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Quick Draw: Did Astrid Lindgren bring down the Swedish Government?

Read Monday, 1 May 2017

In ‘Quick Draw’, Sophie Quick gives short-and-sweet answers to obscure literary questions you never actually asked.

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Photograph of Swedish children's author Astrid Lindgren
<a href=””>via Wikimedia Commons</a>

Wild, eccentric and superhumanly strong – Pippi Longstocking could pick up her horse with one hand. But could her creator, Astrid Lindgren, pick up the whole Swedish Social Democratic Party (SAP) and fling it into the dark, mossy Scandinavian political wilderness?

In a strange social democrat own-goal saga, Lindgren did play a role in ending the decades-long rule of the party in the 1970s.

The SAP was in government during Sweden’s post-war period and, during this time of social consensus and prosperity, established Sweden’s famously generous welfare state. Lindgren’s first Pippi Longstocking book was published in 1945 and the extreme popularity of the series (both in Sweden and elsewhere – the books were translated into dozens of languages during the 1940s and 1950s) coincided with the party’s long reign. Pippi hurled pirates across rooms, thwarted police, horrified adults and generated industrial levels of sass, while Lindgren got very rich and dutifully paid her taxes.

This was all fine with Lindgren – civic-minded, tax-loving Swede that she was – but by 1976 the Swedish tax system had gone bananas and Lindgren’s marginal tax rate was 102%. This was madness to Lindgren, who felt she might be allowed to keep some of her own income, and she wrote a blistering satirical attack on the government for a daily newspaper. This led to a noisy public debate on Sweden’s tax laws, then the defeat of the Swedish Social Democratic Party in the 1976 election after 44 years in government. (Lindgren herself reportedly supported the party until her death, though.)

In hindsight, the whole thing seems inevitable. Pippi Longstocking was an ill-fitting national symbol in a period of solemn social contracts – her popularity was always going to bring things undone eventually. She was, if not an actual anarchist, at least an outrageous fabulist and a harbourer of unregistered monkeys.

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