Sweden’s Big Government ‘Utopia’ Unmasked

The Kingdom of Sweden has been revered by supporters of big government around the world for decades, cited by statist college professors and policy makers everywhere. It started with the myth that its “socialist” system could simultaneously provide freedom, prosperity, and generous welfare benefits to all. But now, the illusion is beginning to crumble.

The Swedish government has become notorious worldwide in recent years: Its blatant and sometimes brutal suppression of religious freedom, educational liberty, and the traditional family is well known among Western nations. In 2003, the Justice Ministry investigated the Holy Bible for “hate speech.” A few years later, a Christian preacher was sentenced to jail for criticizing homosexuality. Last year, the government passed a law banning homeschooling and religious instruction in so-called free schools. All educational institutions will soon be teaching the government curriculum — including the notion that there is no difference between genders. Examples of the state run amok are near endless.

One recent tragedy exemplifies the government’s attitude: the internationally known case of the Johansson family. Almost two years ago, following years of harassment by the municipal social services, the Johansson family made plans to leave Sweden for good. The government had been pestering the parents about putting their young son, Domenic, into daycare. They refused. Later, instead of enrolling the young boy in government school, the parents decided to educate Domenic at home until they left for India, the mother’s homeland. Homeschooling was — despite draconian restrictions — still legal in Sweden, after all.

But as they were sitting on the plane, just minutes before takeoff, armed police stormed onboard and seized the then-seven-year-old boy. There was no warrant, no suspicion of physical abuse — just an angry social-service bureaucracy that couldn’t stand the thought of the Johansson family escaping its iron fist. After the family was torn apart over the education matter, the government also made an issue about the boy’s not having received all of his optional vaccines. On top of that, a pair of baby-tooth cavities the family had scheduled an appointment to treat in India were also later included in the allegations against them.

Now, years and countless court hearings later, the family is still separated. An appeal in Stockholm on May 11 drew some protesters and countless letters of support from advocates around the world, but the government won’t budge. The involvement of half-a-dozen high-profile organizations in Scandinavia and elsewhere on behalf of the family has not helped, either.

The parents were unable to attend the most recent hearing due to health concerns: The mother, Annie Johansson, was so traumatized by the tragedy that she’s been hospitalized at least six times since then. They worried that if they showed up and had any sort of breakdown, the government would use it as more evidence that they were not competent to parent their child. It was just as well they didn’t come: According to numerous attendees, the court proceeding was a charade. They were kicked out after ten minutes so the proceeding could continue behind closed doors. The Johansen’s were represented by an appointed court attorney, despite their protests.


Supporters of the family did come out. With time, more Swedish people are becoming aware of what is going on in their country, despite a virtual media blackout. As the clampdown accelerates, Swedes are speaking out. Jonas Himmelstrand, the president of the Swedish Home Education Association and the founder of the family-policy think tank Mireja Institute, has been traveling the world warning of the dangers of Swedish family and education policies. In the last year he’s been to Portugal, Belgium, Italy, Canada, Hungary, and more — sometimes invited by government. Soon he will be sounding the alarm at the United Nations in New York.

“You have to see [the attack on homeschooling] in the broader scope of the view of family in Sweden,” Himmelstrand told Crisis Magazine, citing the state daycare system that now cares for more than 90 percent of children older than 18 months. “Our government has basically taken on the role of child-rearing to a certain extent.” He also noted that Swedish schools are under heavy criticism for producing poor results, both socially and academically — which may lead more parents to discover how successful homeschooling actually is.

The Domenic Johansson case, while not unique in Sweden, has homeschoolers in particular very worried. “This is a case which seems incomprehensible to many Swedes,” Himmelstrand explained, noting that he understood why it would lead to protests. “It’s not the only case where the social authorities have done something which seems to lack all sense and all humanity.”

He said one of the most alarming elements of the Johansson case is that homeschooling and not attending daycare were used as a justification to seize the child in an earlier verdict. The government alleged it had somehow damaged the boy — a claim for which there is, “of course, absolutely no proof whatsoever,” Himmelstrand noted. “That’s the scary part: We have social authorities who cannot seem to understand sometimes what a healthy family is.” The whole case is “a tragedy” and something that is “very upsetting to Swedish homeschoolers,” Himmelstrand concluded.

Pro-freedom advocates in Sweden agree. And the case is indicative of a much more troubling trend. “I think the Domenic case very well illustrates the Swedish government attitude against individual freedom,” explained Joakim Fagerström, a father and the president of the liberty-minded Ludwig von Mises Institute in Sweden. “The reason for this is that it is very important to keep the kids in government-run schools, since this is where you put the foundation for our statist minds. Even the government in Sweden understands that they can’t just use pure force to make the citizens to do what they want –and that is why education is so important to form our kids to be statist to the core.”

