Swedes are far more alive than Brits are to the possibility of Russia’s attack on Ukraine spreading: to the Baltic States initially, and then – via Gotland – to Sweden itself. They – ‘we’ when I’m there – are obviously much closer to Russia than the British and Americans are, and have a history of attacks and feared attacks from that quarter. Kajsa and I live some of our time on an island in the Stockholm Archipelago: ideal for quarantining from Covid, and so safer, we thought; but only a stone’s throw (metaphorically) from Latvia, and within easy range of Russian missiles. I don’t think our island was ever invaded in the great age of confrontation between Russia and the Nordics; but other islands nearby have histories of having been burned to the ground by Russian warships in the eighteenth century. (Lots of trees there; and nearly every house is built of wood.) More recently Soviet and Russian submarines have been detected swimming around sneakily between the islands, and Russian military aircraft flying overhead. Sweden is shipping military hardware to Gotland. Citizens are being advised on how to make their basements into bomb shelters; and how to stock up on food to withstand a siege. Kajsa has just bought a wind-up radio and mobile phone charger, in case the public electricity fails. And there are scores of articles in Dagens Nyheter and the other Swedish papers on the Ukraine war; just like in Britain, but with the crucial difference that it’s taken more personally and immediately in Scandinavia than it is there.
In connection with this, I thought that this short post on a blogsite I follow – Scandinavian Brits – was interesting enough to repost here (with permission from Garry Jones, its author and the excellent ‘administrator’ of the site). It’s addressed to us ‘Swenglish’. But of course it poses questions that might also need to be considered by stay-at-home Brits – if the Bear’s claws ever reach that far.
‘If Putin attacks Sweden did you know everyone in Sweden between 16 and 70 is to be placed under military orders and can be ordered to go and stand in the front line with a gun and attack the invaders? Not just Swedish citizens, it applies to everyone living here….
‘My thoughts are: if Sweden resisted Russia millions could be killed. Entire cities could be bombed to rubble.
‘The question “why bother?” has to be asked. Personally I’d rather be alive under a Putin controlled Sweden than die trying to stop him taking over. Then we could remain living in a Sweden without a lot of cities with blown up buildings and millions killed in bombing raids. It wouldn’t be very nice if Putin came and I wouldn’t cooperate. But I’d still be alive.
‘There are a lot of very brave men who have been killed in Ukraine fighting Russia. They have one thing in common; they’re all dead. Ask their widows, mothers and children if they think the sacrifice was worth it. What’s it all about?
‘Obviously it’s best if someone kills Putin.
‘But is trying to stop him taking over Sweden worth dying for?
‘However. History tells us thankfully Sweden is geographically irrelevant and strategically worthless. One reason for Sweden’s 220-year neutrality is their national avoidance of confrontations, but another reason is there is nothing of interest here.’
Well, that’s a comfort, for the Swedes.
This post attracted a lot of comment, which can be read on the original site (https://www.facebook.com/groups/scandinavianbrits). Personally, I instinctively resile against the argument being made here. Thinking back over the last World War: would I have been in favour of surrendering to Hitler on these grounds? (We could have been spared the deaths, and have recovered, pushed back and rebuilt, slowly.) But there is a kind of rationality about it; which needs to be confronted if we want – as I would – to take the more ‘heroic’ path.