Проект, он же виртуальный клуб, создан для поддержки
и сочетания двух мировых понятий: Русских и Швеции...

Elena Degtereva

Images of Russia and Russians in Sweden

About one year ago near the small village of Savär, the Swedish archaeologists found a big burial place which is dated to the beginning of XIX century. There was the last fight on the Swedish ground between the Swedish and Russian soldiers. It was in August 1809. Archaeologists received the sanction from the local authorities on carrying out the researches nearby Savär, where more than 3000 Russian victims in this war are remained. 1 Divided by the distance of about 400 kilometres, Sweden and Russia have always had rather ambiguous history of mutual relations. The question is how our people perceive each other. It has caused interest of researchers for a long time. It still remains the subject of studying both of domestic and foreign researchers.




Self-identification of Russian and Swedes

and the basic clichés in perception each other.

In February, 2003 the group of sociologists of the company Validata carried out a scale research in several countries, including Sweden and Russia. Its purpose was to find out how indigenous population perceives itself and in what way it sees the neighbours. Inhabitants of capitals at the age from 25 till 30 were asked identical questions about compatriots, their own country, and other countries. Sociologists found out that each state has the certain image in the opinion of citizens and foreigners. So, Swedes think that they are quiet rational people, for whom the main thing is democratic values, social equality, and their nature. Russians think that they are proud, hardworking and cheerful people, capable to survive in difficult conditions, but they are complex, spiritual and creative.2

However as practice a show, self-identification of people is not the same as it is perceived by the inhabitants of the neighbouring countries. There is a huge quantity of stereotypes and prejudices concerning this or that nationality. For example, if you trust the authors of the popular guidance book about Sweden, long enough lived in this country, Russian’s opinion about the Swedish will be the following: "... The typical Swede is a quiet, peaceful person, former hockey player or a fan of ”Tre kronor", flourishing in the ”Swedish model” together with the” the Swedish family "consisting of three-four individuals actively engaged in sex. Sweden, as a rule, causes positive emotions in Russians: it is a place where the most reliable in the world cars "Volvo ", quite good home appliances "Electrolux" are produced, Nobel Prizes are given. A word-combination ”Made in Sweden” has already become a guarantee of high quality. If you ask a question ”What is Sweden?” The majority of Russians will answer smiling: " ABBA "," IKEA "," Carlson on a roof” 3

What surprise many our compatriots have when they arrive in this country? As the answer they meet vigilance and mistrust sometimes. Actually, there is a collision of Russian and Swedish myths. It is so, that in the reality Swedes are really very constrained and correct, therefore it is practically impossible to learn from them, what they think about Russians. The only thing that can help with this research is the publication in the Swedish press and the proceedings, devoted to the studying of the given question. What is an average inhabitant of Russia from the sight of a Stockholm inhabitant?

A big report published by the Northern Branch of the European Society in Sweden ”Not be afraid to make a business in Russia”4, gave a clear representation of general myths, which exist in Sweden concerning Russians. Long time, especially, during the cold war as the author writes, stereotypes about Russia were reduced to bears, vodka, ballet and icons. Today they changed a little, and now Russia is the country where the Mafia is very strong, where criminal, criminality and drunkenness is widely spread. The normal beginning of the working day in Russian if you trust this research is the following: they wake up in the morning, play the accordion, drink a glass of vodka, eat porridge and go to work. One more cliché is that it is very cold in Russia, therefore to have a good time here usually means to dance in huge fur coats "Kazachok" in Red Square. In the majority, Russians are unpredictable and gloomy people, half of them are agents of KGB. This is a portrait of our country and our compatriots in the opinion of Swedes. How such opinions appear and what provides them, these are the questions we shall try to answer in this research.



Historical roots of existing myths in perception Swedes of Russian

The Swedish myths originate in the past. The chain of defeats in wars with Russia, the first was Poltava in 1709 and the last was the capture of Finland in1809, the attacks of the Russian galley fleet at the coast of Sweden in 1719-1721, these and other not pleasant historical events formed consciousness of many generations in Sweden. Local "bunde”, the Swedish peasants, who did not know the serfdom, were afraid to become slaves, as Russians. Serious fears concerning east neighbour were tested also with the aristocracy who thought that the Russian empire was the main threat of the independence of Sweden.5 It is possible to find the most unflattering responses about moskovit which were represented as rough, uneducated, obstinate, not nice, aspiring sovereign domination on the Baltic people in the Swedish documents since XVII century. By the way, the word "moskovit" in Sweden has pejorative value even now – such a mark exists in modern explanatory dictionaries.6 The Swedish diplomats and travellers of that epoch noticed the Russian propensity to drunkenness, falsity, unreliability, self-confidence. The peak of "Rjusskrek" (Russkreck) which means to be afraid of Russians was in the first half of XIX century.

