. We can see these devastating effects from the privatization in the Swedish society—schools closing down in the middle of the education of children. We can see that many of the home for elderly that are run by big venture capitalists lack fundamental resources like educated staff. They have very few employees. And they make huge profits from taxpayers’ money. So this is our main topic. It’s something that we have had great support from Swedes, in general.
AMY GOODMAN: Climate change?
JONAS SJÖSTEDT: Climate change is, of course, essential. I mean, if we don’t solve the climate issue, other discussion becomes meaningless. And we want Sweden to be kind of a role model. We want Sweden to really take a big step ahead and prove that we can be a modern welfare society and an industrial nation and still cutting greenhouse gas emissions substantially. And the only goal we can have is zero emissions.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, how do you achieve that?
JONAS SJÖSTEDT: Well, first of all, we have a major program of investments—rebuild our old houses, have railroads instead of heavy lorry traffic on the highways. We have investment in renewable energy, etc. But we think that even if we do all this investment that we need to do to swift into another kind of society, when it comes to energy systems, etc., we need to reconsider our way to look at economy and growth. We think that the classical way of measuring the success of a society by economical growth is useless when it comes to climate. We have to take into account that we use resources that have certain limits and that we are destroying the climate of the world. So, we also, for example, favor shorter working hours. We think that it’s a lot easier to achieve a solution of the climate issue if we have a more equal society. It’s about distribution of limited assets, globally and in Sweden.
AMY GOODMAN: And how does shortening the workday achieve that?
JONAS SJÖSTEDT: Well, we think that instead of using the increased productivity for higher salaries, we use it in more spare time, more time for families, more time for culture, more time for gender equality.
AMY GOODMAN: Right now, what’s happening in the Palestinian occupied territories and Israel is escalating. Can you talk about the Left Party’s position on Israel and Palestine?
JONAS SJÖSTEDT: We have a long tradition of supporting the Palestinian struggle for an independent state. We think that the fundamental problem is the occupation of the Palestinian territories. As long as that is going on, it’s very hard to find any kind of solution of the conflict. We are, of course, favoring a peaceful solution through negotiations, but this is not a conflict between two equal parties. It’s one country occupying another people, the Palestinian people. So that is the whole core of the issue. And so, we think that Sweden should be an active supporter of a two-state solution and that we should recognize the Palestinian territories as an independent state.
AMY GOODMAN: And the role of the United States in dealing with Israel and Palestine?
JONAS SJÖSTEDT: I think that’s crucial. I think the recent—
AMY GOODMAN: What is your assessment of it today?
JONAS SJÖSTEDT: Well, I’m sorry to say that I think the reason why the Israelis can be so self-confident in their occupation is that they feel that they have a silent support from the U.S. administration. And that’s also why the U.S. partly has the key to a peaceful solution. They have to put pressure on the Israelis.
AMY GOODMAN: Iraq?
JONAS SJÖSTEDT: Well, I think we now harvest the bitter fruits of the Iraq War, and it’s very sad to see the suffering of the Iraqi people in the sectarian violence. And we—
AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. first invading Iraq in 2003?
JONAS SJÖSTEDT: I mean, that’s where the problem got worse. And I think the peace movement was right that the military intervention and occupation would make things worse. And now we are in the situation, but we cannot abandon the Iraqi people. We have to support the good forces that speak up in favor of living together regardless of your religion or your ethnical background.
AMY GOODMAN: Amnesty International and other groups have been here protesting the Swedish arms trade. Most people might be surprised to know that though this is the home of Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Peace Prize, that Sweden is one of the largest exporters of arms in the world.
JONAS SJÖSTEDT: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the Left Party’s position on this?
JONAS SJÖSTEDT: Well, we would like to ban all export of arms. We think what we can achieve the next four years, if we go into government and form a progressive majority, is to have an effective ban on the export of arms to dictators, to countries that violate human rights or that are involved in an armed conflict. For example, one of the big receiving countries of the Swedish arms export is Saudi Arabia, which is bizarre. And Pakistan is another country that’s importing a lot of arms. And I think this does a lot of harm to our potential role as a peacemaker and someone who speaks up in favor of disarmament, because it shows that we are hypocrites, as long as we continue this arms export.
AMY GOODMAN: Most people know Saab in the United States as the auto company; they don’t know it as the major weapons manufacturer of Sweden.
JONAS SJÖSTEDT: They certainly are, and they make a very expensive fighter jet that Sweden tried to export all over the world. And I would be so much happier if we exported things that we are better in doing, like environmental technology and children literature.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about a case that is known around the world—it is the case of Julian Assange—and the position the Left Party takes on him. I got a chance to question the foreign minister yesterday, Carl Bildt, because this week there was an appeal by his Swedish lawyers, and it’s around the issue of this pre-charge detention. It’s something that is not—people, I think, in other countries are not as familiar with, but that he has been dealing with this for four years—
JONAS SJÖSTEDT: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —without charge. And he’s concerned that if he were to come to Sweden, if he were extradited to Sweden, he would then be sent to the United States, wanted by the United States for WikiLeaks.
JONAS SJÖSTEDT: Well, I think that the Swedish juridical system is to be trusted. We would not send him to the United States. I think no one in Sweden believes that we would do that. And we look on the crime of sexual assault as a very serious crime. And if he’s under investigation, he should be questioned by the Swedish police. There might be an opening in doing so in London instead of in Sweden. But I think that the claim that you cannot trust the Swedish juridical system is not true.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, what about that issue of the Swedish police meeting him, well, at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London and questioning him there?
JONAS SJÖSTEDT: I think if there was such a solution, that would be very positive. Now there’s a complete deadlock that is good for no one.
AMY GOODMAN: What would break that deadlock?
JONAS SJÖSTEDT: I don’t know, maybe some kind of initiative from the Swedish juridical system, but also some sign of goodwill from Assange himself maybe.
AMY GOODMAN: Any words to people in United States, here at Almedalen, of this kind of gathering? There are more than 25,000 people here.
JONAS SJÖSTEDT: I think this is something good. There is a very open political debate, and anyone can come to me as a party leader and speak to me on the street or take a photo or just discuss their favorite topic. I lived, myself, in the U.S. for a couple of years, and I think—
AMY GOODMAN: Where?
JONAS SJÖSTEDT: In Brooklyn. Where else? And then, I think there’s a lot to learn from the U.S. in campaigning methods, in public initiatives, etc. But there’s also something to learn from Sweden.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for joining us.
JONAS SJÖSTEDT: Thank you so much. Thanks, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ve been speaking with Jonas Sjöstedt, who is the chairperson of the Left Party since 2012. He has been a member of the Swedish Parliament since 2010 and, before that, was a member of the European Parliament from 1995 to 2006. When we come back, we’ll hear from the head of the Feminist Initiative and also a very familiar face in U.S. politics, Dennis Kucinich. Stay with us.
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