Notes on Swedish notes, part 1

Sweden is in the process of changing its cash, its notes and coins. The motivation is more secure notes, less easy to counterfeit. I do not think forgerers have much interest in Swedish money, when there is USD and Euro around. US dollars in cash are also in massive circulation around the globe. The new Swedish coins will be lighter and include no nickel and will be introduced in 2016.

Some of the new notes were introduced October 1, 2015, and the rest in 2016. The new notes were not publically discussed very much beforehand, and not now either. There are many that seem to be not too happy with them. In fact, I haven't heard anyone in private convos saying they like them. Many positively hate them. I really dislike most of them. Obviously, the new notes are arriving. There is nothing to be done about that, but this might interest the eventual English reader and also for posterity.

First I want to say that it is good that they still issue notes from the central bank, Riksbanken, which is one of the oldest banks in the world. Most money today is created by a private bank pushing the debt-button. There is also an ongoing propaganda war against cash. Cash is supposed to be a big problem, and all money should be electronic, and then there will be very little crime and no terrorists, they want us to believe. Every little transaction will wind up in databases, even if you just give your kids some pennies to buy candy or ice cream, or you buy some small stuff at a garage sale. A wonderful world, right? Centralised economic kill switches for any individual or organisation that is a nuisance. Excellent! I haven't seen anyone accuse cash for spreading lethal disease and viruses, but it will probably come too. Printing paper money probably causes climate change, too.

Anyway, this post is about the new bills, and mostly the choice of people on them. The previous/present ones labeled as "valid until" have Selma Lagerlöf, author; Jenny Lind, legendary opera singer; Carl Linneaus a.k.a. Carl von Linné, scientist; King Carl XI; and King Gustav Vasa. These are historical figures, with Lagerlöf being the most modern. The 20 kroner note is sometimes affectionately called a "Selma". Traditionally the face (if any) on notes have been that of kings, contemporary or historical, with the occasional scientist on the reverse side. Coins usually bear the face of the contemporary king, if any.

We had enough kings on notes, and if there aren't any, that is no big deal. When it really comes down to it, royalty represent themselves. Kings needs countries, countries do not need kings. There are other things, or individuals, that are better and more interesting representatives, imho. Sweden had very few queens in its history. The by far most famous is Kristina, and probably one of the most famous Swedes of all time. A very fascinating character, but since she abdicated and left the country, that makes her less than ideal. Ironically, while her father King Gustav II Adolf was the Lutheran Lion of the North, she converted to Catholicism, and moved to Rome.

I like the present choice of people for the notes, except the 1000 kroner with Gustav Vasa, Protestant douchebag that instigated hereditary kingship in Sweden. We've seen and heard enough of him already. In this discussion of notes, I do feel rather conservative. Or grumpy duffer as probably some of my friends would say. However, I am not very keen on royalty so I am not that sort of classic European conservative. 😉

The new notes have a rather odd selection of persons. The criteria for who was going to be on them are that they should be cultural personalities active in the 20th century, and that half of them should be women. These criteria seem to be pretty random.

The first criteria is not very good. People who died like ten years ago might now be idolized, but maybe later not seen as the best and brightest. That is one advantage of historical persons, they are so unfashionable they are good for any decade in this era. So why these criteria? As far as I have figured out the criteria were decided by the board of The Swedish Riksbank. My little hypothesis (which I suppose very few can test) is that the then vice President, Leif Pagrotsky, had some influence over this. He was among other things previously minister of business and culture (not at the same time). Very active in promoting Swedish contemporary culture, especially popular music. Whether the idea to have such comparatively contemporary faces on the bills is his, I do not know. I do feel this culture popularity idea is cheap, some of the new bills feel quite a bit like an ad. A very kind interpretation is the choice is due to some rather thoughtless trendiness. All in all, no more kings, but also no more science. The designs of the notes were decided upon through a competition, after the decision who to include on the notes was taken.

The second criteria is silly. I guess this is "feminism", to have a 50-50 proportion of women to men on the notes. That always means you do not know if they were chosen for their gender or for some other reason. It is also a decision on decoration preferences: "Let's have women faces to look at, and not just old men". This criteria feels extremely Swedish.

