Exclusive interview with ambassador of Sweden - VIDEO

For Kitabistan
article about 'Exclusive interview with ambassador of Sweden - VIDEO' and 'For Kitabistan'

Sweden is one of the countries studied by Kitabistan. We wanted to know Sweden's main reference point for stable development, the welfare state, science, technology and innovation.

"Lagom". Although this word does not have a precise equivalent in the Azerbaijani language, it can be translated as "just the right amount" or "neither too much nor too little". "Lagom" is a concept, a way of living, a way of thinking that describes the Swedish national character.

The Swedes have an ancient proverb: Lagom är bäst - Just the right amount is best.

The closest concept we have to this is the golden mean. The golden mean - that is, not doing injustice to others, taking as much as you need, or thinking about the environment you live in besides yourself. In order to understand the Swedes, the word "principle" should be added to this. This is how Swedes live...

Sweden has not been involved in any war for 200 years. It was able to maintain its neutrality even in the First and Second World Wars. In these two hundred years, it was the first country to enshrine the freedom of speech in its constitution. Sweden gave women the right to vote in 1921, ranks in the top five in the Democracy Index, and in the top three in the Global Innovation Index. Sweden is in the top 10 in the Freest Countries Index. The Swedish passport is the 3rd strongest passport in the world. Swedes can visit 124 countries without a visa.

While continuing to study Sweden, we decided to appeal to Mr Tobias Lorentzson, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Sweden to Azerbaijan, to find answers to some of our questions about Sweden. He graciously responded positively to our interview offer and responded to Kitabistan's questions comprehensively with Swedish precision.

We present to you the interview with Mr Tobias Lorentzson, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Sweden to Azerbaijan.

- Dear Ambassador Tobias Lorentzson, first of all, I would like to thank you for accepting our offer to give an interview to Kitabistan. As Kitabistan focuses on promoting enlightenment, our goal is to present successful cases of the world in education, innovation, business, gender, other areas to the Azerbaijani public. As such, let’s begin with our first question: What factors contributed to Sweden's development, and where should we begin to explore and understand Sweden?

- Well, first of all, let me thank you for inviting me to your program. I would like to commend you on your mission to promote Enlightenment in a wide range of areas including areas where the embassy of Sweden in Baku is cooperating with Azerbaijani counterparts such as gender equality, education and business.

And now to your question, I think that the factors behind Sweden's development of the last century could be summarized in three key words and those are peace, openness and inclusivity. Peace, because Sweden was not part of the two World Wars. So, this meant that after the Second World War and the economic boom that ensued Sweden had of course an advantage compared to many of its competitors. So, this period was when Sweden took its first steps towards becoming one of the wealthiest nations in the world. And this leads to my second key word which is openness. 

Sweden understood early on that for a small country to be successful we need to be open to the outside world and this applies first and foremost to trade. This means that today Sweden has a lot of companies that are export-oriented and our economy is very much dependent on exports. And many of these Swedish companies are today world-leading in their respective fields. But openness and transparency are also vital parts of Swedish democracy. The Constitution of Sweden states that all citizens have the right to seek information, organize demonstrations, form political parties and practice their religion. In 1766 Sweden was actually the first country in the world to write freedom of the press into its Constitution and the principle of public access was an important part of that Act. And this meant that not only the general public but also mass media had access to public records. This means that both the general public and mass media can scrutinize the activities of the government, of the public powers at all levels - at the national level, regional level and local level. And this of course enables them to be sure that power is not abused which in turn contributes to development. 

Openness for us also includes human rights and equality. In Sweden, public power should be exercised with respect for equality for everyone but also with respect for individual freedoms. Laws and regulations cannot lead to anyone being disadvantaged because they belong to a minority, be it in terms of gender, ethnic origin, age, sexual orientation or disability. And here we are coming to the third and last keyword which is inclusivity. 

I think the success of the Swedish society model is linked to the fact that we strive to include everyone. We don't want to leave anyone behind and we want to put everyone to the task of building a thriving society. So, for example, increasing the share of women on the labor market is an effective way of boosting a country's economy. Inclusivity, and I will end with that, can also be understood in a geographical way. Sweden is a country that stretches far from the South to the North. So, a well-functioning infrastructure is key to our development. We have put a lot of resources and efforts to increase and to develop telecommunications, the Internet and broadband. And this is behind the fact that we are today also leading innovation.

- Swedish education is renowned for its high ranking in the global education index, consistently appearing in the top ten. What do you think are the factors that make Swedish education successful and unique?

- It is true that Sweden scores high in international education rankings and education is key in Sweden. It is tax-funded and it is mandatory from the age of six. Schooling actually became compulsory for children already in 1842 and this long-standing focus on education is perceived as one of the main factors for Sweden's development and for us being a leader in the field of innovation. I think one other reason for success for the Swedish educational system is the fact that teachers and pupils plan their teaching together. Pupils have the right to influence how the teaching is done. Also, the older the pupils, the greater responsibility for the pupils to decide together with teachers about their education. So this actually is, I would say, part of their training in democracy or training in the democratic process. And also I can mention here that in 2011 the Swedish Education Act introduced stricter requirements for teachers but also introduced the notion of teacher and pupil health while at the same time also introducing more choice when it comes to subjects.

- Sweden is at the forefront of promoting gender equality on a global scale. Notably, in 1998, the Swedish Education Act stipulated that all schools must work against gender stereotyping. As a result, gender-neutral kindergartens and schools are now operating in Sweden. I am curious to hear your thoughts on these educational institutions and their impact.

