Bravery and courage

But then Jonathan said it was something he must do, even if it was dangerous.
“Why?” I wondered.
“Otherwise you’re not a human being but just a piece of dirt” said Jonathan.

From The Brothers Lionheart (1973)

Astrid Lindgren was not only one of Sweden’s most prominent authors. She also became one of the most significant individuals to have influenced public opinion in her country.

Throughout her life she was constant in her reactions against injustice and oppression. Her commitment in standing up for children’s rights was established early. As far as politics was concerned, she was convinced as early as the thirties that she belonged with the social democrats.

In the United States

During the Second World War, she privately took a very strong stand against Nazism and Adolf Hitler. A few years after the War she travels to the US and in the book, Kati in America (1950), she passionately depicts the racially prejudiced politics which existed there. She uses the novel to take a definite stand for the blacks and allows Kati to mumble “hot little curses over my own race” after a visit to the black slums.

Astrid Lindgren and Expressen

During the 1970s, Astrid became a close friend of the author, Margareta Strömstedt, whose husband Bo was the cultural editor at Expressen(a daily newspaper). In 1976, Astrid wrote a big spread article for debate in the form of a fairytale to which she gave the name, Pomperipossa in Monismania. The article was a blistering attack on the Social Democratic government and its taxation policies. In the ensuing debate Astrid also articulated her criticism against the dictatorial power which in many people’s opinion was being wielded by the governing party.

“Astrid Lindgren enjoyed the controversy. She was spurred on by the positive reactions she received and realised that she could make a big difference even by writing thought-provoking articles”, says Bo Strömstedt, Expressen’s Chief Editor from 1977-1991.

For those in power, Astrid Lindgren became the superior opponent in that debate. It had not been her intention, but her articles contributed – together with the film director Ingmar Bergman’s farewell letter to Sweden, which was also published in the evening paper Expressen – to the downfall of the Social Democratic government in the elections that same year. The articles also led to a long-term working relationship between Astrid Lindgren and Expressen.

One debate after another

In 1980, the next big politically controversial issue arose in Sweden: the referendum concerning nuclear power. Astrid Lindgren became one of the most prominent supporters of the ‘No’ side.

In the autumn of 1985, she entered into a new debate – this time the subject was Swedish animal-treatment policies. She wrote quite a number of articles in Expressen, which raised people’s awareness of how badly pigs, cattle, chickens and other domestic animals were treated in Sweden. The subject was understandably close to Astrid’s heart, being a country lass, and all. Her articles have been assembled into the book, Min ko vill ha roligt (1990).

When Astrid turned 80 she was presented with a new animal protection law by Ingvar Carlsson who, at that time, was Prime Minister and leader of the Social Democrats. The law was called Lex Lindgren, but by the time it came into force it had been watered down in several important areas. “Am I supposed to be flattered to have had this law, which in its present state is toothless, named after me?”, Astrid asked in one of her articles in March 1988.

Unbeatable trendsetter

Many individuals and organisations have over the years sought Astrid Lindgren’s support in campaigning to change public opinion on a range of issues. This was a reflection of the type of power which emanated from her during her lifetime. As a public trendsetter she was unbeatable, but there are also numerous examples of how she supported individuals behind the scenes and helped them get fair treatment in an unfair world.

In Astrid Lindgren’s life and work, one thing stands out more than anything else: her battle for every child’s right to love and security. This line of thought permeates just about her entire production.

When Astrid received the German Book Traders’ Peace Prize in 1978, her acceptance speech was more of an urgent message: “Never violence!”

In that speech, which is relevant to a number of today’s burning issues, she passionately confronts violence, corporal punishment and oppressive methods used in raising children. In Germany the speech was considered very controversial and it was not until Astrid threatened to refuse the prize, that she got permission to give the speech at the prize-giving ceremony. The following year a law was passed in Sweden forbidding corporal punishment of children.

Ingvar Carlsson visiting Astrid’s home in connection with the new animal protection law. © Bengt Dahlstedt, ScanpixAstrid Lindgren as "Pomperipossa", 1976. © Per Kagrell, ScanpixThe Minister for Finance, Gunnar Sträng reading Astrid Lindgren’s article about “Pomperipossa” © Sven-Erik Sjöberg, ScanpixBo Strömstedt, Chief Editor of Expressen (one of Sweden’s largest evening papers) © Kenneth Jonasson, Expressen