Fagerström added that the long-term consequences of Sweden’s approach would not be good, noting that the quality of its government-run schools was getting worse every year. “I am afraid that this trend is accelerating,” he said. “Of course, our goal is to reverse this trend by educating people on the benefits of individual freedom.” That, as he freely admits, will be a long and tough process — especially considering Swedish society’s general apathy on issues of liberty.


But people who have had bad experiences with the social services are also speaking out. Daniel Hammarberg, for example, compiled a book called The Madhouse, which details some of the more outrageous and well-known scandals to rock Sweden, such as the Domenic case. “It definitely proves that the state considers children its property, especially when they seize the boy just as they’re about to leave,” he told Crisis. “It also shows that they don’t care about international law and verdicts from the European Court of Human Rights, which state that you can’t remove children just because you feel they’d be better off in another home.”

Asked about why the government pursued the Johansson family with such vigor, he said “a single intact family standing up and protesting might inspire the whole lot of society to follow them. So they have to make sure they get to indoctrinate every single child.” Like many others knowledgeable about the barely disguised “growing totalitarianism,” as Hammarberg put it, he also explained that government agencies are generally very suspicious of religious parents. “There’s a strong anti-religious atmosphere here,” he noted. The Johanssons, of course, call themselves devout Christians — a very rare phenomenon in secular Sweden.

Attorney Mike Donnelly, the director of international affairs for the U.S.-based Home School Legal Defense Association, has been one of the prominent American voices speaking out about the Johansson tragedy and the overall attack on homeschooling and educational liberty in Sweden. “The treatment Domenic Johansson and his family have received from Swedish authorities is deplorable,” he said. “As a government, Sweden should be ashamed. Its policies toward families and particularly homeschoolers are completely at odds with the values acknowledged by western democracies — specifically the right of parents to direct their children’s education.”

Donnelly referred to the nation’s “reprehensible” approach to education as “increasingly totalitarian.” He’s even ranked Sweden at or near the bottom internationally in terms of educational freedom, in the company of ruthless dictatorships like North Korea and communist China. The HSLDA is one of the organizations — along with the Alliance Defense Fund and others — involved in appealing the Johansson case to a European-level court.

The Domenic case and another similar tragedy where a family was ripped apart over homeschooling, combined with Sweden’s upcoming ban on alternative education, has provoked a furor overseas. The last Western country to try to ban home education was Nazi Germany. But even in the Nordic kingdom, where people traditionally have a great deal of trust in authorities, the consequences are beginning to show. Numerous families have already fled, going to places like Canada, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, among others. Many more will emigrate once the prohibition on homeschooling goes into effect this summer. Some are even seeking refugee status to avoid the growing persecution of homeschooling families.

Where the Swedish saga will end remains to be seen. Sweden has made some uneven moves toward liberty. The welfare state has been reduced in size and scope in many areas; just a few decades ago, the government even ran a fast-food chain. Some industries are gradually being privatized, too. But even though the immense tax burden has been declining over the last ten years, there’s still a long way to go. And in terms of religious and educational freedom, the trends are troubling.

Alex Newman


Alex Newman is the president of Liberty Sentinel Media, Inc., a small information consulting firm. He has a degree in journalism from the University of Florida and writes for several publications in the U.S. and abroad. Though born in America, he spent most of his life in Latin America and Europe.

  • Thanks for your support of an affected Swedish family. Here in Sweden this sort of case are often silenced.

  • Tony Esolen

    Thank you for this fine article. I’ve written about this case at the Mere Comments blogsite, a week or so ago, under the title “Distilled Evil.” I didn’t mention that it was Sweden — I linked to a discussion of the Johanssons — because I wanted people to assume that I was talking about a place like Iran, and then to be shocked when it turned out to be Sweden.

    There really is no other word that is adequate to describe what the Swedes have done here. It is pure evil. The people involved are guilty of kidnapping, and deserve — I’m speaking of retributive justice here — at the least a very long stay in prison, and at the worst, execution. Think of it. Kidnapping was a capital crime in colonial days here in America, but this crime is a great deal worse. It is kidnapping with intent to terrorize and beat into submission an entire class of people, namely Christian homeschoolers. It is no different than an act of civil war, as if the KKK were not only to burn crosses on the lawn of a black family, but kidnap the child to boot, and make a court case to justify it and to strike fear into the hearts of every black family in the nation.

