Hype and hope

I am Swedish. I live in Sweden. This country has not been involved in any wars after the year 1809. I think this could be an explanation for our naive belief in peaceful solutions to conflicts. If a majority of the people in a nation has no personal experience of war periods, for many generations, the tendency to think of conflicts in terms of military actions gradually disappears.

We’re nationalistic, as most other people, but seldom express our national pride in aggressive terms of dreams about military or economical domination (but this was a reality in this region, some centuries ago).

Yet, politicians and other prominent Swedes have sometimes acted in a manner that has given us a reputation of “putting their nose into every single thing on this planet”. This is because we have (delusional) dreams about domination on the field of ideas! We are proud of the Swedes who work and have worked for the UN, and of the other politicians and diplomats who have tried to solve conflicts and secure peace in countries far from our little corner of the world.

Another aspect of Swedish national culture, is a tendency to avoid showing strong emotions in public. This means we are (or were – this is changing) not likely to think it is or feels ‘natural’ to express grief, love or hate in public places – even less in organized official ceremonies. You can wonder if this is a result of a stoic ideal, an underdeveloped sense of dignity, a general and common shyness, or a cultural consensus to value only practical and sensible actions.

But, as I said, this is changing. When Prime minister Olof Palme was murdered on a street in Stockholm in 1986 (most likely by a certain drunk criminal who shot the wrong person and afterwards forgot what he had done), people cried openly, and laid flowers on the spot where he had died, and continues to do so today.

When the ferry “Estonia” sank in the Baltic sea in a storm 1994, 852 people died, many of them Swedes. The tragedy has been difficult to forget for those who were affected by it, so much time and money has been spent on monuments, commemoration ceremonies and investigations.

When 63 young people (most of them children to immigrants) died in a disco fire in Gothenburg 1998, the sidewalk outside the building looked like a worship place for several weeks, with flowers, candles, cards and things – and always people, together or alone.

When Foreign minister Anna Lindh was attacked and stabbed on September 10th 2003 by a mentally ill person following her in a department store in Stockholm, and she died the next morning, the reaction from people was strong. Again, flowers on the street, and people crying. In spite of her being a pragmatic politician, she was viewed as a saint, our good hope for the future, now lost. I think what happened here was similar to the British (and world-wide) reaction when Princess Diana died.

Still, I am not sure if these public expressions of grief (and anger) are a good thing. If it is our hope and innocence we are grieving for, maybe this is a necessary process. But, if it is organized or spontaneous mass hysteria, or hype, I think the world would be a better place without it.

In the cases when the tragedies are not natural disasters or accidents, but acts of violence from individuals or states, why should we pay the events – and the criminals – so much attention? They – their actions – do not deserve to be remembered with so serious ceremonies, do they? The victims deserve it, yes, but why – if life, peace and loving your neighbours as yourselves is what matters to you – make a point of remembering the last moments of the victims and how they died?