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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 January, 2004, 05:49 GMT
Sweden's open society shaken but alive

Lars Bevanger
BBC, Stockholm

It is just before midday on 10 September 2003, and Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh is buying fruit outside her local train station.

Anna Lindh
Her death has not brought about the dramatic changes people feared
To the stallholder, she is just another customer.

"It was like any day. She was so often here you don't think about it", he later said.

Anna Lindh takes the 11.50 train into Stockholm.

Four hours and 15 minutes later, she is lying fatally injured with stab wounds on the floor of a Stockholm department store.

She had no bodyguard that day. Nor did she in the days and weeks leading up to the attack, when she had been campaigning for Sweden to join the single European currency.

More often than not, people could walk up to her after she had been speaking in some town square, and launch into a euro debate face to face.

This country has lost its innocence, an innocence we for too long have sought to maintain
Political commentator Barbro Hedvall
To people in Sweden this was not extraordinary. Such access to their elected leaders was more or less taken for granted.

It was not at all surprising that they called the stabbing of Anna Lindh an attack on Sweden's open society.

Commentators warned against giving in to those behind such violent attacks by giving up that open society, and driving a wedge between the people and the politicians.

This week, 25-year-old Mijailo Mijailovic went on trial for the murder of Anna Lindh, having confessed stabbing her.

Changes

Just four months after the attack, there are some obvious changes in Sweden's prized open society.

The new foreign minister, Laila Freivalds, does not commute alone by train to work.

One can assume she is also watched by bodyguards much of the time, although her ministry is reluctant to give out that kind of information.

All government ministers now have the option to be driven to work.

Mijailo Mijailovic
Mijailovic told police that Jesus had told him to kill Ms Lindh
Many politicians, however, say they do not want that kind of protection.

They say Sweden's open society is not defined by chauffeured ministerial cars.

Barbro Hedvall, a political commentator on the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, agrees.

"An open society has more to do with the role of the press, people's right to know what the authorities are up to and so on. This has not changed," she says.

"What I think has happened is that this country has lost its innocence, an innocence we for too long have sought to maintain."

Because it now appears this murder has been solved, I do not think the consequences for Swedish society will be as great - while Palme is still a trauma
Social scientist Stigbjorn Ljunggren
That innocence was of course severely tested, if not lost already, back in 1986, when the then Prime Minister Olof Palme was shot dead coming out of a Stockholm cinema with his wife.

A man was charged and found guilty of his murder, but later released on appeal. The crime remains unsolved.

Stigbjorn Ljunggren, a social scientist at the Uppsala University, thinks solving Anna Lindh's murder will be of huge importance.

"It is true that Sweden has lost its naivity, we see that terrible things happen also in this country," Mr Ljunggren says.

"But because it now appears this murder has been solved, I do not think the consequences for Swedish society will be as great - while Palme is still a trauma."

Random violence

Anna Lindh's death might not have changed the Swedish people's access to their politicians in a dramatic fashion, even though they are now less likely to end up sitting next to a government minister on the train to work.

But several other, seemingly random violent attacks in the past few years have led many to question what is happening to the traditionally peaceful Swedish society.

Perhaps the most disturbing of those attacks happened on the same day Anna Lindh died, when a six year-old girl was stabbed to death at her nursery in a small Swedish village.

Barbro Hedvall at Dagens Nyheter hopes the trial of Mijailo Mijailovic will provide some answers as to why Sweden has become a society where such violence has become almost commonplace.

"Whenever such an attack happens, it is perceived to be abnormal, a one-off. Sadly it is not," she says.

"We live in a violent society. Anna Lindh's murder was not a political plot like what happened in Serbia when Zoran Djindjic was killed. That, in a sense, would have been easier to explain."


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