Sunday, September 14, 2003

The death of Anna Lindh and today's referendum

Today, September 14th, is the referendum on whether Sweden should join the European Monetary Union.
The government’s problem is, that they’ve already promised the EMU that Sweden will join, and they’ve already taken several steps towards that goal. Still, much to their dismay, leftist forces and other “no”-leaning activists pressed for a popular vote on the matter, instead of letting the same happen as in Finland, where the government never even bothered asking the people they are meant to serve whether they wanted to join or not.
So, the question in the referendum was, quite unnoticed, soon changed into whether Sweden should introduce the euro as currency – which doesn’t really mean anything at all: Sweden can be part of the EMU without (yet) having the euro as a currency.

Four days ago, on September 10th, the Swedish foreign minister Anna Lindh was stabbed in a department store. After fourteen hours of operation, she died. Anna Lindh was one of the more vivacious propagandists for the “yes” side, and after her killing, conspiracy theorists could start blaming either of the fractions.

Theorists on the “yes” side blamed the “no” side, because Lindh had been propagating for the euro, and because someone had allegedly seen “an angry man kicking at Anna Lindh’s face in a referendal poster” a few minutes before she was attacked in the department store, and this man was, allegedly, somehow similar to the suspected killer.

Theorists on the “no” side, on the other hand, blame the “yes” side: a poor drug addict or something was allegedly paid by “yes” activists to stab Lindh, perhaps with the instruction that it shouldn’t be lethally. This would create sympathy for her as a “yes” activist, and more people would vote for the euro (which is exactly what has happened – the “yes” side is estimated to have grown 8 percentage points stronger right after it became known that Lindh had died). But the stabbing went wrong, and she was killed.
Paranoid as that theory is, the secret police and the regular police command’s behaviour on that day might confirm the fears of a suspicious mind.
Lindh, like most higher politicians even in this country, usually has guards with her when she goes out, but on this occasion, the secret police had judged that there shouldn’t be any danger in going to a crowded department store. Sweden is usually a relatively peaceful country, where celebrities can walk around without being bothered too much (Swedes are generally too shy to bother anyone if they recognise them ...).
The Swedish police command, for its part, is actually a bit infamous for its incompetence and irrational actions. During the EU summit in June 2001, for instance, the regular police officers were kept with very little food and perhaps three or four hours of sleep a day. The police command’s crazy decision to ignore all the agreements with the demonstrating organisations on how to cooperate to avoid friction, created the main excuse for the violence that ensued on some occasions. When handling this violence, the police command once more displayed their incompetence, and engaged the hungry and sleepless regular police, who had hardly any experience in crowd control, in the hottest spots, while specially trained riot police were standing on a corner somewhere being bored.
Thus, it wasn’t really surprising to hear the accounts of furious police patrols on September 10th 2003, who had been given no orders whatsoever regarding what to do right after Anna Lindh was stabbed. The subway clerks were also quite confused, when no order came to stop the traffic in the surrounding area.

Were all these just signs of usual incompetence?
Or perhaps traces of a horrible EMU conspiracy …?

Regardless of how the truth may be, chances are great that when the referendum votes are counted tomorrow morning, the majority will have voted yes. This has many reasons.
Firstly, because of the “yes”-dominated media, who indeed have painted out Anna Lindh as a martyr we all should feel sorry for, and who has sanctified the “yes” campaign: if you vote “no”, you are a cold, heartless bugger with no respect for the dead.
Secondly, because common sense has been absent from the EMU debate right from the beginning, with arguments as illuminating as “Vote Yes for security!” and “Vote No for security!”, or “If you vote No, you like Stalin!” and “If you vote Yes, you like Hitler!”. In short, there has been very little real information on what it would actually mean to join the EMU (or, for that part, change the currency), or not. Arguments have almost without exception appealed to emotions, not common sense.
Thirdly, the “yes” campaign has received infinitely more resources, and has thereby dominated the debates and the streets pretty much. They have been able to be much more aggressive. Even today, the day of the referendum, there was a “yes”-lady standing outside my local polling station, trying to hand me a “yes” ballot, as if there weren’t enough inside. Behind the screen where I put my ballot in the envelope, there was also a pile of “yes” ballots, perhaps left there by people who had gotten them from the lady outside, and who had decided to vote otherwise - but still most likely placed there by that very lady herself or a colleague of hers, so that people would reconsider and take a “yes” ballot, instead.

I voted “no”. Not that the currency really matters. But because the people who claim they’re representing us – the government – have fooled us, again, and made important decisions, that affect us deeply, over our heads. If I can irritate them at least by voting against their plans with the little power that I actually have, that could be worth it.

(Anyway, the stabbing object should have been Goran Persson, and not the slim Anna Lindh: Goran would have escaped with just a flesh wound ...)

[Note from after the votes had been counted: I was wrong! How wonderful!!]