Pain of Sweden's 'peace wounded'

THE SAME prayer will be heard in all of Sweden's 3,300 churches today. Bells will ring across the nation, followed by a minute of silent prayer. For the the Church to assume such a role in this least church-going of nations is something that has not happened here in living memory; but then Sweden has never before lost so many in one accident.

Yet this turning to the Church, is a natural extension of a trend already present in Sweden before disaster struck in the Baltic: an increasing introspection, even an identity crisis.

Unlike Britain, Sweden has no experience of losing thousands on a battlefield in a single day. With its policy of neutrality enshrined in law, it stayed out of both world wars, and concentrated instead on building a welfare and safety network that was supposed to keep Swedes out of harm's way forever. That welfare and safety system has now been shaken to its core.

'As someone said the other day, we in Sweden are the 'peace wounded',' said Ingmar Strom, Bishop Emeritus of Stockholm. And this has a curious consequence, he says. 'We don't talk about death in Sweden, especially not with children. But when something like this happens, it lifts the taboo.'

It was with the assassination of Olof Palme, the prime minister, on a Stockholm street eight-and-a-half years ago that things began to change here, and people were confronted with violent death in public life.

'There are signs that questions about the meaning of life are coming more to the fore,' said Mr Strom. 'Today all the newspapers have op-ed pages that reason about existential questions.'

Or as Henrik Larsson, a theology graduate from Uppsala University, who has worked in church and social democratic movements, put it: 'In the 1960s and 1970s, we thought we could build our way out of evil. The debate was entirely political: it was about equality, work, social conditions.' Those calm, rational assumptions have been shattered.

Over the past week, remembrance services have been held nightly in churches across the country. Dog collars, otherwise rarely sighted, have been much in evidence in crisis centres and television studios. 'That does not mean that the Swedes have grown more Lutheran,' said Mr Larsson. 'It just means that they need something to turn to when the nation becomes unhinged.'

Most Swedes are born into the state Lutheran Church, and have to apply in writing to leave it. Yet only an estimated 4 per cent attend church services regularly. 'In previous centuries, people were able to get angry with God when a disaster like this happened,' said Mr Strom. 'Now, nobody believes, so they desperately try to find a scapegoat somewhere - some poor chap in the shipping line or whatever. I think it is far better to direct your anger towards God, fate or whatever you like, than at some scapegoat.

'In the Swedish farmsteads in the old days, dead people were dressed up and placed in the room, and children were able to go and say goodbye to them. They may have been sad, but at least they understood that death was part of life.'

This is a traumatic autumn for the Swedes in more ways than one. Nine days before the ferry disaster, they voted in a landmark general election; and in six weeks' time, they must vote again in a referendum - on membership of the European Union - that may change Sweden forever.

That the Swedes should have chosen to return the Social Democrats to power after three years of Conservative-led rule is not irreconcilable with an increasingly spiritual approach to life. 'The social Darwinism that has characterised the Conservative government policies - that the strongest will survive and the weakest will have less and less support - is what people want to get away from,' said Mr Strom. 'It is seen as a betrayal of humankind.'

The feverish searching for individual scapegoats in the shipping line, in the authorities or among the crew of the Estonia is evidence that Swedes have difficulty accepting that disasters are a natural part of life. 'If there had been an earthquake, people would also have found a way of claiming it was the fault of the authorities that are there to protect them,' said Mr Larsson. 'We have no experience of so many of our next of kin dying in one go. Now at least 10,000 people in Sweden know somebody who perished.'

The disaster has seen the creation overnight of thousands of 'crisis groups' - involving social workers, clergy and psychotherapists. The idea of the groups came to Sweden from Norway a few years ago, after some Swedish schoolchildren died on a bus journey to Norway.

Mr Strom believes that the acceptance of the church as a place of solace, even for those who have never attended a service, could become 'a new shape of life' in Sweden. 'They associate the room of the church with reflection and meditation. It is the only place to be near death in a natural way.'

But no one can tell whether he is right. Over time, Swedes may turn their thoughts back to unemployment, running at more than 10 per cent, and to the need to reduce overspending on social benefits.

The vicar of Hedvig's church in Norrkoping - which lost 56 pensioners on Estonia - summed it up by her choice of hymn at the first remembrance service last week. The first line of the hymn is: 'Just one day, one moment at a time.' The Rev Kerstin Myhr Ekstrom explained: 'That is what it's all about. Taking it one day at a time.'

(Photograph omitted)

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice