Gustav Fridolin, Sweden’s Minister of Education, visited Budapest Tuesday in his capacity as an official with Sweden’s Green Party. He met with leaders of Politics Can Be Different (LMP) and shared with them Sweden’s experiences in strengthening public education. Fridolin held a joint press conference with LMP co-chair Bernadett Szél, who used the opportunity to promise that after the Hungarian general election on April 8, everyone working in education will get a raise. After the press conference, we caught up with Fridolin to get some answers to tough questions.
According to Hungarian state media, free speech and freedom of the press are under assault in your country.
I do not agree with that. Sweden values free press. As a minister, I can tell you there is very often a debate among citizens, various members of civil society, and of course with parties who have different opinions on what is happening in Sweden. And that’s how it should be.
The refugee issue in Sweden is portrayed in Hungary as a kind of doomsday apocalypse. If you read the pro-government press, you’re told murder, rape, theft is happening in Sweden on a large scale. If I asked you when you think Swedes are going to start asking for asylum in Hungary, what would you say?
It’s a question that is hard to understand because Sweden is a country that is very proud of giving refuge to those, for instance, who fled oppression in Hungary. I’m very happy to live in a country where people want to go and where people can get refuge after enduring war and oppression. I’m also happy to live in a country where most citizens have faith in the future. The Swedish population is actually growing, not only because of migration but also because Swedish families are having more kids.
Would you say such reports are false?
Of course you can find people with bad experiences from Sweden. You can find them everywhere. One of my government’s priorities is to fight crime, and I would hope that every government in Europe has that priority. But when you have that discussion, you will actually see that Sweden is one of the countries in the European Union where deadly violence is still very rare compared to most other European countries. It’s still horrific when it happens, and we need strong police to combat crime, just as in other countries, but deadly violence is rare.
Is the following statement true or very true: Viktor Orbán is to Christianity and Western civilization what Gustavus Adolphus is to Sweden.
I won’t answer that question because I am not here to make enemies. I’m here to make friends. I don’t want to be used in the kind of polemics that might be used later in a Hungarian debate.
I’m sure you’ve heard the media reports about our deputy prime minister’s hunting trip in Sweden. This is a weird story. Can you hunt reindeer in Sweden?
You can’t. So that would be a crime.
You have to ask the Swedish judicial experts, but in Sweden all reindeer are considered domesticated animals. This is something that is connected to the indigenous Sami people.
So we can liken this to Semjén shooting someone’s dog?
You have to ask the judicial experts what kind of crime this constitutes. I know it’s been reported in Swedish press that there has been a complaint made to the police from the Sami community.
If no action is taken against Mr Semjén for this alleged crime, can we expect Sweden to send its own deputy prime minister to Hungary to seek satisfaction with a Hungarian domesticated animal?
No. I understand the tone of humor in which you ask this question. For me, it’s important to note I am here as a Green Party official and I’m also a minister of government. So I will not comment on this subject beyond what I have read in the Swedish newspapers. This is an issue for the Swedish police.
On a serious note, can you say something positive about your trip to Hungary?
I was very happy to meet with people that are engaged in the fight for a better society. Hungary, as I’ve learned from the Swedish-Hungarian community, has a history of wanting to build a strong, democratic establishment.