Inledningsanförande av Alice Bah Kuhnke på International Society for Third Sector Researchs internationella konferens (på engelska)

Stockholm, 29 juni 2016.
Det talade ordet gäller.

Dear friends, as the minister of Culture and Democracy and on behalf of the Swedish government, I am honored to welcome you to Sweden and to Stockholm for the 12th international conference of the International Society for Third Sector Research, which is taking place in a Nordic country for the very first time.

Apart from everything the conference has to offer, I am happy that you are here at such a wonderful time of year, which must surely enhance your enjoyment of the visit.

Now, allow me some pride in stating that this small country of Sweden has a long history of research in many fields and that we hold a position as a research nation. Since the beginning of the 1990s civil society has increasingly been the main concern for a number of academic institutions, among them of course your host for this conference, the Institute for Civil Society Studies at Ersta Sköndal University College.

This is very important, as the contributions of civil society, and the role it played in our society, was for a long time overlooked. My opinion is that this has changed, for the benefit of all of society.

Swedish civil society organizations, foundations and representatives have been deeply involved in and contributed enormously to the creation of this conference, as, I might add, has the Swedish government. It has been carried out in a spirit of cooperation, which we value a lot.

Given this context, in what way can Sweden and Stockholm be of interest to all of you researchers from other countries? Well, we also tend to be proud of the fact that Swedish civil society stands out in international comparison both in terms of number of membership associations and share of active citizens among the population.

The civil society has built our society. Most decision-makers in Swedish politics have some background in civil society – including myself.

We also have a quite low degree of professional staff and a focus as much on voice as on service, in our civil society.

And here I take the opportunity to stress the Government's view of civil society as a pluralistic political and ideological arena where individual opinions, religious beliefs and political positions can be formulated and developed, and get the chance of being expressed in action. This is a fundamental part of any real democracy.

But let me at the same time underline that the possibilities and limitations on civil society in relation to the state as well as to the other spheres of society are not carved in stone. Nor can it, in any simple way, once and for all be defined. It is changing, since our societies change.

In Sweden recently we have seen how civil society adapts quickly to changing situations. Last year the number of asylum seekers in Sweden increased dramatically, from 81 000 in 2014 to nearly 163 000 in 2015. Only during October and November, nearly 76 000 persons applied for asylum. This was a challenge for our structures.

In the efforts of central and local government to master the situation we are deeply impressed and dependent of the important support of organized civil society as well as the great amount of spontaneous individual input, both with regard to first reception and the more long-term work of integration and inclusion. But here we still have a lot to learn, not least from the experiences of other countries.

One important lesson that we've learnt during these times, is how important it is with strong voices from civil society. I mentioned this earlier, but I want to make sure you heard me – we want a civil society that challenges the Government to do more, to do better. We want their strong critical voices. When other countries want to silence civil society when they raise their voices, we invite them to the table. It is what any responsible Government should do – in my opinion.

Finally, of course in order for us politicians to make better decisions on regulations for civil society, the dialogue between research, civil society and the public sector are necessary. In this way this conference is contributing to the creation and strengthening of contacts between academia and practice, which we believe to be value to all involved.

Thank you.