Sweden by Marklund

Time now to procede to the next entry in the on-going “Europa XL” series in the Danish newspaper Politiken of cultural portraits of EU member-states, this time to Denmark’s sister-state, Sweden. The writer who was asked to contribute her suggestions for that country’s representative painting, photograph, person, etc. is Liza Marklund – journalist, editor, and author of what Politiken terms “a series of extraordinarily popular contemporary novels in the crime genre,” who came into her own as a commentator on Swedish society last fall, with the murder of Swedish foreign minister Anna Lindh.

I’ve looked forward to this one, as I’m very interested in Sweden but know relatively little about that country. I do consider it as rather unique within the EU: not one of Europe’s “big powers,” but rather one of what is only a handful of “medium-sized powers” (the others being Spain and Poland). And while on the one hand Sweden’s internationalism, environmental awareness, and other things as well make it a natural candidate for the EU, on the other Sweden is also one of those countries that has been allowed to opt-out of adopting the euro as its currency and, as last September’s referendum shows, is far away from ever changing its mind.

  • Painting: “Flower-Window,” by Carl Larsson. Chosen because copies of this and other similar depictions of home interiors by Larsson are to be found in millions of Swedish homes. His works display the Swedish “organizational ideal”: minimalism, functionalism, and design.
  • Photograph: Interesting! It’s a photograph of Swedish neo-Nazis rampaging in the street (in Växjö, in 1985). Marklund writes “In the beginning of the 1990s 100,000 youth jobs disappeared in Sweden. This was 100,000 young people for whom there was no longer a place in our society, who were simply excess.” This, then, was what led to the rise of the Swedish neo-Nazis in the latter part of the 1990s, and their gruesome behavior: bank robberies, intimidation, and even murder. Interesting, but I’m a bit dismayed that it is this picture, this topic, which is supposed to represent Sweden over the ages (at least over the ages when photography has existed) among all the other possibilities.
  • Person: Anna Lindh. The murdered foreign minister is apparently now some sort of Swedish patron-saint. She lived out the Swedish dream, Marklund writes: to be a mother, housewife, friend, and top international politician all at the same time. And she embodied what Swedes like to consider as the fundaments of their foreign policy: tolerance, empathy, solidarity, and human rights.
  • Object: The mobile telephone. Well alright, but I can’t wait to see what Finland’s writer comes up with for his/her country’s representative object. I think the Finns could have an even-better claim to this one, but Politiken has allowed the Swedes to beat them to the punch. (Maybe it’s just the natural preference one has for one’s nearest neighbor – after oneself, of course: remember that the first “Europa XL” profile to appear in this Danish newspaper was of Denmark itself.) And the reasons Marklund brings forward to justify this – very high mobile telephone penetration, domination of national economic fortunes by mobile telephone-related companies (here, Ericsson) – are also just as valid in a Finnish context.
  • Text: From the 1983 novel Vand, by Torgny Lindgren. By the way, that Vand, meaning “water,” is Danish; in Swedish it would be vatten. Otherwise, this text largely defies translation, even as it is presented here in Danish. It is actually all about a letter Lindgren wrote to the local nobility (the lensstyrelse) in Ume, expounding upon all the different kinds of water that are to be found in the land (“water that is cold and tight as a stone, that you can’t drink . . . water that is thin and weak, which doesn’t help even if you drink it” etc.). Marklund likes this text because, according to her, it even embodies everything that is Swedish: “the great seriousness, the hard drudgery, and an inhospitable landscape, but also the burlesque, noble, and at the same time unbelievable sense of order.”
  • Song: Unbelievable: “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” a tune made famous by Britney Spears (who is pictured), but which was written and produced by the Swedish producer Max Martin. The point here is the continuing contribution – or perhaps I would rather write “contriburtion” – by the music industry in Sweden (or rather Stockholm) to “global, sleek, commercial pop-music” whose origin is as hard to discern as it is irrelevant. But surely we could have done better here than Britney Spears!
  • Poem: “Ja vist gør det ondt når knopper skyder,” by Karin Boye, the title here translated into Danish, of course, which I further translate as “It does hurt when the buds bloom.” Sorry, as is the case with most poetry, it would take a literary artist greater than myself to decently translate this poem even from the Danish into which it has been translated for Politiken. (The poem is apparently printed here in full, all 27 lines.) And that’s too bad, because Marklund’s commentary indicates that it deals with that typical Swedish melancholy, caused by the sun being away for far too long during the cold winter months. If only some Swedish song could have been chosen dealing with that same psychological phenomenon – I mean something other than Britney Spears.
  • Food-dish: Amazingly, this turns into a tribute to that famous Swedish-based furniture store, Ikea. The food itself is meatballs with potatoes, cream-sauce and something called cowberries, but supposedly this Swedish dish is today eaten everywhere because it is served world-wide at Ikea stores.
  • Place: Stockholm’s Old Town, or Gamle Stan. I certainly can agree with this one – it truly is “our nation’s heart,” in Marklund’s words. Constituting an island strategically placed to block an important inland water-route, it was where the power of the Swedish monarchy was formed, and it is also from here that Sweden continues to be ruled, but now via the national parliament building, or Riksdagshus, located on the island.
  • Event: Ah yes: the murder of Anna Lindh. “It changed the future for us all,” Marklund writes. It set back by decades the progress Sweden had been making towards equality of the sexes.

Too much emphasis on Anna Lindh here, I think, and definitely too much emphasis on Britney Spears, in that she was mentioned at all. Plus, I find in this collection of cultural artifacts too much of the here-and-now, i.e. on things whose significance might be exaggerated because they are fresh in the mind (cf. the Anna Lindh murder). Liza Marklund is by no means a historian, just a literary artist. She’s also not that old – she’s only 41 or 42, but, then again, is advanced age a prerequisite for being able to hold in one’s mind and evaluate all of Sweden’s history, stretching back to the Vikings?

But all that is inherent in the way Politiken has gone about having these cultural portraits made, i.e. via what must needs be the idiosyncratic views of one artistic, highly-opinionated individual. And when I think about it, I would rather have that than the product of some committee.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Comments are closed.