On the 20 kroner note, Astrid Lindgren has replaced Lagerlöf. Lindgren is probably the most read contemporary children's book author in the world. She is very idolized in Sweden. I, like everyone else in Sweden, have read many of her books and enjoyed films based on them. She was also a very good reader of her own books. She is not a bad choice, but why she should replace Selma, I do not understand. She is probably much more well known internationally, but I do not think that should be relevant. As for myself, why I do like Lindgren, I feel there is a sort of tiring worship around her. Furthermore, there is a lot of business around Lindgren. Selma is not merchandised, and her works are in the public domain, although that could of course change (as it already retroactively did once), due to the politics of copyright. In some sense Lagerlöf is part of the old establishment, although she was a pioneer in many ways; she was the first Swedish national and the first woman to recieve the Nobel Prize in Literature, and the first female member of the Swedish Academy. She fought for women's suffrage. Lindgren on the other hand was never member of the Swedish Academy, and maybe she was not interested either. The Academy is more old establishment, the copyright and merchandising regime is the newer establishment. The photo of Lindgren they have used is quite bad, too, leaning her face in her hand. The other day I got a new 20 note in my hands for the first time. The image of Lindgren is below par. Her face looks a bit swollen, not very like her, as she had rather thin features. An very bad rendition of her visage. Pathetic. The old note with Selma shows a powerful and dignified personality. The new one is shameful towards Lindgren, imo. Funny that the feminism has brought us from showing an upright "suffragette" to a motherish storytelling figure tilting her head in her hand.

The 50 kroner note will feature the composer, singer and author Evert Taube. I suspect he is rather unknown outside Sweden, although there are English translations of at least some of his songs. His music is very popular. Or used to be, younger people today probably recognise a song or two of him, but he hardly mean anything for most younger people. His music is viewed as very Swedish, but he got a lot of inspiration from his travels abroad as a young man, especially from his time in Argentina. His songs are in a way contemporary "folk" music in that many people have sang his songs in informal settings. It's infinitely more played, or used to be played, in, say, private parties, than in recordings and the like. Although Taube's songs have been recorded much, too. When I was young, his music was often played on the radio. Not so much anymore. I hardly listen to radio anymore, but even ten years ago you did not hear much Taube. If one wants a non-controversial very Swedish culture personality on a bank note, Taube is a good choice. The current note with Jenny Lind is really beautiful, and she is a legend. There are no recordings of her, so noone really knows how good she was. The picture of Taube on the 50 note is really nice.

The 100 kroner note will have the face of the actor Greta Garbo on it. That is just pathetic. Her connection to Sweden is rather weak. She lived almost the whole of her adult life in the USA. She is buried in Sweden, but that is not very relevant. This feels like bowing to the American film industry. Garbo is a legend, sort of, in big part because she abruptly ended filming after a 20 year career, starting in silent movies, and succesfully adapting to the sound. She is called the "Divine" (marketing speak), but honestly she never impressed me. I grew up with a lot of old American movies on teve, and Garbo never stood out for me, compared to e.g. Katherine Hepburn. Recently I watched some clips with Garbo, and I still cannot see what the fuss is all about. Very beautiful, but that's all. That is of course a matter of taste, but I still think it feels pretty meh to have an old Hollywood actress on a note. The image of Garbo is really beautiful, but sadly tilted backwards a bit, in old style movie fashion. Just looks passive. One motivation for the new faces is that they represent "cultural heritage". I can't see how Garbo (or Jenny Lind for that matter) "reflect Sweden’s cultural heritage". For that criteria, even ABBA would be better choice. Not that I would want ABBA on the notes. Heaven forbid. The Garbo notes come out next year so have not seen them IRL yet. Choosing Garbo makes The Swedish Riksbank look like it is run by Hollywood sockpuppets. Pathetic. On a last note(!), why chose Garbo over Ingrid Bergman? The latter a much better actor, a bigger and more contemporary star. Probably because Garbo is an icon. Bergman became with time very controversial in Hollywood. Recently I saw a new documentary about Bergman, Jag är Ingrid. It lacks in certain parts, but it gives some interesting insights into a fascinating life.

The 100 notes are the most common used note. Further insolence is added as Garbo replaces Carl Linneaus, a scientific giant, and one of the most famous Swedes ever. And the present 100 note shows him, an old guy in a wig. That is totally queer and totally now! He will be replaced by a female actor. Actors mostly follow instructions, by men. I really do not want to make some "feminist" argument here, but it is deeply ironic. Hollywood trumps state feminism?

I will continue in another post.