Centralism. Gotland is Sweden’s biggest island, situated in the center of the Baltic Sea. The number of inhabitants is around 60 000. History is long and complexe, provoked by the island’s strategic location and rich agriculture. Today though, this isn’t of such a great help. Gotland’s most important sector is tourism. Agriculture and micro enterprises make up the rest, in competition with government and EU subsidies.
Now the Swedish government, once again, is letting the islanders down: ticket prices for the life line to Sweden’s mainland – the ferry boats – may go up by more than 30 per cent and the number of scheduled connections might be reduced. Tourism and economy will suffer as transportation prices rise.
Typical as a strong, centralist state conquers a region. In the case of Gotland the Swedish conquest took place in the 17th century. Earlier the island had been under Denmark, but now – with the Swedes – Gotland for the first time lost all its autonomy. In practice that meant that economy got under Stockholm control.
Since Swedish centralism is basically the same today as back then, most economic problems that Gotland suffers from have to be blamed on the central government. And now those people in Stockholm are backing off??! First they regulate Gotland’s economy to make it totally dependent on Sweden. By largely successful attempts to destroy the regional culture, the Swedish state also has diminished the uniqueness – and thereby the competitiveness – of Gotland.
After having conquered and destroyed the poor island, it will now simply be dumped.
So what’s the option? Well, to me it’s clear. Gotland has to force its way through to regain and develop the regional autonomy it once had, and so much could benefit from. By keeping some formal ties to Sweden, and simultanouesly position itself as an autonomous region, Gotland would have the freedom to develop economic and cultural ties in all directions. Hindering Swedish regulations could be forgot about, and the island could open up, fully using the potential of the European Union internal market.
Tough work, but a new era is what Gotland could head for. Will centralist Sweden ever allow it?
Anders L. Hansson