1968 in Sweden
Bookmark and Share



Introduction to 1968
The why of the events happening in 1968 has been debated over the past years. Several individual building blocks came together that year. One is that Europe had to do with an unusual surge in births after WW2, creating a large age demographic that were teenagers by the time 1960 came knocking. Second was the new awareness that for the parents the happiness of their children was important to others. Also the lowering of the threshold for a higher (public) education (Universities became accesable for much larger group) played a part. Technical innovations also were of influence. TV formed a window to the World previous generations did not have. TV also brought events like the Vietnam War and public events like the Civil Rights March to the living room. Cheap recordplayers offered the opportunity for musical artists to reach out to an enormous audience. Add that to growing unemployment and economical difficulties and you’ll have the ingredients for revolution

What was it all about in Sweden

The occupation of Czechoslovakia, the assination of Martin Luther King and the Vietnam war. We’ve seen these elements before in other European countries as the initial starting point for the protests of 1968. Usually these themes were a a means to get a more local subjects on the agenda. Also in Sweden were a demonstration against the Vietnam war resulted in a movement that focussed on a green environmental and social lifestyle (large families, cooperatives, veganism) to contrast against the party line of the FNL movement (DFFG).  A Swedish premonition of what was to come was Göran Palm's book ‘En orättvis betraktelse’ (An unfair reflection) (1966). This new Left proza was the basis for the Trolöshetsdebatten and the start of the the anarchist Provia movement in the same year. Allthough inspired by the Dutch Provo-movement the Provies (as the Provia-people were called) were more pacifistic with their ideas and attempt to "bring society out of its slumber". Communal life and veganism were an important part of their lifestyle. Their first happening was conducted at Haymarket in Stockholm on Monday 21 November 1966. Two sides acted out a battle, wearing gas masks, and finally being killed by a large atombomb in aluminum foil. Other actions involved a demonstration of "starving" outside Parliament House, a "dead" girl in a cannula in the park and spraying the word "cancer" on tobacco advertising. A year later in September the movement buried itself publically in Haymarket but the conglomaration of young left-wing activists, students, beatniks and artists had tasted the power of protest. On December 20, 1967, there was a violent clash between the Vietnam protesters and police, who tried to prevent protesters from reaching the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm.  Demonstrations continued in March 1968 which resulted in the United States recalling its ambassador. On May 3 things violently got out of hand in the town of Båstad where demonstrators managed to stop a Davis Cup tennis match between Sweden and Rhodesia. Aimed against the apartheid regime a large crowd of demonstrators moved up shouting: "Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe!, Hasselquist is racist! Davidsson is a fascist!". A  massive police operation with fire engines and tear gas tried to break up the protest but eventually the whole event was cancelled and a relocated to France later that year. (About the event a documentary was made called ‘Den vita sporten’). Although the protest was condemned in the media the protesters got what they wanted when then Swedish Prime Minister Tage Erlander called for a debate with 59 youth organizations trying to get into peacefull conversation. In reality this came down to an attempt to convince the students of the governemental line.

That the students weren’t convinced became clear when in May 24 1968 protests against education reform called the UKAS resulted in the Kårhusockupationen at the university of Lund, Stockholm. Some socialist student organizations, including Clarte, KFML and the Left Youth, considered that with the measure the governement tried to control admittance the colleges, saving it only for the wealthy. Protestleader Anders Carlberg called the measure the “university equivalent of the industrial assembly line".  Education Minister Olof Palme arrived just before midnight on the second day of the occupation in order to participate in the debate. Palme wanted among other things, explain the importance of democracy and reformism. He was booed of campus. However, unlike other European countries the students did not get much support from the Workers Unions calling the left-wing leaders children of wealthy families anyway, and that the majority of the squatters were naive spoiled brats without much knowledge of the needs of the workers in the street. They seemed to have a point when on May 27 attempts to occupy  the Stockholm City Theatre, Concert Hall, Opera and Stockholm Central Station failed. Later that evening, the occupiers broke up voluntarily, after the police stopped food supply and the students got hungry. Circumstances stayed tense however throughout the rest of the year with the University's 300th anniversary in Lund was celebrated under high supervision by a massive police mobilization.

The student organization SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) was founded and Lund Cathedral became victim of demonstrations against a state visit from South Africa. Underground the Lund Anarchist Group was started in spring 1969 at Lund's book café. It published the journal Lund Free Press but became most known for starting to squat buildings under the name Allaktivisterna. In May 17 1969 they squatted  V. Mårtensgatan, a first in Europe. More buildings followed. Another campaign of the group was aimed against political psychiatry with an attack on the Forensic Psychiatry Clinic (RPK). In 1973 the group dissolved in the 'green wave’ going on in the Swedish political spectrum. Because by then the young Environmental Association, Friends of the Earth, the Green Party and Animal rights movement took care that environmental issues were permanently present in public debate. The women's movement (Gruppa 8) sought after the debate in the struggle against patriarchy and gender equality.

