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Who are those people on your Swedish banknotes?

Who are those people depicted on your banknotes? Sweden may be on the road to becoming a cashless society, but there's still plenty you can learn just from looking at the money in your wallet.

Who are those people on your Swedish banknotes?
Central bank chief Stefan Ingves with Sweden's banknotes. Each one has its own story to tell. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

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Learning about Swedish history and culture can be as easy as looking in your wallet. Each banknote you carry has a story to tell about a famous figure from modern Swedish history on one side, and a geographical area of Sweden closely connected to his or her life on the other.

The six banknotes – ranging in value from 20 to 1000 kronor and released in two stages between in 2015 and 2016 – feature three women and three men who left an indelible impression not only on Swedish history, but world history as well. Learning a little about them might just help you feel more at home here in Sweden, not to mention make you sound very knowledgeable during fika small talk.

To get you started, I've put together a short history on the significance of each person and place, along with links to help you explore further on your own.

20 kronor – Writer Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002), Småland

Best known as the author of the Pippi Longstocking series of books, which have been translated into 70 languages, it might surprise some to learn that Astrid Lindgren was a prolific writer of dozens of other books for young people, as well as numerous plays, film scripts and songs. In addition, she wrote and advocated for children's rights and political and social issues in Sweden and abroad, including segregation in the United States.

Astrid Lindgren was born in Småland in south-eastern Sweden. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

In a 1958 article in Skolbiblioteket (The School Library) magazine, Lindgren wrote: “I want to write for a readership that can create miracles. Children create miracles when they read. That's why children need books.”

Lindgren flexed her political power to full effect in 1976 when she contributed a political masterpiece disguised as a fairy tale to Swedish newspaper Expressen entitled Pomperipossa i Monismania. Described as “a blistering attack on the Social Democratic government and its taxation policies”, it is credited with contributing to that party's government being voted out of power later that year.

On the flip side of Lindgren's banknote is the province of Småland, a nod to her birthplace, Näs, which is located near Vimmerby in Kalmar county. While young fans of Astrid Lindgren enjoy Astrid Lindgren's World theme park in Vimmerby, adults can appreciate the author at the nearby Astrid Lindgren's Näs culture center.

Astrid Lindgren in her living room in 1962. Photo: TT

50 kronor – Musician Evert Taube (1890-1976), Bohuslän

Born in Gothenburg, Bohuslän province, to a father who worked as a ship captain and lighthouse keeper, it's little surprise that the sea was an important influence on Swedish composer and musician Evert Taube. His travels as a merchant seaman in the early 1900s carried him around the world, including five years in South America, where he was so taken with the musical rhythms that he incorporated them into his own music.

Evert Taube travelled the world as a merchant seaman. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

On returning to Sweden, he helped popularize the tango in his home country with songs like Fritiof och Carmencita (1937). But it was as a musician of Swedish ballads that he gained his greatest popularity and respect. American scholar of Scandinavian literature Susan Brantly wrote, “Evert Taube belongs to Sweden's strong tradition of troubadours and is one of its best-known and loved representatives.”

Like several other Swedes featured on the country's banknotes, Taube applied his talent and influence to lobbying for social and political causes, with a particular passion for the environment. His 1971 song Änglamark, which he wrote for the Swedish film Äppelkriget, became the anthem for the Swedish environmental movement of the 1970s, and is today the name of a branded range of organic foods sold by Swedish supermarket chain Coop.

Evert Taube performing at Gröna Lund, Stockholm. Photo: Ragnhild Haarstad/TT

100 kronor – Actress Greta Garbo (1905-1990), Stockholm

A woman who needs little introduction, actress Greta Garbo was born in Stockholm as Greta Lovisa Gustafsson. It was under this name that she was discovered by MGM executive Louis B. Mayer when he saw her in the 1924 Swedish film, Gösta Berlings saga.

Greta Garbo, one of Sweden's most famous Hollywood stars. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

The film was based on the novel by another Swedish woman who has appeared on Swedish currency: Selma Lagerlöf (1858-1940). Published in 1891, Lagerlöf's debut novel launched a successful career that led to her becoming the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1909. As the first woman on a Swedish banknote, she was featured on the 20 kronor note from 1991 to 1995.

Although Garbo's Hollywood success meant that she spent much of her time in the United States and eventually became an American citizen, she was at her happiest and most comfortable when in Sweden. Writing to a friend in 1960, she wrote longingly: “I just think of how glorious it will be to come home. It will feel like coming out from a lovely bathe. Just imagine being able to walk about in peace, round all my old haunts.”

There are plenty of Garbo's “old haunts” still to be found in Sweden, including Stockholm's Grand Hotel and her summer villa on the island of Ingarö.

