II. Juxtaposing Temporal Structures

The Storyteller: One day the farm was the most egalitarian of all. It wasn't like that before the "model for a small farm" began to develop. The animals thought that if everyone is equal then welfare was built according to the principle ‘everyone should participate’, regardless of what type of animal you were and where on the farm you lived. All the animals paid taxes without much fuss, even the pigs - although they probably thought they could pay a little less tax. [...] The small farm, and the work to develop a »model for a small farm« was quite simply unique in the whole big wide world. (Dahlqvist 2018, our translation)

The text material in Död åt välfärdsstaten was drawn from two different sources; political speeches by Swedish politicians and George Orwell's novel Animal Farm. The political speeches were structured chronologically from the 1920s until the present day so as to bring forth the ideological developments over time. The performance was divided into five broad periods, each addressing what we had identified as a specific ideological time in Swedish political life; the birth of the welfare state (Part 1, ex. 1-1, 1-2 and 1-3), Sweden as the ‘most equal’ nation in the world (Part 2, ex. 2-1, 2-2 and 2-3), Sweden's prime minister shot dead (Part 3, ex. 3-1, 3-2 and 3-3), a neoliberal agenda against the welfare state (Part 4, ex. 4-1 and 4-2), and finally, the use of leftist concepts by liberal and conservative politicians (Part 5, ex. 5-1 and 5-2).

The first part covered what we recognised as the social democratic era in Swedish politics, where the party governed Sweden for almost fifty years. The beginning of the performance was inspired by speeches from early 20th century social democrats and the party's posters from various national elections. The social democratic leaders were advocating the concept of “folkhemmet” – a middle way between socialism and capitalism with major social reforms where the state ensured that ordinary people could live in social and economic security. In the late sixties, social democracy in Sweden became internationally known, when the prime minister Olof Palme commented on the war in Vietnam and other international crises. 

In 1976 the social democratic hegemony in Sweden was broken. The party lost the election for the first time since the 1930s. They also narrowly lost the next general election, in 1979, but returned to power with a thin margin three years later. In 1982, much was at stake. During a televised debate Olof Palme gave a famous speech addressing the core of the ideology: 


I am a democratic socialist with pride and joy. I became so when I travelled around India and saw the terrible poverty while some were extremely rich, when I saw an even more degrading poverty, in a way, in the United States, when I at a very young age stood eye to eye with communism's lack of freedom and the oppression and human persecution in the communist states. (and) [w]hen I got to the Nazi concentration camp and got to see the death lists of social democrats and labour unionists. (Palme 1982, our translation)


However, even though Sweden was said to be the most equal nation in the world and that Palme’s speech echoed past times, the social democratic party had to choose a new path to stay in power. They had been so successful in representing and improving material conditions of the working class that many of these voters now had become the emerging middle class. At a time when the success of Swedish society had been to focus on the collective, people were now also starting to want to be better off individually. Why pay such high taxes if one doesn't get anything back? 

In the third part Olof Palme gets killed after a visit to the cinema – a crime that has not been solved to this day. After that, the political and societal climate changed. There was an economic crisis, which led to the public sector starting to be seen as being too costly and this led the way for a revision of how much of the welfare system the state could pay for.  

The fourth part deals with the emerging neoliberal agenda in Sweden. Fredrik Reinfeldt, who would later become the Swedish prime minister, was still a young aspiring politician then. He wrote the book Det sovande folket [The sleeping people] (1993) in which he claimed that welfare systems pacify people. He argued for getting rid of the welfare system altogether, not on economic terms but on ideological ones. In his book he instead advocates for big tax cuts and to reduce what he saw as the state's interference in the media, education, legislation and culture. 

In the last part, Reinfeldt has a more conciliatory view of society, and as prime minister he became remembered as the liberal conservative politician who stood up to xenophobia. In a famous speech he spoke of the need for Swedes to open their hearts and accept migrants trying to get away from the war zone in Syria. In the last speech Jan Björklund, the leader of the liberal party, talked about ‘economic classes’ echoing the social democracy of the middle of the 20th century, but now with a more individualistic approach. By presenting discourses which extend over a long time we were able to portray how Swedish society had slowly turned away from a collective ideal towards a more individual one. In contemporary political ideology the solutions to social issues are not presumed to come through reforms, but rather through lowering taxes and by reducing the welfare systems. 

A challenge was how to transform all this discourse into a narrative. First of all, Marie-Laure Ryan reminds that narrative is not one thing, it could be explored with different lenses to understand cognition or how humans interact with each other in social settings. An existential understanding explains how humans use narrative to deal with “time, destiny and mortality, to create and project identities, and to situate themselves as embodied individuals in a world populated by similarly embodied subjects” (Ryan 2004, p. 2). To be recognized as a narrative certain features need to be fulfilled; it needs to create a world that is populated with characters. The world must undergo change which creates temporality. Goals and intentions need to be recognised and be possible to interpret to give coherence and turn the narrative into a plot (ibid., p. 8–9). 