The impact in music

The environmental characteristics of the Swedish protest movement found its effect on Swedish music. The progressive music movement, or short "progg", found its origin in 1968. But unlike the general English definition of progressive rock these bands were focussed on experimental folk-oriented music and celebrating rural life. In an attempt to return to, preserve, revive, develop and modernize the Swedish folk music and language. Early performers of this new movement were International Harvester, Gunder Hägg and Hansson & Karlsson. This last act, around Bo Hansson (organ) and Jan Carlsson (drums) played instrumental psychedelic jazz rock and combined their improvisations with folkloristic themes. Guitarist Jimi Hendrix was so impressed that he joined them on the composition "Tax Free". But by 1968 the duo was already going their separate path. Leif Nylén, Torkel Rasmusson, Tore Berger and Mats G. Bengtsson were just starting out then. As Gorillaorkestern they performed for the first time at at the opening of the Andy Warhol exhibition at Moderna Museet in Stockholm in February 1968. In May 1968 the group began to transform from being an anarchist experimental pop group to one of the groups within the left movement of politically conscious lyrics. In doing so, the group changed its name to Gunder Hägg.
The album ‘Tigerkaka’ was released in 1969 on the new independent label MNW. Two more albums followed before the band changed their name into Blå Tåget finally to fall apart in 1974. Their protest song ‘Den ena handen vet vad den andra gör’ (One hand knows what the other is doing) would become a hit single for punkband Ebba Grön as the more political sounding ‘Staten & Kapitalet’ (The State and Capital) years later. A part of the band continued under the name Stockholm Norra and recorded one more album. That they kept their political nature shows the B-side "Den nyaste regeringen" (The latest government) to their Christmas single "Vad önskar du dig för nånting i julklapp?" . Established  in 1968 during the Kårhusockupationen in Lund the free theater group Nationalteatern turned into a progg-ensemble under guidance of Ulf Dageby and Anders Melander. Their 1970 debut album was mixture of leftwing political protest, Swedish folklore and music. In pacifistic nature of the movement the title of the album was ‘Ta det som ett löfte...ta det inte som ett hot’ (Take it as a promise...don’t take it as a threat). A second less political album followed before Ulf went solo.

The third key-band in this movement was the Hoola Bandoola Band (raised in 1970) around leading members Mikael Wiehe and Björn Afzelius. In 1971, they had their first radio hit and were immediately contacted by two record companies, one commercial and one alternative, MNW. Their choice  for the independent echoed on their debut album ‘Garanterat individuell’ (Guaranteed to be individual). On the second album their political socialist nature became even more evident as can be determined by the title ‘Vem kan man lita på?’ (Who can you trust?). The group formally dissolved in 1976. But by then the public opinion about the movement already turned a bit sour. The stubborn hang towards rural swedish life and language, left-wing politics and a dislike for anything commercial turned against them in a timeframe when ABBA won the ESC and disco started its glory days.  The schisma between progg and commercial music hardened

What happened next?

In 1975 a second protest was organized around a tennismatch in Båstad, this time aimed against the regime of Pinochet in Chile. But it had much less impact then the protest in 1968. In the same year Ulf Dageby appeared under the pseudonyme "Sillstryparn" at the Alternativfestival - an alternativ to the Eurovision song contest - performing ‘Doin the immoral schlagerfestival’. The song showed a profound contempt for the new popular music in Sweden, mainly represented by Stig Anderson and ABBA . He considered this kind of music to reduce the political awareness and unify the music to mass-consumtion pop , where the lyrics mostly consisted of innocuous themes such as love and not political protests. An article in Music magazine argued that all rock music  was reactionary and imperialistic because it was made in the United States. Dageby was also one of the main songwriters in the Tältprojektet (The Tent Project), a musical theater performance on the history of the Swedish working class, which toured the country the summer of 1977. The performances were seen by over 100 000 visitors, but became more of a grand finale than a revival of the musical progg movement. In the same year was the last musical folk festival in Gärdet around since the start of the progg movement.
You could say that by linking singing in Swedish so specifically to a political leftwing message they could well have caused the fact that a big portion of the Swedish pop-acts sang in English by 1980. Not only was it internationally marketable, it was also non-political and did not associate you with progg. Generally speaking progg suffered from a very negative legacy and the image of political dogmatism. They tried to hook up with the punk movement, being political in nature as well, but the sudden turn to rock was explained as a knee fall. The young generation did not care anymore and created their own magazines, record labels and gigs.

The turnaround came in 1985, ironically with an event where the two camps joined on stage. The initial idea was to organise another alternative protest against the ESC. Under influence of guitarist Dan Hylander, a person who was of later generation and already more active in both musical camps, Mikael Wiehe, Tomas Ledin and Tommy Rander changed the idea into a gala against apartheid in South Africa, the ANC gala in Gothenburg (Svensk rock mot apartheid ) held on 29 and 30 November. Earlier progg musicians performed together with young commercial artists like Eva Dahlgren, Per Gessle and Marie Fredriksson. The ANC gala can thus be seen as an end point of friction between the two camps. Olof Palme, now Prime Minister, even joined in closing the circle that started in 1968. The subsequent live-album and event raised twelve million Swedish Krone. The event also sparked a new interest in Swedish progg, also from outside Sweden (especially the Far East). A number of the old progg groups reunited for gigs before a whole new audience. It has also created a lot of new music groups that describe themselves as nyprogg . Examples of this group the Lost Generation, Dungen, Doktor Kosmos, Paatos and NAIRU .

The article 'Sweden in 1968' by David Jonassen for the Stockholm News overlaps with above info but has some deeper background on the musical spectrum in 1968 - 1969.