Greta Garbo on her way to New York with director Mauritz Stiller in 1925. Photo: TT

200 kronor – Film Director Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007), Gotland

The banknote featuring Ingmar Bergman, one of the most famous and influential filmmakers in cinematic history, highlights on its reverse the part of Sweden most closely associated with him: Gotland. Although born in Uppsala, Bergman loved the island of Fårö, where he lived, shot films like Through a Glass Darkly (1961), and ultimately died.

Ingmar Bergman featured on the 200 kronor note. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Bergman masterpieces like The Seventh Seal (1957), Scenes from a Marriage (1973), and Fanny and Alexander (1982), not only became famous internationally, they also greatly influenced individual directors and the film industry in general. In an article following Bergman's death, American film critic and Time magazine editor Richard Corliss wrote, “For a generation of budding cinephiles… Film was literature. Movies were art. And Bergman was the Shakespeare of the cinema.”

His life was not without controversy. While in Germany in 1934, he attended a Nazi rally, and later admitted he had admired Adolf Hitler. In 1976, he was charged by Swedish authorities with income tax evasion. Although the charges were quickly dropped, he left Sweden for several years to live in Norway and Germany. Despite these troubles, Bergman arranged the donation of his personal archives to the Swedish Film Institute, and the collection now forms the Ingmar Bergman Archives, which were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2007.

Ingmar Bergman in 1959. Photo: TT

500 kronor – Opera singer Birgit Nilsson (1918-2005), Skåne

Birgit Nilsson may not be the first female Swedish opera singer to appear on a Swedish banknote, but at 500 kronor, her monetary value far exceeds that of her predecessor, Jenny Lind (1820-1887), who appeared on the 50 kronor note from 1996 to 2003. Like Lind, Nilsson was a soprano who became world famous.

Opera singer Birgit Nilsson on Sweden's 500 kronor note. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Already famous in Sweden during the 1940s, Nilsson was launched onto the world stage in the early 1950s with her powerful voice and incredible clarity and stamina in the high registers. Her talent enabled her to tackle notoriously difficult dramatic roles and made her the leading Wagnerian soprano in the 1960s and 1970s. New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini wrote of Nilsson in 2006, “…it is almost impossible to convey what it was like to hear her in person. Even her recordings… do not do full justice to her singing.”

Born north of Malmö in Västra Karup, Nilsson also died in Skåne county – represented on the flip side of the banknote – in Bjärlöv near Kristianstad. The Birgit Nilsson Museum near Båstad is located at the farm where Nilsson grew up, and hosts events and concerts in the late spring and summer months.

Birgit Nilsson performing in Stockholm in 1972. Photo: Bert Mattsson/TT

1000 kronor – Economist and diplomat Dag Hammarskjöld (1905-1961), Lapland

In 1961, American President John F. Kennedy called Dag Hammarskjöld, “the greatest statesman of our century.” In 1953, at the age of 47, Hammarskjöld became the youngest person elected as Secretary-General of the United Nations. His untimely death in a suspicious plane crash in what is now Zambia on 18 September 1961, was a tragedy for Sweden and the world.

Dag Hammarskjöld was posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Born in Jönköping, he was a dedicated civil servant who was greatly respected for his diplomacy and peacemaking efforts, making him the ideal person for Sweden's highest-value banknote. His death occurred while he was attempting to mediate peace during the Congo Crisis, and his commitment to that and other peace efforts was lauded when he was posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1961.

The significance of Lapland on the reverse of Hammarskjöld's banknote is an ode to his love of hiking in the mountains of that province. It was one of the subjects he wrote about in his journal of reflections, in which he often compared his life to climbing a mountain. The journal, which spanned 36 years of his life, was discovered after his death and published in 1963 as Vägmärken (Markings). Among the many beautiful passages that could easily serve as his epitaph is this entry from 1950:

“We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny. But what we put into it is ours. He who wills adventure will experience it – according to the measure of his courage. He who wills sacrifice will be sacrificed – according to the measure of his purity of heart.”

So there you have it, in addition to history, culture and geography, your Swedish currency even offers a lesson in philosophy right at your fingertips.

Dag Hammarskjöld in the UN General Assembly in 1961. Photo: UPI/TT

Victoria Martínez is an American historical researcher, writer and author of three historical non-fiction books. She lives in Småland county, Sweden, with her Spanish husband and their two children.

Read more from her family and history column on The Local here.


For members


What to do if you can’t meet Tuesday’s Swedish tax declaration deadline

The deadline to submit your income tax declaration in Sweden falls on Tuesday May 2nd. Here's what to do if you haven't managed to get it together in time.

