Midsommar Night's Dream| June 27, 2011
This weekend, Sweden celebrated one of its biggest holidays of the year. Midsommar, a celebration of the summer solstice, is held on the last weekend of June across Scandanavia. Traditionally, the holiday is spent with family and friends, and is meant to bring the community togather in a celebration of summer and the longest day of the year. The main event is the raising of the maypole, and it is usually done a few days in advance. In Stockholm, the maypole is raised in Skansen, which I visited earlier this month. The maypole is then decorated with flowers, greenery, and ribbons. On Midsommar, everyone dresses in traditional costumes and they spend the day singing, dancing, and eating. One of the favorite regional dishes is a meal made of herring, potatoes, sour cream, and chives, finished off with fresh strawberries and washed down with either snaps or beer. The snaps are particularly important for Swedes. Usually, the host wills tart a drinking song, and at the end of the song, the host will yell "Skal", the invitation to toast. It is important to look everyone in the eye before drinking, though it is not required to drink the entire glass. In fact, it is often considered rude to do so before the end of the meal, though some prefer to drink the alcoholic beverage as a shot instead of a drink in favor of beer. This festival is seen as an excuse to enjoy the longer hours of sunlight, meet with people from the community, and enjoy the tastes of home-cooked meals. For Midsommar, I and some of the other interns from work went to a Swedish friend's house, where we enjoyed everything from cheese pies to strawberry cakes. We also had a barbecue, as the Swedes love to grill. At the end of the evening, according to tradition, some of the women went out to pick 9 different kinds of flowers, which they were to place under their pillows in the hopes of dreaming of their future husbands. I did not participate in this ritual in an effort to avoid putting that much pollen under my pillow, but many of the others did. The William and Mary intern from last summer had a friend who got ants in her bed from the same exercise, but thankfully, I don't think anyone at our party had that problem. It was a great evening and a wonderful opportunity to learn more about Swedish culture.
Now, I am back at work. We are working on some very interesting projects right now. Our team is producing a handbook for constitution building practitioners, and it is our task to construct a section with additional tools and a glossary for each chapter. In addition, we are working on the website by writing news articles about current constitutional issues around the globe and a database of other useful links to websites addressing constitution building and political processes. Our biggest project, however, is the writing of country profiles for the website. These profiles detail the constitutional histories, documents, and challenges for nations possessing constitutional charters, and they require not only significant research, but also a detailed examination of the resulting constitutions and the systems of government they produce. This is particularly interesting in the midst of what has been termed the "Arab Spring", in which many countries in the Middle East have been experiencing riots and popular protests advocating for democratic reforms. It is our job to track these changes and to examine what led to these uprisings, as well as the response of the government. In related news, the U.N. has tapped IDEA to aid in the constitution building process of Libya if Gaddafi steps down. This is a big opportunity for IDEA, and in recognition of this, it is being debated whether to move the Constitution Building team to the Hague. This presents some challenges for long term planning, but could mean increased recognition for IDEA's work in the field. With all this work ahead, I am looking forward to learning more about the constitution building process and how a single document can bring a nation together or rip it apart.