To achieve this, George Orwell's fable Animal Farm was added to complement the political discourse. In Orwell's novel, the animals take over a farm after a rebellion against the farmer. The farm is ruled by the pigs and the injustices that existed before the farmer disappeared are coming back. The animals get on well at first, but the leadership of the farm turns into dictatorship. No one remembers what it was like before the rebellion, but the animals realise something is wrong when one of the pigs finally turns into a human. 

In our performance we used the same narrative, and decided which characters corresponded to the animals in the novel. The main characters were given different animals as avatars: the social democrat Olof Palme was portrayed as a dog, the conservative politician Fredrik Reinfeldt became a pig, and the liberal Jan Björklund became a pig who had become human, just as in Orwell’s novel. 

To be able to use the fable, we had to adapt the story somewhat so it would fit our purpose. Each section started with a storyteller giving an introduction to the fable. Then we needed to find situations where the different animals could quote the political speeches. The speeches were also adapted so they would fit the animal, and have the right connotations to the fable. Olof Palme’s speech, as described above, was performed by the dog (ex. part 1-3)


The Dog: I am a democratic dog and I am so with pride and joy. [...] And I became so when I saw the terrible poverty among the horses while some were exceedingly rich, when I saw an even more degrading poverty, in a way, among the pigs, when I stood eye to eye with the hens at a very young age and saw their lack of freedom, their oppression and persecution. (Dahlqvist 2018, our translation)


Doing this helped us to show the political considerations that became evident when researching how the speeches changed ideologically. 

We also introduced animals that could represent the ‘common man’. These animals expressed the change from collective solidarity to individuality which took place in Swedish society during the 80’s and 90’s (ex. part 2-2). 


The Horse: I had to be out in the woods and plant trees and at least it was outdoors. And they said I could run around and bark at the birds and chase rabbits but I’m a horse. I don’t like barking and chasing rabbits. I voted for the dogs but now I'm thinking of voting for the pigs instead. My foals want to choose their school themselves. They want to go where they can learn dressage and to jump high and maybe work with the media and television. The dogs have not done anything, so I think I'll vote for the pigs instead. And then it is this thing with the taxes. The pigs want lower taxes I’ve heard. (Ibid.) 


The use of Orwell's novel also helped us to find a way of portraying the hatred towards Olof Palme that was voiced by groups before he was shot dead in 1986. To express this hate, one pig is paraphrasing the addition to the seven commandments of animalism which the pigs in the novel had dictated (ex. part 3-1): 


The Pig: All animals that snarl and bark are enemies. All animals that wag their tails and lift their legs to pee against lampposts are enemies. All animals that say woof woof are enemies. (Ibid.) 


Using different animals also made it possible to use documentary material (ex. part 4-1). When doing research for the performance, a tv interview with Fredrik Reinfeldt appeared where his ideas are discussed: 


The Owl: So you’re saying that the welfare state pacifies all animals?’

The Pig: Yes, basically I mean that, yes. Basically, I mean death to the welfare state.



When he later became prime minister, he and his political confidants in the right-wing party used social democratic semantics – rebranding tax cuts as labour deductions and using the term labour party to describe themselves – to sell a more neoliberal agenda and the dismantling of the welfare state to the Swedish citizens.

By using the different animals as various political figures from across the ideological spectrum it became possible to juxtapose political discourse with an existential narrative. To make it even more clear, this was also done in the script: 


Part 1. The birth of the welfare state | 1928 – 1982

Part 2. Everyone is equal… | 1982 – 1986

Part 3. Death to the Dog | 1986-1991

Part 4. Death to the welfare state | 1991-2014

Part 5. … but some are more equal than others | 2016-2018



The headlines of each part clearly expressed the temporal, ideological and existential content to make it possible for all the artists to see how the performance was structured. Also, the different temporalities in the performance enabled us to create a dramaturgy that allowed the narrative to move between different art forms and media. 

The Story of the Most Egalitarian Farm in the Whole Village (In Swedish)

Existential Perspectives

PART 2-1

In the performance, the ambition was to relate different politicians with specific animals. This allowed us to use the animals in a more varied way. In this section the dog (at a young age) is portrayed by the actor and the dancer simultaneously.

PART 2-2

Sound bites from the actual and fictive political speeches are processed and used as sonic textures. These also accompany the movements. An example could be found in the section where the animals who are disappointed with the political agenda, start voicing their hesitation towards the pursued politics. All these complaints transform into the sound of an angry mob, where overlapping shouting voices add to the noise.

PART 2-3

When the sound of the in the previous section ends, a contrasting, an image follows where all the animals are presented on stage. This image transforms into a choreographed scene which plays with the behaviour of a dog, where it seems the dog can’t help to chase the ball that has emerged.