Scene from the play "The Sleeping People" and a portrait of Fredrik Reinfeldt from 1996. Photos: Teater Alma and LEIF R JANSSON/PICA/Scanpix
political theatre

Young Reinfeldt's dystopia takes to the stage

5:58 min

A political pamphlet written 20 years ago by the man who is now Sweden's Prime Minister has found a new audience thanks to a young theatre group that has made a play out of it. They claim this is the true ideology of Prime Minister Reinfeldt and his party - and they want to perform it all the way to election day next year.

"Swedes are mentally disabled and indoctrinated to believe that politicians can create and guarantee welfare", reads a quote from Reinfeldt's book "The Sleeping People", on which the eponymous play is based. Reinfeldt wrote the book when he was 28-years-old, the leader of the youth branch of the conservative Moderate party, and a newly elected MP.

In an interview with Swedish Television at the time he talked about the book, criticising politicians for fooling people with their promises, when instead they ought to tell people to pull themselves together, work, not claim benefits and not assume that someone else is going to do it for them.

In one part of the book, he describes a future in the welfare society Sweden, where there are two kinds of people: the crazy ones, who work like mad in order to pay for taxes and benefits for others, but who never get anything back, and "the sleepy heads" who are passively waiting for benefits to come their way, and who eventually will die what he calls the "welfare death".

Johanna Emanuelsson is the scriptwriter in the group that has now adapted the book into a play. She says the blunt message of the book lives on in the Moderate Party policies today.

"A lot of the things that he has done or his party has done in this country are ideas from the book, but he does not talk with the same language today, that he did 20 years ago. It's almost like Thatcher - very neo-liberal ideas. And I think that they are practicing that kind of politics today, but they are just not talking in that way," she says.

Reinfeldt himself has refused to comment on the play, and the party says that the book and its wording can be put down to sins of youth. But Johanna Emanuelsson does not accept the explanation.

"He was not that young when he wrote it. He was 28. I am 27-years-old," she says.

Johanna Emanuelsson says adapting the book into a theatrical play wasn't easy, partly because she felt the book was badly written and partly because the group wanted to avoid having the audience laugh at what they saw as plain absurdities.

In order to emphasise the seriousness, the play also includes two homeless guys, whose real-life stories are used as a contrast to the language of the political pamphlet.

The play has already been running for a couple of weeks in Stockholm, but the group is hoping to take it on tour around the country. Their aim is to continue all the way up to the election next year.

This interest in political theatre is something Johanna Emanuelsson feels she shares with many young people today. "The last few years I have seen a lot of performances and artists that are really trying to get a political debate going. So I think that is something that is coming more and more," she says.

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