    That, by the way, is what laws against terrorism are for. Instead we have “hate crime” legislation that proscribes feelings, passions, attitudes, and not criminal intents. If a man sets out to kill some member of a group, with clear intent to disperse or terrorize that group, then we are right to aggravate the punishment. That, of course, is what the Swedish government has done here, not by murder but by kidnapping. If the actors were motivated by irrational passions indulged in the heat of the moment, that would be a mitigating factor; but they have done it with all the cold inhumanity of a bureaucracy, which makes the evil all the worse.

  • Margaret

    Great article. Domenic’s family need all the support they can get. Please check out this blog: http://www.friendsofdomenic.blogspot.com
    and please consider signing their petition: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/return-dominic-johansson-to-his-parents/
    There is also a facebook goup with regular updates on the situation:
    Thank you

  • Trooper

    While I’m normally very opposed to international institutions and foreign meddling in national affairs it sounds like the U.N. and the E.U. need to go find out just what is going on over there.

    • I’m afraid the U.N. is moving the world in completely the wrong direction with the “Convention on the Rights of the Child,” which is really the state acquisition of the world’s children under the guise of child protection. I commented on what I personally find questionable with this convention at http://danielhammarberg.blogspot.com/2010/11/politically-incorrect-guide-to-un.html .

      Some of us here are attempting to enlist the oppositional forces of Europe in standing up to the Swedish child welfare policies though – hopefully when this summer is over, the efforts will have made headlines.

      The Alliance Defense Fund has a lawsuit going in the European Court of Human Rights, but those cases take years, and Domenic will almost be an adult by the time you can expect a verdict from the ECHR.

      I made a 20-minute video presentation on the state of child welfare here too, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHMxo4RB89s for that one.

      • Trooper

        Great videos you have made Daniel. Don’t get me wrong I think the U.N. is a horrible freedom stealing institution that would love to make serfs of us all but if its going to exist it should investigate Sweden and at least have something to show for all that tax money we keep giving it. How can a country just smash so many human rights and the U.N. does not dare to say something? Maybe this just proves the U.N. does not really care about human rights.

  • Pete

    Sweden is the poster boy for what the paper pushers in Brussels want to turn Europe into. This is the future folks. Swedish atheist socialist apparatchiks will decide that kid’s future and unless someone comes along with lots of cash and a negative publicity campaign against them, these guys will win.

    This family should have sought asylum in the Indian embassy.

  • Tony Esolen

    If you haven’t read Bryce Christensen’s book, Utopia against the Family, by all means find a copy. It was published in 1990, but all of its diagnoses still hold true — in fact, are more valid than ever.

    Where, I wonder, are all the proponents of “diversity” when we need them? Why is it a good thing to belong to a group of considerable epidermal variety, but a bad thing if those same people decide to educate their children in a variety of ways? Why should there be any single curriculum to be imposed upon children regardless of the family’s wishes, regardless of religion, and regardless of culture? Wouldn’t that effectively destroy the possibility of cultural diversity? Or are the people pushing this diversity liars?

    • Charles

      In the statist/anti-theist perspective diversity that serves to undermine, confuse and act as counter-weight to the Judeo-Christian culture they wish to ignore. Recall also Nietzsche’s message about the need to move from the slave morality, humility and servitude in Judeo-Christianity to the master morality that gives justification to the powerful. Diversity is not their end, but the means in which they wish to destroy the existing culture and replace it with their own.

      (Diversity is of course a laudable goal itself. It in fact instructs us of our humility and commonality, directing our senses beyond their earthly influences to our common Father. However, a weapon it is certainly not.)

    • Dana

      This is where a spirit of discernment is useful. Some people calling for diversity genuinely wish to see diversity preserved. Some people calling for diversity, however, use it as a pretext to push for more and more statism and corporatist totalitarianism.

      You can’t even be sure, when you’re talking about the “left,” that they all operate under the same ideology. Some are closer to libertarianism in ideology (these are usually the anarchists). Some are more statist. It troubles me to see libertarians and conservatives on an anti-liberal crusade when liberal ideals are not necessarily the problem. Sometimes what is called “liberalism,” even by liberals themselves, is statism disguising itself in liberal rhetoric. Sort of like what is so often called “conservatism” is, again, statism or even fascism wrapping itself in the conservative flag.

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  • Brad

    Does it strike anyone else as ironic that the Swedes love socialism/lite-marxism and yet they still tolerate a monarch’s presence? I am surprised the family escaped the guillotine, historically speaking. But then again, maybe after having read Animal Farm, the porcine committee-masters of the Swedish people realized if they let the humans (you know, those created in God’s image and likeness!) continue to live in the farmhouse, they can have handily realize all their post-modern a.k.a. post-Christian goals.

