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Style leader no.48

It’s a herd life

Stefan Mikaelsson [SWEDEN]

This year the Sami Parliament of Sweden, a representative body of the Northern European indigenous people, celebrates its 20th anniversary. King Carl Gustaf may have attended the ceremonial opening but in the two decades since its inception there has been continuing conflict with the Swedish state over issues such as mining, farming and land ownership.

The Sami want visibility and recognition for their community, which has its traditions rooted in reindeer-herding. This struggle to be noticed does not, however, extend to clothing.

The striking garb is not worn by all of Sweden’s estimated 20,000 Sami population, nor by all 31 members of the Sami parliament, who are chosen in a general election every four years by Swedish Sami registered to vote. Yet, for Stefan Mikaelsson, who has served as president since 2009, it is so integral to his identity that it would be “impossible to attend a meeting without traditional clothing”.

The Sápmi homeland is spread across Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia’s Kola Peninsula, leaving the Sami scattered over four states. Yet they retain a powerful sense of being a single people. As Mikaelsson says: “My passport says I am a Swede but my heart says I am a Sami.”

Sami glam:

  1. A kolt collar (goahkka) and bib (gájraksliehppá) are made from fabric and white leather and are worn on ceremonial occasions. Subtle threads of colour indicate Mikaelsson’s gender and differentiate his Lule Sami origin from those of the other two groups of Sami in the Norden region – the South Sami and North Sami. Few elements of Mikaelsson’s attire reflect his prominent political status.

  2. The kolt (outer garment) that a male Lule Sami wears is called the gábdde and is not sold commercially. Instead, it is made from several tailored pieces by a female family member. They use traditional methods learned within the family home but occasionally modern materials – in this case, brown suede. Mikaelsson’s sister fashioned his gábdde.

  3. Trousers (sassnegálsoga), and shoes (tjátjega) are made from functional bark-tanned reindeer skin, a natural material that reveals the Sami’s close link with reindeer. There is limited differentiation in style on the grounds of prestige, wealth or class; this is an egalitarian society.


Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson

Foreign minister


Iceland has been drawing itself further away from its earlier ambitions to join the EU. Its new foreign minister explains why.

Why have talks been halted?
It was a mistake to enter negotiations in 2009. There was no consensus in parliament or in the wider nation. Since then, entry has become even less attractive.

Why is Iceland better off outside the EU?
Iceland’s recovery has come about because we can control our own resources and currency. Being tied to the euro would have prevented us from undertaking our most effective measures in achieving recovery.

Can Iceland still be in Europe without being a member of the EU?
We share European values but we disagree with the centralising ideology of the European Union, countries’ loss of control over their own finances and the lack of democratic participation.

A few good men


Italian politics has always been colourful. Quite aside from the travails of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, the country’s current electoral law has been dubbed a “pigsty” even by its author. But one of its more undemocratic aspects may do the nation a few favours.

The head of state is allowed to nominate a handful of senators for life to parliament, a throwback to the politics of ancient Rome. On paper, President Giorgio Napolitano’s recent picks should improve the quality of debate in the upper house.

Among his choices are an MIT-trained researcher, an orchestra conductor, a Nobel physicist and architect Renzo Piano.

Love trains

Czech Republic

Transport officials in Prague are keeping lonely hearts warm as the mercury dips. By the end of the year they plan to introduce train cabins that are designed for singles to meet one another.

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