Sweden isn’t Norway, and relations between the two countries aren’t as sisterly as outsiders might assume. But of course there’s wall-to-wall coverage of recent events here – 27 pages of Saturday’s Expressen, and SVT2 relaying NRK’s live reporting 24 hours a day – and immense sympathy. From pictures of it, Utøya could well be an island in the Stockholm Archipelago, like the one I’m writing from now. There’s enormous admiration in Sweden for the way the Norwegian prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, has responded to the atrocity. Also, the reluctance of the authorities and local media to jump to the conclusion that it was the work of Islamists – despite a (supposed) Islamist website immediately claiming ‘credit’ for it.
That Anders Behring Breivik was allowed (it seems) to surrender peacefully is contrasted with what would probably – people say – have happened in Britain or the USA. (He would have been shot anyway.) Of course that poses problems. He’ll have to be tried, which is what he wants, in order to grandstand. The latest I’ve heard is that the trial will take place in camera, for ‘security’ reasons. Stoltenberg originally insisted that the events would not be allowed to compromise the openness of Norwegian society. But it seems there are limits.
One thing that surprised us in Sweden is that Breivik’s main target was Norwegian Social Democracy; for its appeasement, I imagine, of the greater threats of multiculturalism, political correctness, Marxism and feminism. Mona Sahlin, the former Swedish SD leader, was another target of his propaganda. The victims of the Utøya massacre were young Norwegian Social Democrats, as if Breivik was aiming to take out the entire next generation of Labour leaders with one blow.
Scandinavia is bound to be a home for white racism, in view of its importance in Nazi and proto-Nazi ideology. Breivik certainly looks the part, chillingly. But it is only a very minority discourse here. According to one Swedish view, the extreme Right is more widespread in Sweden – it’s what Stieg Larsson was researching before he wrote his novels, in which neo-Nazism plays an essential part – but more violent in Norway.
Reading Breivik’s views on a number of things, I was reminded of Knut Hamsun, the Norwegian Nobel-prizewinning novelist who was also a Nazi sympathiser through and through; and especially of this: the yearning of the protagonist of his novel Mysteries (1892) for the coming of the man whom ‘we may see only once in a thousand years’, the ‘super-mind’, capable of perpetrating ‘extraordinarily vicious and terrifying’ villainies; ‘none of your minor transgressions!’ I imagine Breivik knows his Hamsun? He must do.
Thorough analysis, and lessons, if there are any, will come later. For the moment all we can do is sorrow with our neighbours, and admire the strong humanity of their response.