Why I am so proud to be watching the Swedes

A young woman with a pushchair walks past me and pins a pink rose onto the wire fence. She stops a moment to reflect, clearly taken by the gravity of the moment. A middle-aged couple huddle together holding tightly onto their teenage son. A woman wearing a hijab gently puts a consoling hand on a crying stranger’s shoulder as she passes silently by. 

There are tens of thousands of people gathered here on Sergel’s Torg Plaza in Stockholm but the noise level is subdued. A respectful silence hangs in the air. The sun is high and shines down on us on this, the warmest day of the year so far. 

A few meters from here, 48 hours ago, 4 people lost their lives in a terrorist attack, and many more were injured. Amongst the murdered victims were a Belgian tourist, a British man living in Stockholm and two Swedes, one of which was a 11 year old girl on her way home from school. 

Today, Stockholmers are gathered in a ‘Love manifestation’ vigil to pay their respects to the victims and their families. The place is packed with people of all ethnic, religious, political and social backgrounds. But today none of this matters, they are united as one. 

I have never been more proud to be watching the Swedes as I am at this moment. When faced with a national trauma, what do these people do? Do they meet it with fear? No, they meet it with love. It is almost palpable at this moment. And with their love, they beat terrorism. 

Minutes after the terrorist attack, the hashtag #openstockholm appeared on which people opened their hearts to each other. They offered sanctuary, support, a sofa for the night, a lift home, food to anyone who needed it. They responded with love, not fear. 

The day after, they went in their droves to the location of the attack and attached flowers to a fence and lit candles. They hugged emergency workers and covered a police car with flowers to show their gratitude. They responded with love, not fear. 

And today, they came in their tens of thousands to show that they are not afraid. They listened to inspirational speeches and moving music. They took back the streets and they did it with love, not fear. 

I’ve spent many years writing about these people – the Swedes. I write sometimes in despair, sometimes in frustration but often with fondness and humor. But today I write with pride. An immense pride. 

As I linked arms with a stranger, an old white-haired lady, and participated in a one-minute silence, I felt inspirited. I was a part of something larger than myself. I don’t know what it was, but it was significant: a meaningful moment in Sweden’s history that will affect the national psyche for a long time to come. 

One of the speakers at the vigil encouraged people to continue to open their hearts and their doors. Showing solidarity and keeping Stockholm an open city is a priority. But this is something we can only achieve if we do it together. 

The final quote of the vigil summed everything up. A quote from Martin Luther King – 

Darkness can not drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’

The Gentle Minister


Reading on social media recently, I am struck by the amount of praise given to Sweden’s Home Secretary, Anders Ygeman. The minister is appearing a lot in newspapers and on the TV at the moment commenting on the tragic events of Paris and the impact terrorism has on the increasing security levels on Swedish soil. He also regularly informs the public on the refugee situation and the political reasons behind the government’s actions to reintroduce border controls.

On the face of it, Anders Ygeman should not be considered a good communicator. He has a very gentle, apologetic manner. He avoids eye contact at times. He speaks with a very quiet voice and a very flat tone. He is, in fact, the opposite of everything that a leader is said to be – inspiring, charismatic and energetic.  In the USA, or the UK, he would probably be ridiculed. But in Sweden, it seems to work.

From a cultural perspective, this is really interesting. What is it about Anders Ygeman that works so well in Sweden? Maybe it is a case of content over packaging. Often how we say something has more impact than what we say, but in Anders Ygeman’s case, it’s the opposite. He might not be charismatic, but he is clear and very direct. And is this an approach that Swede’s prefer in times of crisis – a no frills, humble and direct communication?