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Covid19 Liberty Opinions Philosophy Sweden

Give me liberty, and give me life!

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Hey, dude still living in Sweden here.

My adopted homeland has (yet again) attracted a lot of heat over the past few weeks as the world has grappled with how to deal with the Covid19/Corona pandemic.

Sweden has taken a radically different approach in the eyes of many to that taken by most governments around the world. From this side of the border, however, the measures fall much more in line with what I expect from the cautiously liberal authorities in this strange part of Scandinavia.

From this perspective, it looks, yet again, like Sweden is drawing the attention of people who wish to use it as an example in order to promote agendas far more sinister than those of the Swedish authorities who largely values individual liberty, and individual responsibility, and places a lot of trust in their citizens. And while the death-tolls here are higher than some places they are not as bad as one could be lead to believe by the headlines of outrage that are to be found across the web.

Number of corona-deaths per 100 000 capita. From the top; Spain, Belgium, Italy, France, Great Britain, Storbritannia, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway — source: https://www.aftenposten.no/meninger/kommentar/i/zGJwd9/doer-det-egentlig-flere-enn-normalt-for-tiden-andreas-slettholm

Two things to know:

First of all, in Europe the death-rate per 100k citizen is higher in Belgium, Italy, Spain, Great Britain, France and the Netherlands than in Sweden — some of these countries were pretty early to shut down hard.

Secondly, a lot of people in Sweden are voluntarily sheltering in place and practising social distancing (myself included), most shops have taken measures, put up screens to protect employees and provide hand sanitizer or gloves for customers etc. Swedes are generally some of the least reckless people I’ve encountered around the world, and it shows in how they are all taking personal measures to deal with the pandemic.

To me it’s pretty evident that completely shutting down the economy would be deeply problematic, and possibly have a greater impact on actual public health (in a broader picture than just corona — we know unemployment leads to problems, so does cuts in people’s pensions).

Give me liberty, or give me death! — Patrick Henry

The greatest risk and my greatest fear is however that governments will use the pandemic to take extraordinary and authoritarian measures, as we see examples of in neighbouring (and my native) Norway as well as in other European countries, sideline constitutions and elected parliamentary bodies, increase surveillance and do what they can to change and challenge the ability of their countries to have free and fair elections in response to a declared state of emergency and challenging economy.

Sweden is many things, and often attract attention, primarily for standing against the current and staying true to its principles of individual liberty, and the freedom of citizens and those who wish to come and make a better future for themselves here. This criticism often comes from conservative voices on the alternative and far-right, people who often promotes a form of authoritarianism, either outright or veiled in nationalistic protectionism fuelled by fearmongering.

With liberty comes responsibility, which is taken by most swedes as they stay more distant than ever, and as the article points out another key element is transparency — perhaps it should be considered that among the reasons Sweden is drawing such attention is the fact that reliable stats are frequently updated and available.

Our liberty is protected by transparency, everyone living here knows what’s going on and can make informed decisions about their own lives and health without the authorities breathing down their necks. This is further illustrated both by the long-standing excellent public education-system, empowering the people through knowledge, and the public healthcare-system that weathers this storm, protecting our freedom and our lives.

Patrick Henry, one of the founding fathers of the United States of America gave the speech “Give me liberty, or give me death!” at the Second Virginia Convention. Unlike Henry it seems Swedes would much rather have liberty so they can have the freedom to live and so that our country can continue to thrive.

  • Bjørn Ihler is the founding Editor in Chief of Activism Academy and co-founder of The Khalifa-Ihler Institute, the organization behind the academy. Ihler has a long track record as a contributor to multiple international publications and is a well renowned activist working among others with the Kofi Annan Foundation to counter violent extremism.