In Britain, there was nothing worse than being sent a white feather back in 1915. It meant you were a coward who didn’t want to fight for your country.
Myself, I find it telling that a white feather is also considered a symbol of peace and bravery. Yet to the part of my mind that is still British, cowardice is still the first thing that occurs to me when I see one (the brainwashing is strong).
In attempting to satisfy my 6 year old’s endless curiosity, I have learned two things. How much I don’t know. And how much my ingrained cultural attitudes colour that ignorance.
Why doesn’t Sweden fight in wars Mummy?
What I heard was… Is Sweden a coward? Apathetic? Villainous? …marvelled quietly at my own British prejudice and crept ashamedly away to dismantle it in this article.
It’s quite a cultural clash when an English person become enmeshed in Swedish culture.
The fact one doesn’t exist without a ‘person number’. That number, that sacred number, gives you access to bank accounts, taxes, healthcare and numerous other facilities. Without it you cannot function in Swedish society. That number also lets others quite openly look at your salary, education and marriage history. It’s all online, accessible and it’s not even frowned upon. In Britain you wouldn’t dream of looking in another man’s private business even if it was–God forbid–online. And if you did, you certainly wouldn’t admit to it.
But more importantly, the answer to both my daughter’s question and a question raised today in Facebook’s Swedish polyamory forum–Why do we not discuss more about unicorns (compared to the English Poly groups)?–is
…’because of Sweden’s history and culture.’
Sweden is an egalitarian consensus-based society. Wars are rare (nowadays). Unicorns–and unicorn hunting–are rare, ergo no one talks about them, unless we’re discussing serious stuff within the Potter-verse.
Unicorn – A mythical creature, in the Polyamorous community is the rare bisexual woman who is willing to be in a relationship, often exclusively, with an existing male/female couple. Unicorn Hunters are the couple seeking only such a woman.
That the Swedish population is relatively affluent and middle class was brought home to my door when I met my Swedish boyfriend. His parents had a holiday home (which we could also use). Like most people, he said to my awestruck ears. Sure it could be a 15 metre cabin with no running water and an outside shit pit. But still.
Inherited wealth tends to be equitably shared among siblings (there are laws about this). You might share your 15 squared metre cabin with your three brothers and a sister in law. But still.
Later my British mind boggled when the crown princess married her gym instructor, more still to learn that the prince also took paternity leave… Did class struggle, privilege and oppression not exist, like at all?
The answer is ‘much less’ (although unfortunately after the refugee crisis some new ‘oppression’ battles seem to be emerging). It’s interesting and telling, to look at some key historical events in Sweden’s history.
Despite the depicted violence of the Vikings, Sweden never fully developed a feudal system. There was no serfdom and slavery was formally abolished in 1335, as opposed to Britain in 1833 and America in 1865. As Swedes look in amazement at the #blacklivesmatter movement in the States several I’ve spoken to here cannot understand why black lives do not matter already. But then Sweden was not built on the back of slaves.
The protestant reformation in the 16th century impacted individual countries differently. The choice by England’s Henry VIII was to use it to strengthen his divine right to do what he wanted (thus exacerbating class division). His chosen strategy was power by force whereas in Sweden Gustav I used the reformation ostensibly to give power back to the four ruling bodies: nobles, clergy, burghers (bourgeoisie) and freehold peasants who made up 40% of the population. Yes, theoretically they had a voice too.
And in one way this makes sense from a purely geographical perspective. In a land where communication was difficult because the weather and terrain isolated the clans, how might a ruler choose to enforce his vision? Gustav was reputedly a despot, but his chosen strategy was through alleged consensus of the four ruling bodies. At least that’s how it went down in the history books.
Fast forward a couple of centuries and the nobility were once more gaining power. Influenced by the French revolution at the close of the 18th century, which prompted Swedish peasants to march peacefully in protest, Gustav III believed the monarchy could better survive and flourish by achieving a coalition with the newly emerged middle classes against the nobility. He weakened the nobility by actively restricting noble privilege (and was later assassinated for his social reforms which luckily still remained).
But Sweden has not been without its wars. In the Napoleonic wars, Sweden lost over a third of its land mass–notably Finland to Russia. This is widely credited with establishing the groundwork for country’s modern choice of non-alignment with NATO. According to Anke Schmidt-Felzmann, analyst at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs ‘Sweden is not neutral, it is simply not a part of a military alliance.’ Non-aligned. Not neutral.
Which means that they are more likely to be highly suspicious of so called democratic coalitions where majority vote might enforce violent action. Or that create an imbalance of power where minority voices are suppressed or a ‘third’ might be treated like a second class citizen.
And this attitude has filtered through modern government policy to the common Joe. In 1972 gave the Social Democrats out document “The Family in the future – a socialist family policy” which stated that relationships between adults would be based on love, not on financial dependence.
“Every human being should be treated as an independent individual and not as an appendage to a provider …” said the prime minister Olof Palme (also later assassinated… murderer still at large).
But the impact of this policy through measures improved childcare, and care of the elderly moved the social responsibility of the family to the state and has resulted in a country with [tooltip title=”http://www.dn.se/kultur-noje/filmrecensioner/filmrecension-erik-gandinis-dokumentar-the-swedish-theory-of-love/”]the largest proportion of single-person households in the world[/tooltip], thus paving the way for relationships characterised by trust and freedom instead of bound by financial codependence.
All this history has left a legacy in the personality of the Swede. They are more likely to believe in consensus decision making. They are less likely to adhere to notions of hierarchy. They’re more likely to coin terms and practices like Relationship Anarchy. And they are less likely to hunt for unicorns because couple privilege is simply far weaker here.
And thanks to that catch all ‘person number’, my Swedish boyfriend got a divorce online in just three weeks for 400SEK (£40) whilst my British divorce took a year and a half and cost over £5000…
A look at the cabins… ;)