TCS Daily

A New Stockholm Syndrome

By Val MacQueen - November 14, 2003 12:00 AM

By the time you read this, the Swedish police may have charged 24-year-old Mijailo Mijailovic with the murder of Sweden's Foreign Minister Anna Lindh.


Or then again, maybe not. The investigation proceeds with a curious, dreamlike quality. When the deadline for holding him was up, Mijailovic himself, echoing the national lack of will to action, "agreed to be detained" for a further two weeks while the government sought more evidence, saying he didn't really fancy his chances of getting released anyway.


Last September, pro-EU integration, euro enthusiast Anna Lindh went shopping in an exclusive department store in the center of Stockholm. She had a friend with her. As is the way in the bland politics of Sweden, Lindh had no political enemies. Even her opponents respected her. Like other cabinet members, she didn't have bodyguards. She was accompanied only by the friend.


Out of the blue, as she stood on the up escalator, a man raced up the stairs with a knife, grabbed her and started stabbing in the chest, abdomen and arms as she tried to defend herself. Lindh, according to reports, managed to struggle into a nearby boutique, but by that stage, the fatal damage had been done. The man fled down the escalator and onto the street. He discarded several pieces of outer clothing as he ran. His DNA was on his clothing. His image was on film from the store's security cameras.


He left behind a woman bleeding from multiple stab wounds to her liver and other vital organs, and a store full of bemused onlookers who even then failed to be stirred into action. No other shopper or security guard tried to stop the killer as he fled. Admittedly, tackling a deranged man with a knife is formidably frightening, but it beggars belief that not one man was stirred into action by the sight of a woman being stabbed to death in front of his eyes. Witnesses were later reported to have been "shocked," as well they might have been.


It is part of the human condition that when one man takes action in a fraught situation such as this, he does so in the subliminal confidence that other males will pile in. Yet this wasn't the case in Sweden, where passive curiosity is the mode, and not one man made a move.


The Swedish citizenry looks to the government to solve every human dilemma. Taxes are high, but all, including the chronically unemployed, are provided with a middle-class standard of living. It is "fair." They are complacent and cosseted, constantly told their welfare state has made Sweden into a model society. But it is blindingly obvious that it is not.


In what other Western country have two senior government figures (prime minister Olaf Palme, 13 years ago, and Lindh in September) been murdered in the center of the nation's capital? And Sweden's crime figures are not particularly low. They're roughly in line with those of the rest of the European Union. Yet, such is the seductive value of the constantly repeated myth, the belief persists that Sweden is somehow better managed than any other country in the world.


When human societal norms are disturbed, through warfare or famine or leached away through social engineering, the cohesion of society suffers. Free-floating despair lurks in the subconscious and a sense of anomie -- bottomless despair and disconnection -- seeps in.


All-embracing socialism has sapped the life, and sense of individual responsibility, out of Sweden's civil society, leaving the creepy passivity that allowed fellow shoppers to stand, frozen with shock, when someone was attacked and murdered before their eyes. If the murder weapon had been a gun, the inaction would have been understandable. A shot is immediate and the noise is stunning. But controlling a struggling human being while stabbing them repeatedly takes enough time for at least some observers to have gathered their wits and been spurred into action.


Yet no one made a move to save Lindh's life. Not even the friend who had accompanied her on her fatal shopping trip. Of all the fellow human beings in the mall, the sole defense of the Swedish foreign minister's life was one woman at the top of the down escalator who shouted, "Stop him!" to the floor below. Of course, no one did. And as Lindh lay on the floor bleeding in the interim before the ambulance came, the shoppers quietly dispersed, speaking in shocked, hushed tones. Presumably the friend stayed with her until the ambulance arrived.


From what I can gather, there has not even been any hand-wringing on TV discussion shows lamenting the lack of action. It barely seems to have registered. Is this conceivable in any other country?


Fearful of being accused again of the ineptitude they displayed when Prime Minister Olaf Palme was assassinated, the police snapped into action at once and arrested the wrong man, a homeless 32-year-old. Despite having had film from the CCTV that recorded the event, and the killer's discarded outer garments and the discarded murder weapon, they arrested someone, admittedly a known malcontent, who was sitting in a public bar peacefully watching a football playoff on bigscreen TV with a crowd of other people and who expressed mild surprise at being arrested.


After a very Swedish, not too over-the-top, Diana-esque couple of days in which they laid the now mandatory cellophane wrapped flowers at various points throughout the city, Stockholm retreated, after the funeral, into its complacent cocoon. Fears that Lindh having been murdered might trigger a sympathy vote of 'Yes' for the adoption of the euro, Lindh's position, were unfounded. The stolid Swedes voted to continue to retain control over their own currency.


The evidence against Mijailovic has been gathered. DNA tests have been performed at a state-of-the-art laboratory in Britain. The case against him -- even the testimony from his own mother who was surprised when he came home with his head and eyebrows shaved (the CCTV film showed a man with shoulder length hair) is strong. The police will probably charge him sometime fairly soon, say state prosecutors. Or anyway, before Christmas.

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