Sweden is one of the three countries that make up Scandinavia. It is slightly larger than the state of California, covering 173,731 square miles (449,964 square kilometers). The country stretches about 1,000 miles from its northern tip to its southern tip, and its coast is dotted with thousands of tiny islands.
Mountains form much of the northwest, but most of Sweden is relatively flat with some rolling hills. Many rivers flow from the mountains through the forests and into the Baltic Sea. Sweden is dotted with lakes, which provide ample water for the country. More than half of the land is forested. North of the Arctic Circle, winters are long and relatively cold, while summers are short and pleasant.
But summer’s midnight sun” makes the days long. Although Sweden is located far to the north, most of the country has a relatively temperate climate, moderated by the warm Gulf Stream. July temperatures in Stockholm average sixty-four degrees Fahrenheit. Sweden has been inhabited for nearly five thousand years and is the home of the Gothic peoples who battled the Roman Empire. In the ninth century, Rurik, a semi-legendary chief of the Swedes, is said to have founded Russia. Christianity was introduced in the 11th century and adopted by the monarchy.
During the 20th century, neutrality and nonalignment were cornerstones of Sweden’s foreign policy, keeping it out of both world wars and allowing it to transform its rather poor society into a prosperous social welfare state. The Social Democratic Party dominated politics and led every government until 1976 when its rule was interrupted until 1982. With the end of the Cold War and increased European Union in 1995, Sweden’s image as a peaceful, egalitarian society with relatively low crime was shaken in 1986 when Prime Minister Olof Palme was assassinated on the streets of Stockholm. Palme was succeeded by Ingvar Carlsson of the Social Democratic Party. After the rejection of his austerity package in 1990, Carlsson resigned and led a minority government until elections in 1991.
The new prime minister, Carl Bildt of the Moderate Party, formed a coalition government. Bildt’s administration concentrated on economic challenges and negotiated Sweden’s entry into the EU.