Swede vs. Swedish citizen

The Swedish flag

Today is National day of Sweden. In many places across the country, part of the celebration is a ceremonial welcome of new citizens. “New citizens”, “people who have become new citizens.” Now and then, however, you hear and read references to “new Swedes” being welcomed by their Swedish home municipalities.

“Swede” is more of a trait of ethnicity than that of citizenship. And there’s a clear distinction between the two. Citizenship is what you can choose. Ethnicity is what you’re born into. By choosing to associate myself with the country of Sweden and becoming a Swedish citizen, I cannot alter my ethnic origin.

Ethnicity has to do with belonging to a group (or several groups) of people of common descent, language, history, not necessarily bound by territorial constraints. Citizenship has to do with associating oneself with a group (or several groups) of people constituting a state, a country, united under a government and on a particular territory.

True story. I was born in Latvia to a Russian father and half Ukrainian, half Russian mother. Ethnically, I am Russian, but by citizenship, I associate myself with the country of Latvia. I do not call myself “Latvian”, which in my opinion signifies one’s cultural and linguistic upbringing, but rather “a Russian from Latvia”. Since late 2014, I hold double citizenship – of Sweden and Latvia. I will not start calling myself a Swede for the very same reason described above.

The word “nation” has the same roots as “nativity”. The Latin word nāscī means “to be born”. Naturally, nationality is closer to ethnicity than it is to citizenship (that is if my thoughts on the above two concepts which I am trying to explain in this post are correct). Nevertheless, “nationality” has gradually come to imply what country one is a citizen of, which is now the predominant connotation in the English language. In Russian, the word retains its original implication, which is why, when prompted, I sometimes take a second to realise what it is I am expected to state as my nationality.

Photo credit: The Swedish flag by Daniel Goude (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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