Friday, September 12, 2003

As New York and the rest of America woke up to its own day of mourning and memory on September 11, I had begun my morning six hours earlier in Stockholm after a bad night’s sleep. Because on September 10 at 4:15 in the afternoon, Sweden’s popular foreign minister Anna Lindh had been stabbed viciously while shopping at Nordiska Kompaniet, Stockholm’s grandest department store. A heavyset man with bad skin and dressed in grey sweatshirt and baseball cap had slashed her arm and cut her deeply in the abdomen and chest.

As a passport-bearing Swedish citizen of less than three months, the shock I felt was more than I expected – after all, I haven’t yet been able to untangle the knotty political system, with its seven major parties and sometimes bizarre alliances. But I did know who Anna Lindh was, with her ready smile and blonde bob, always in the thick of things and the most credible banner-bearer for the yes-side in Sweden’s referendum on whether to jettison the crown and replace it with the euro.

As I went to bed that night, Lindh was still under the surgeon’s knife and in critical condition, being tended to by more than 30 doctors and surgeons.

Then at 8:45 in the morning on September 11, Prime Minister Göran Persson announced at a press conference that after more than 10 hours of surgery, Lindh had died at 5:29 a.m. He was barely able to keep his composure. She was, as the Swedish press now writes, his chosen crown princess and the politician most likely to succeed him as prime minister. But she was closer to people’s hearts than merely being a possible future leader of the country. Swedes were proud of Anna Lindh, because she represented Sweden to the outside world just as they wished the outside world to see them: She was ready with a smile but strong, not afraid to take on the foreign ministers of the larger countries of the European Union, while at the same time an ordinary mother of two young sons, and a wife. She showed to the world a picture of Sweden that Swedes treasure: a progressive country that sticks to its principles, a country that is down-to-earth, that is tough without being violent.

But her assassination brings up the issue of violence in ways few other acts can. The country is questioning its open system, and wondering how the assassin could have escaped so easily in the middle of a crowded department store in the afternoon. It dredges up painful memories of the still-unsolved murder in 1987 of Prime Minister Olof Palme.

I dearly hope that this doesn't signal a change in security policy, the end of an open Sweden. Making a country more secure is impossible, it only worsens the quality of life for everyone and those who want to commit acts of violence still will commit them, they just have to try harder.

We cried, the husband and I, and we lit a candle for Anna Lindh, letting it burn down to nothing by the end of the evening.

I can think of no appropriate Swedish word for the day.

- by Francis S.

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