Dominic Hinde: Stockholm attack will have huge implications for Sweden

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven arrives to lay flowers at a makeshift memorial near the scene. Picture: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven arrives to lay flowers at a makeshift memorial near the scene. Picture: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images
Share this article

The terror attack on Westminster a few weeks ago obviously had a personal impact on many of the journalists who reported it.

It isn’t often the news you cover impacts on people you know and happens in places you walk every day.

Armed police attend the scene after a truck crashed into a department store in Stockholm. Picture: Claudio Brescian/TT News Agency/AP

Armed police attend the scene after a truck crashed into a department store in Stockholm. Picture: Claudio Brescian/TT News Agency/AP

The terror attack on Stockholm’s main shopping street had a similar effect on me.

Stockholm is such an open city, somewhere I’ve met friends, been to the cinema or just walked the full length of Drottninggatan from the apartment I used to stay in, to the Swedish parliament at the bottom of the long hill.

Drottninggatan is the main commercial street cutting right through the centre of the city, and on a Friday afternoon it was packed with people.

One of them was an old friend of mine from Uppsala University on his way to a meeting, who described seeing the stolen truck used by the attacker career past.

Then there was the friend of a friend who actually had to jump out the way of the truck outside the clothing store where he works.

When I spoke to him he could not make sense of what had happened. It felt unreal, he told me.

Stockholm is a safe place, where people feel secure on the streets.

It is a city where people go about their business and everything is fairly low key.

This may have only been a tiny and badly planned attack compared to those in Nice or Berlin, but it has still shaken Sweden to its core.

The people I spoke to in the hours after the attack were resolute in their belief that Sweden would see that this was an act by a few people who did not represent any particular community.

Stockholm is a multicultural city, and one where different ethnic backgrounds mix relatively easily, despite reports to the contrary in some areas of the media.

With an election only 18 months away though, this will also have serious repercussions.

Don’t expect it to be long before the Sweden Democrats and the more hardline elements of Sweden’s conservative Moderate party begin to ramp up the rhetoric.

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has already tried to look more combative in the last few months, pledging to get tough on law and order and be more critical of immigration.

But the Stockholm attack may leave him isolated between those who think Sweden should continue its public message of tolerance and openness and the rising hardline of the new populist right, who are all too happy to play to the stereotypes of Sweden as a dangerous place infiltrated by Islamists.

Much criticism of Löfven has rested on his apparent inability to play the father-of-the-nation role his predecessors did, as his party transformed Sweden over half a century into one of the world’s most successful and fair societies. Yesterday his speeches were necessarily succinct and to the point.

His level-headedness and tendency not to get carried away could define not merely his own political future, but dictate whether or not Swedes look at the complex causes of what happened or go hunting for scapegoats at the ballot box.

In a country that values trust, Löfven needs people to trust him.

When Westminster was attacked, Britain was already far down the road of jingoistic newspaper headlines and anti immigrant sentiment.

It would be a shame if Sweden, a very different country on so many ways, were to follow its lead.

• Dominic Hinde is a European and environmental journalist, and the author of the book ‘A Utopia like Any Other: Inside the Swedish Model’