Swedish Press exclusive interview with Björn Lyrvall, Ambassador of Sweden to the United States
‘Sweden has an open, global outlook.’
In which areas do you feel Sweden currently contributes most globally?
In my role as ambassador, I see Sweden contributing globally in a great number of areas. We are very active on trade issues – Sweden is very dependent on foreign trade, it makes up half of our GDP – and economic growth is very important. I would also like to stress the work we’re doing in the area of innovation. We used to be one of the poorest countries in Europe but we have come so far and our work in research and development, as well as environmental issues, makes a significant contribution on the world stage.
How do you feel the image of Sweden is changing and developing internationally and in North America particularly?
In terms of the image of Sweden in the U.S., we have seen a determined effort to modernise the image and perception of our country. The old image was of a highly-taxed, freezing cold country up in the north but we are keen to promote it as the modern, environmentally conscious, innovative, globalized open society it is today.
The visit of President Obama to Sweden in September 2014 was a testimony to the dynamic relationship between our two countries and there was a large, very positive response in the media at the time. The U.S. media were very interested in looking at how we deal with certain societal issues and there was a wave of positive articles about Sweden at the time.
Of course the tall, blonde stereo-type persists and not everyone has realised that Sweden is a very multicultural society with an open, global outlook. Many people are surprised to find also that Swedes are not as shy and quiet as they expect – there is a new generation of Swedes with more experience abroad, more confidence and excellent language skills.
What aspects of Swedish culture and life are you personally most passionate about promoting?
There are so many great things to promote about Sweden but I am particularly passionate about art and culture, especially Swedish music because of its universality. We put on a large number of events and concerts here at House of Sweden – Timbuktu, the rap artist, and female jazz musicians have recently performed here. We also have a host of events linked to our theme for this year which is Earth and Space. We will have seminars and exhibits around mining, space-related projects, digital issues and the relocation of the city of Kiruna.
Are there any other current or upcoming projects you’d particularly like to mention?
Another important issue this year is gender equality. Our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström, recently announced that Sweden will be the world’s first country to pursue a feminist foreign policy, meaning all issues should be put into a gender context. The U.S. also takes over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council this year, so we will be discussing the pressing environmental issues in the Arctic Region.
The importance of innovation and development should be mentioned once again. 40% of Sweden’s GDP is from research and development; this is one of the highest percentages in the world. Americans aren’t always aware that highly successful companies such as Spotify and Skype are Swedish. We also want to highlight the many small companies making great strides in areas such as bio-science and green technology.