  • Kathryn

    People who are concerned about the above might be interested in Homescool Legal Defence Assoc.’s sister website http://www.parenthalrights.org

  • Michael Patrick

    Why don’t we hear about this from Pope Benedict and the Vatican? What about the bishops in Sweden? I presume there are at least some there aren’t there? Isn’t this a violation of the true meaning of Social Justice and the dignity of the human being that the Church so vigorously cries out against?

    • Isac

      We have one bishop in Sweden (the diocese of Stockholm covers the entire country) and he’s very orthodox and willing to defend Catholic values. Only the Catholics (and some other Christians) are listening, though…

  • If you’d like, you can also check out my book mentioned in the article – “The Madhouse: A critical study of Swedish society” – read a preview at http://books.google.com/books?id=k26ixCIpFfkC and purchase it at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/9197936219 and some other places. Also see the info page on my website at http://www.danielhammarberg.com/madhouse.htm . I cover child welfare for 80 pages in the almost 500-page tome.

  • Therese

    It appears that Sweden is hardly the friendly society they claim to be. What a frightening place to try to raise a family.

    The United States government is also in the business of busting up families and extracting daddy from the family. Every day the courts aid plaintiffs in divorce cases to oust the father from the family based on boogeyman lies of “abuse”. The plaintiff throws every false charge against the wall knowing one will stick because it’s the game to play in order to win custody of the children and $$$ for child support. The government courts wink and nod and daddy’s gone. After all, who needs the father anyway when you’ve grown tired of him and he’s such a nuisance?!

    • Dana

      They extract Mommy from the family too. That’s what the whole business of infant adoption is all about. And I’m afraid conservatives play into that game when they decide women are unfit to raise children if they are not married to the child’s father and have him living right there in the home.

      Leaving families the hell alone to do what they feel is best includes respecting true families in all the forms they take, even if it means dad sees the kids on the weekends and a few weeks in the summer.

      The allegations of abuse are not always lies, either.

  • Glenn M. Ricketts

    This article certainly depicts the “benign” totalitarianism which creeps up on you in the name of comprehensive social services. You really do want this, don’t you? No? Well, we’re going to provide it for you anyway. You’ll understand eventually, but if you still don’t , well, we know better. Unfortuately, I have to think there are legions of “social services” enthusiasts – lots of bureaucrats, of course, but many religious ones as well – who would read this piece with admiration and envy. For them, Sweden is the place to be, and they’d like to take us there.

  • The Association for Homeschooling has written letters to the Swedish embassy in South Africa as well as Swedish parliamentariers. You can read our letters on on our website as well as the website of the Swedish government at http://bit.ly/k9F5N6

    I have attempted to contact ms. Johanna Lind at the Swedish embassy to discuss the Johanssen case. I have left a message to call me back twice, but she has not called me back yet.

    It looks to me that the Johanssen case is becoming quite an embarrassment to the Swedish embassy in South Africa.

    • Paul

      Your letter to the embassy pointing out that Sweden was following in the footsteps of Nazis and Apartheid should raise some eyebrows at least I hope. We need to keep the pressure up globally for our persecuted brethren.

  • Graham Combs

    There is currently a vogue of Swedish crime and mystery writers. Stig Larssen and Henning Mankell are the most prominent. I’ve watched film and tv of both writers and wasn’t surprised by why they are popular with the enlightened and progressive — violence, transgressiveness, brutal hard-edged sex. But what also struck me was how downbeat and even depressive the characters are. Mankell’s Det. Wallander in particular. Most families are broken; there’s an almost hysterical quality to many. What truly surprised me was the portrayal of Swedish society as decadent and corrupt at the very highest levels whether it is involvement in the sex trade or murder or physical abuse. The Mankell WALLANDER series dvd included a early 1960s BBC news essay on Sweden, including the fact that sex education began at age seven. There is, I think, in Hollywood, in publishing, in the music industry a kind of subconscious moral awareness that erupts in unintended images and words and music. Yet despite this depiction of dysfunction and emotional misery and a sense of futility the author Henning Mankell insists that what Sweden needs is more of the same. That, somehow, if we apply socialism and progressiveism and sexual liberation with greater vigor and money, there will be different consequences. He is even shown at a progressive conference advocating this. Extraordinary. The irony is that even the advocates of a bright, godless, deconstructed future can no longer hide the failure of their ideas, except from themselves.

  • John Braintree

    Why doesn’t Sweden just fly the Soviet flag and be done?! Outrageous. It can certainly make no claim to being a free country!

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