Sweden's first lesbian bishop consecrated in Uppsala
The Church of Sweden ordained a female pastor as the country's first openly homosexual bishop on Nov. 8, just weeks after approving gay marriages. Eva Brunne, 55, was consecrated as the Bishop of Stockholm in a ceremony at Uppsala Cathedral, just north of the Swedish capital, the Church of Sweden said in a statement. Along with Brunne, another female pastor, Tuulikki Koivunen Bylund, was ordained to take over as Bishop of Härnösand in northern Sweden. The ceremony marked the first time in the history of the Swedish Church that two women had been consecrated as bishops at the same time. Brunne is in a civil union partnership with another woman. Together they are the guardians of a 3-year-old child. The Church of Sweden, which was the state church until 2000, had backed the parliament's adoption of the gay marriage law, which took effect on May 1. But its synod only approved church weddings on October 22. Sweden, already a pioneer in giving same-sex couples the right to adopt children, becomes one of the first countries in the world to allow gays to marry in a major church. Around three-quarters of all Swedes are members of the Lutheran Church.

Medicinal culture?
Sweden will try “culture by prescription!” Doctors in southwestern Sweden will soon be able to prescribe cultural activities such as choir lessons or ceramics classes as part of a taxpayer-funded initiative to help reduce prolonged absences from work due to illness. On Monday, the Swedish government announced that health authorities in Skåne in southern Sweden will receive 500,000 SEK ($72,600) from the public purse to fund a pilot program called Kultur på recept (Culture by prescription). The one-year trial will be carried out at a health clinic in Helsingborg operated by Capio Citykliniken and offer patients access to cultural activities as a complement to their traditional treatment and rehabilitation. “We know that illnesses affect people in different ways and can lead to absences due to sickness of varying lengths of time,” said social security minister Cristina Husmark Pehrsson in a statement. “My hope is that culture by prescription can offer new insights into how culture, in a more pronounced way, can be a part of rehabilitation for extended absences due to illness.” Research has shown a positive relationship between participating in cultural activities and an individual’s health, according to the ministers of culture and health, who jointly presented the program. As the government searches for ways to reduce the number of Swedes on long-term sick leave, the idea of exploring how cultural activities may help improve people’s health received a positive reception from government officials. The culture by prescription trial will target patients suffering from low- and medium-grade depression, stress and anxiety, as well as those who have had back, shoulder or neck pains which have lasted more than three months.

Not so good, Sweden
Sweden has been severely criticized by a couple organizations for not abiding to a number of UN conventions. “There’s an image that Sweden is far ahead of others when it comes to human rights. That’s true is some areas. But if you scratch the surface things look different,” Sweden’s UN association spokesperson Pekka Johansson told Svenska Dagbladet (SvD). The Swedish government was first called to an investigation by the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva back in May. At the time, Sweden was criticized for an increasing number of hate crimes, which seldom resulted in criminal charges. Of 155 attacks against ethnic minorities in 2007, only five cases were eventually brought to trial. In addition, more hate crimes are Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, and homophobic, with an increasing amount of racist propaganda appearing on the Internet and in Swedish schools. As a remedy, Sweden ought to implement a ban on racist organizations, according to a report submitted to the Human Rights Council by Sweden's UN association and several other human rights organizations. Sweden is also criticized for failing to provide adequate healthcare and education to immigrants, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants, and for workplace and public transit discrimination against people with physical disabilities. The report also takes issue with Sweden’s commitment to gender equality and women’s rights, pointing out that sexually-related violence is on the rise, as are cases of workplace discrimination against women. Women with full time jobs were also found to earn about 20 percent less than men who have equivalent jobs. Other human rights failings, according to the report, include the ongoing discrimination of the Roma and Sami minorities in Sweden. “This is serious criticism. Especially striking is the increase in hate crimes and violence against women. Sweden has been criticized before and failed to act. Sweden ought to serve as a good example and we hope that our recommendations can contribute to an improvement,” said Linda Nordin Thorslund, the interim secretary general of Sweden’s UN association.

Dealing with winter
What to do when it’s dark when you get up, dark when you go to work and dark when you go home? It’s depressing, isn’t it? Many folks in Sweden are getting more and more tired and it’s difficult to get out of bed in the morning. Torbjörn Åkerstedt is a Professor at the Stressforskningsinstitutet at Stockholm University and Karolinska Institutet, and he has some tips on how to survive this, the darkest time of the year. “Sunlight is full of power, and even on a cloudy day, the sun’s power is strong,” he says. “Try to take a walk in the sun in the middle of the day,” he suggests. That will give you a boost of melatonin, a sort of sleep hormone that will kick in at night. Try not to sleep longer than normal, and it’s important to stick with the routines from summer. Also remember that a tough training session at the gym, however good, is not helpful for insomnia. “Better then to just take a walk after dinner,” says dietician Eva Kullenberg. In Stockholm there’s a light café called Iglo, founded in 2004, where you can sit down with a coffee or an Açai in a light room—perfect for chatting with friends. The light room is entirely white and very bright, and you spend one hour in it. The most common reaction to being in the light room is fatigue. The effect of feeling more awake and alert will often take place hours later—all depending on, of course, how much “light deficit” you suffer from. We’re far from Stockholm and Iglo, but according to Åkerstedt, there are some steps we can take when it comes to light. Åkerstedt recommends an alarm clock with a lamp that lights up gradually, making waking-up a more pleasant experience. Avoid too much lighting in the evening, however, or you’ll have problems falling asleep. And when you do sleep, make sure your room is dark, quiet and cool. For more information: www.iglo.se

“Fanny and Alexander” on stage
All right, so this time around it is actually “Fanny og Alexander,” because it is in Norwegian and not Swedish. Ingmar Bergman’s cinematic masterpiece from 1982 has been turned into a play showing at Nationaltheatret in Oslo, and it's a hit. Some 19,000 tickets have been sold. Friends of the film will recognize the splendor and colors in the Norwegian production, and the ascetic home of Bishop Vergérus (in the movie he was played by Jan Malmsjö; in Oslo he is played by Bjørn Skagestad), has been turned into a cabinet of terror where all doors close on creativity and feeling. Obviously “Fanny og Alexander” is a testament to Bergman’s love of artistic people, just as the film was. The house where the Ekdahl family lives is a world of magic, where all things can happen, just like a theater. The staged production in Oslo has captured this and made it into something great or, as our Norwegian neighbors would say, “kjempeflott.”