What to do if you can't meet Tuesday's Swedish tax declaration deadline

When exactly is the Swedish tax deadline and what help can I have to meet it? 

The deadline falls on the stroke of midnight on Tuesday May 2nd, so you still have a few hours to get your declaration together.

Sweden may have relatively high taxes, but the Swedish Tax Agency seeks to make paying them as easy as possible.

If you have any questions, it is well worth ringing the helpline on 0771-567 567.

Unlike the helplines of the tax offices in most other countries, the helpline is well-staffed with informed people who go out of their way to help you. 

The agency also has a good quide in English on how to file your return. 

What happens if you miss the deadline? 

If you fail to submit your declaration by midnight, you are at risk of having to pay a fee of 1,250 kronor, but this won’t necessarily happen. There is an element of discretion, and if you filed your return at 0.15am on May 3rd, you may well be let off. 

In any case, before the charge is taken out of your tax account or skattekonto, you will first receive a note informing you of possible impending late charge, which you can then appeal. 

So if you fell ill on May 2nd, or the internet broke down at your apartment at 11.55pm, you can inform them when you receive this note and you may be able to avoid a fine.  

If in a further three months (August 2nd), you still haven’t submitted your tax declaration, you risk a second 1,250 kronor fine. Finally, after five months (October 2nd), you risk a third fine of 1,250 kronor. 

How to get an extension if you are self-employed 

You can extend the deadline until May 16th by logging into your page on the Tax Agency’s website or calling them on 0771 567 567 (or +46 8 564 851 60 from outside Sweden).

To find the extension form, go to the Mina Sidor page on your Tax Agency account, press the Skatter och Deklarationer link near the bottom, and then press the Anstånd med inkomstdeklarationen link and filling in the form. 

Jan Janowski, a declaration coordinator at the agency, said that the agency prefers for people to do this than to knowingly submit an incomplete or inaccurate declaration. 

“We want people to live their declaration in as complete a form as possible, but if you are still waiting for some supporting documents we would like people to apply for an extension.” 

If you have an accountant, they can apply for all of their clients’ income declarations to be delayed until June 15th in a measure called byråanstånd, intended to help them with the last minute rush to declare.

This, however, has to be done for all of their clients and isn’t something they can do for you just because you are late. 

Is it better to file an incomplete declaration than a late one? 

If you feel unable to file your declaration even on May 16th, what’s holding you back is likely to be something like declaring capital gains tax on share or property sales, or confusion over calculating one of Sweden’s many tax deductions, such as the ROT or RUT deductions for cleaning or home maintenance. 

If you are employed, the most important element of your tax declaration – your income from your job – will already be filled in on the paper or online form.

Declaring your main income from employment is just a question of checking that the details Skatteverket already has are correct and submitting a declaration either using Skatteverket’s app, or by sending a text message including your personal identity number and signature code to 71144 from within Sweden, or by calling 020 567 100 and following the instructions. 

If you are still wading through spreadsheets of share sales, but have no issues with the Tax Agency’s record of your income from employment, you can make the declaration but inform the agency that you may have other capital gains or other income to declare later on. 

If you do this, it’s good to be as transparent as possible with the agency about what information you are waiting for when you make your declaration.

To do this, find the andra information, or “other information” section in the declaration, and write down, in either English or Swedish, what information you are waiting for. 

You could write, for instance: “I sold an apartment in Florida in 2022 but have yet to receive details of the proceeds and am waiting for my accountants in the US to calculate the capital gains.” 

If you do this, you are much less likely to be fined if the Tax Agency later discovers any undeclared gains. 

How long do you have to make changes to your tax declaration? 

Until the Tax Agency makes a tax decision, normally in June, you can resubmit your tax declaration using the same form on the website you used to declare it the first time, and the agency will use the most up-to-date declaration when calculating your taxes. 

Even after it has made a tax decision for an income year, the agency is liberal about any voluntary changes made in future. 

Once a declaration has been made, you can still request changes to the final tax decision based on new information or corrections you have made for up to five years. 

For the first 12 months after the end of the taxation year (IE, until January 2024), the tax agency will never levy a so-called tax surcharge (skattetilläg), even if one of its officers discovers that someone has failed to declare, or falsely declared, some earnings or income in your return. 

After the first 12 months, if you bring undeclared income or falsely claimed tax breaks voluntarily to the tax agency’s attention before the agency discovers it, you are also likely to avoid a surcharge. 

What happens if the agency catches you not declaring income or falsely claiming rebates? 

If you are caught evading taxes or make a mistake, the penalty is set quite high. You have to pay the tax you should have paid, plus a 40 percent surcharge.