- Yes, gender equality and children's rights both have high priority in Sweden. For example, in 1979 Sweden was the first country in the world to make it illegal to hit children both at home and in school. Since then children's rights have been on top of the political agenda and equality between boys and girls also in school has been a vital and important part of that process. The Swedish Education Act that you mentioned along with the Swedish Discrimination Act strives to protect children against discrimination and degrading treatment and here teachers have the main responsibility to enforce the legislation. And the Equality Ombudsman supervises compliance with this law. Gender-aware education is increasingly common in Sweden and this is about striving to provide children with the same opportunities in life regardless of gender. It is about breaking gender stereotypes at an early age and there are studies that show that it is working.

- Social innovation is on the rise in highly educated countries. Sweden has a long history as an innovation leader and is often mentioned as a role model for green technology. How did Sweden become an innovation leader in the world?

- I think that there are several factors that might explain this. I already mentioned three of them - infrastructure, equality and education. But there is also Sweden's global outlook that I also talked about before. We are a small country, we have a small market. For us to be successful and for our companies to be successful on the international market, we need to be competitive. And competitiveness means being at the forefront of innovation to constantly make your production more efficient and better than your competitors. As I mentioned before, Swedish long-term focus on education and research has also had a major impact on Sweden becoming an innovation leader. When in 1842 education became compulsory it raised the overall level of education of the population and that was actually the start of making Sweden go from a poor agricultural country to a global innovation leader. When it comes to research and development we are on average investing around 3% of GDP in research and development. So this is also an important part of the equation I would say. You mentioned green technology and life sciences. Yes, these are two fields where Swedish companies do excel and the government has created an office that is aiming to produce a national strategy in order for us to develop this field.  One particular field of interest that is also very much of relevance to Azerbaijan is the smart city concept. The embassy of Sweden here in Baku is exploring possibilities to apply Swedish smart city solutions in Azerbaijan. Recently we had the visit of representatives from the Azerbaijani National Agency for Digital Development. They visited Stockholm to explore cooperation opportunities.

- Sweden has gained global recognition for its thriving businesses and renowned brands, including IKEA, Volvo, Ericsson, and many others. We understand that creating favourable conditions is essential for business success. Could you provide information on the support programs offered by the Swedish government to aid the development of businesses - startups in Sweden? Additionally, what benefits can investors anticipate when selecting Sweden as their investment destination?

- First of all, let me say that some of the companies that you mentioned are actually present on the Azerbaijani market and this includes Ericsson and Volvo. But there are also other Swedish companies that are active here on the Azerbaijani market such as Assa Abloy, Oriflame or SKF. The government programs and agencies that support Swedish businesses are numerous. We have one agency, an innovation agency called Vinnova that is promoting and funding research projects including in the field of smart cities. We also have a couple of government agencies focusing on strengthening Sweden's competitiveness which I talked about before and this is The Knowledge Foundation and also the Swedish Agency for Regional and Economic Growth. There is also a wide range of startup incubators in Sweden that can help companies develop at an early stage. For export-oriented companies, we have a lot of those, there is an organization called Business Sweden which is half state-owned which is helping Swedish businesses grow internationally - in the international markets. But you mentioned investments, foreign investments. This very organization Business Sweden also helps foreign companies to find investment opportunities in Sweden and to make the introduction on the Swedish Market as smooth, as sufficient, as possible. In parallel, we also have the National Board of Trade which is helping foreign companies to find export partners in Sweden. We are actually right now together with KOBİA and AZPROMO exploring possibilities of cooperation.

- As the ambassador of Sweden to Azerbaijan, how would you describe Sweden in 3 words that can best express it?

- That's a very good question. I would say freedom, equality and welfare.

- Finally, I would like to address our traditional question to you. What book would you recommend to our readers to read?


- I am very glad that you posed that question. I would recommend to our Azerbaijani readers the biography of the Nobel Brothers by the Swedish author Bengt Jangfeldt. This book is actually available in Azerbaijani translation as from last week in Ali and Nino bookstores here in Baku. And this translation was a joint effort by the Swedish Embassy in Baku and the Azerbaijani Embassy in Stockholm. So, the “Nobel Brothers” tells the fascinating story of the Nobel family's history both in Sweden but also in Tsarist Russia, especially since the 1830s onwards. And of particular interest to our Azerbaijani audience is that several chapters of this book are devoted to the time, the almost 40 years that the Nobel brothers spent in Baku developing their oil business here through the company Branobel. This year marks 150 years since Robert Nobel first came to Baku. And this translation I mentioned is part of our effort to celebrate this important date. One other way of celebrating this is that we will be presenting a documentary based on this very book and with scenes that were filmed in Baku and in Villa Petrolea which is the House Museum of Nobel Brothers here in the White City in Baku. So I think the Nobel Brothers is a fitting way of ending this interview since they embody many of the Swedish core values that we have been discussing today. The Brothers were at the forefront of innovation which helped them stay competitive until the end, until the Bolsheviks came. But they also had a very progressive agenda when it comes to profit sharing and charity. They built schools, housing and theaters for their employees. So, I think they were an example and perhaps before their time in a way when it comes to what we call today corporate social responsibility.

- Thank you very much ambassador and thanks for your responses.

- Thank you.

Malak Hajiyeva