Sweden chose a different path and focused on excitation instead of upgrading. The temperature in the debate was ratcheted up, but it all culminated in spring 2015 in a poor defence deal between the government and three of the Alliance parties. Defence will get a smaller budget, but, as a share of GDP, defence capabilities will decrease. In the same year that Latvia will reach the two per cent level (2018), the Parliamentary Research Service indicates that the Swedish defence budget will be a historically extremely modest 0.98 per cent.
Our political system seems simply incapable of taking changes in the environment seriously.
The contrast was especially obvious during the national conference in Salen with Folk ochFörsvar (People and Defence). Appearing there was the President of Latvia, Raimonds Vejonis, who had left the diplomatic subtleties at home in Riga. Instead of delivering warm words and spun sugar, as leading politicians visiting abroad often feel obliged to do, he came with a cold analysis and a high-fibre diet.
President Vejonis was clear that the Swedish and Finnish membership of NATO would have a stabilising effect in the Baltic Sea region, and that it was a vain hope that any country could stay out of a regional conflict. He dismissed the talk that it would be provocative to Russia to reinforce Sweden’s defence: "It is weakness that provokes Russian aggression." He also stressed his deep concern that the island of Gotland has been left defenceless. If Russia takes control of the island, it will control the Baltic Sea and can prevent assistance being provided to the Baltic states.
The civil defence politicians who were there rejoiced, of course, at the president's clear recommendation for NATO, but they were clearly more wary about giving defence the resources required. The Liberals alone talk plain language, while the others take the line that one should not exclude that reinforcements may prove necessary, and then we will see.
The Moderates want to call in the defence committee – a constitutional cop-out that makes parliament the government’s hostage – but it is not more investigation that is required. The analyses exist. Realism and the capacity for political leadership, however, are scarce – yet another provocative weakness.
Not long ago, a significant proportion of all enlightened people agreed that nations were on their way to the garbage heap of history, and that the future belonged to globalisation. A few years later, the picture is more complex. Internationalisation has certainly not ended, but the nations and the national have proven far more viable than predictions claimed.
We can see quite unpleasant setbacks, where self-aggrandisement or even aggressive nationalism points fingers at neighbours or minorities. But there are also more moderate reactions, which are calling for reflection. Perhaps many have underestimated nationalist feelings’ – what George Orwell called "patriotism" in contrast to the chauvinist nationalism – importance for people in feeling at home in their environment. Maybe there has been too little attention devoted to the fact that it is the nations that constitute the arena of citizenship and democracy. How to promote constructive nationalism, without promoting destructive nationalism?
In the theme section, we address some of these issues. I suspect we will return to them once or twice more.
It is a great pleasure for me to present three writers who, from this issue onwards, will be permanent employees of Axess. On pages 10-11, the section ‘Society’ will begin with the chronicles of Thomas Engström and Annika Borg. On page 98, Fredrik Johansson will ponder the modern human comedy in the new vignette ‘Our Time’.
Thomas Engström is a lawyer, cultural writer and author who has settled recently in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. His three novels about the former Stasi agent, Ludwig Licht, have been hugely successful and sold to a number of countries.
Annika Borg is a priest, a doctor of theology and the science of belief, and a frequent writer and lecturer. Her voice is familiar from Sweden Radio’s Thoughts for the Day, but she is also a sharp critic and commentator.
Fredrik Johansson is a communications adviser and blogger living in Malmö. He wrote accurate and entertaining columns in Neo until the magazine was, gloomily enough, forced to close last autumn.
These three sharp pencils will offer Axess readers many memorable moments in the future. Enjoy!