To the beginning of XX century the tradition of a negative attitude towards Russia and Russians in Sweden was formed completely. Besides it, the interest was considerable, especially in the first decades of the XX century. A plenty of books with the descriptions of the travelling to Russia, published in that time proves it. 7 One of the most significant researches of that time is the book of Alfred Jensen with the title "Slavia" where he shares his impressions about Russia. The first impression of the author is that Russia is something shapeless, incomprehensible, full of a contradiction, mysterious and mystical, that causes respect and admiration, but even more surprise and fear. He represents Russians as people with wide, light, opened faces, whose main features of the character are good nature, calmness, fidelity, patience and love to a joke, force in passions, irrepressibleness in good and harm. Russians, in his opinion, are the most patient and unpretentious people among other European peoples. Negative features of the Russian peasant, such as slackness, shyness, filching, distrustfulness, laziness, begging, untidiness and hard drinking, are explained by the author by a century of Mongolian yoke and serfownership.8

It is necessary to note, that so-called Petersburg Swedes lived in Russia for a long time had quite different impressions. So, one of the popular journalists Jan Olof Olsson collected memoirs of compatriots who spent the most part of their life in St.-Petersburg. All of them responded with admiration about that time, paying attention to the professionalism of the Russian people, their affability and hospitality.9 Espionage got the unprecedented sizes before 1st World War in Sweden. Newspapers almost daily informed on the Russian officers who had become sawyers to investigate strategic objects in the north of the country.10 The Next wave of "Rjusskrek" was in 1939 after Stalin had attacked Finland. Then a long fear during the times of the cold war came, and during the last historical period Swedes began to be afraid of the Russian Mafia and chaos. Traditions to dislike Russians were brought up in Swedes since early childhood. As the Russian children were frightened by the militiaman so the Swedish were afraid by ”Russians go ".

It is possible to assume, that all the phobias of Swedes were cultivated on old "Poltava" yeast. Nevertheless, according to the Swedish journalists, the portrait of a Russian in Sweden has some features in comparison with it in other European countries. Here is what the correspondent of SVT Per Enerud says in this occasion: " Russians and Russia for Sweden have always been a reality: our countries have traditionally joint history - not only wars and conflicts, but also trade and friendship. More than that Russia and Sweden have not clashed for 190 years: neither the Russian nor the Soviet soldiers marched in our streets. They were neither aggressors nor liberators. Besides you must not dismiss the geographical factor: Russia, never mind if it is imperial or Soviet, Eltsin’s or Putin’s, was and remains close. I think, that Swedes do not think hard who the Russians are. It is really not accepted in our country to speak about national characters, if they exist in general. A person who met a "bad" Russian, will always think, that all the Russians are bad, if met kind, will think, that the Russians are good. Certainly, there are stereotypes concerning Russian in Sweden: they are from KGB, the Mafiosi, prostitutes, Cossacks, poets, cosmonauts, mannish sportswomen … But I think, we have any romantic characteristics of a Russian person: a kind man with a great heart … "11 Thus, it is possible to conclude, that the negative altitude of Swedes to Russians particularly explains by the historical experience, and also by the features of a human mentality.


How the Swedish press to form attitude towards Russians.

A great role in formation the corresponding characteristics of the Russian people from the position of Swedes is played by the press. Both national and local mass media quite often raise a discussion about the negative and dark features of Russia. It increases people’s fear: many of them trust the facts which are written in newspapers and shown on the TV without any hesitation. Moreover, the opinion of Swedes quite often completely reflects the position of mass media in this or that question and it is sometimes difficult to change it.12 “It is often written about prostitutes who have come from Murmansk and St-Petersburg nowadays. It makes the impression that all the Russian women are prostitutes …”- one familiar Swede told once. An interesting research on the topic” the Russian stereotype in the Swedish press belongs to the professor of faculty of Journalism, Media and Communications at the Stockholm University Jan Ekecrantz. He came to the following conclusions analysed all large reports and articles about Russia which were published in the 90th in two large Swedish newspapers: ”Dagens Nyheter" and "Expressen".

There were remains of the atmosphere of the cold war in the language of newspapers in the first years after disintegration of the USSR. Events, problems, people were described in political terms and moved as the consequence of the communist system. But eventually the image at Russia changed. The country was begun to look at in more cultural-historical aspect that is not from the point of view of the division in the world into two superpowers, but factually from the point of view of the division into the East and the West. This model of the world became dominating and the images used by the Swedish journalists, began to have metaphorical and opposite character. There is life in the West and there is death in the east death, there is progress in the West – everything develops, and there is regress in the east – everything stays on its place or even goes back. Jan Ekecrantz defined this model as racist and euro centrist.

Europe, according to such sight is centre and if you are further from it, the attitude towards you becomes more primitive, the number of illnesses increases, the death rate grows, stagnation prospers, and everything is in a fog and the darkness. Verbal phrases which were chosen by the Swedish journalists, created the sensation of huge distances and the insuperability of them. Even if the correspondent covered the distance of ten kilometres to the east from Moscow, this case causes worse position with each step – there is more and more dirt on the roads, there are more and more apathetic people and so on. And absolutely other picture was drawn when you move to the West - everything becomes lighter, better, more clearly. The description of the West and the East which was presented in the Swedish press of the 90th is possible to place in such a simple scheme of oppositions: educated - oppressed, clear - foggy, pure - dirty, civilized - wild, modern - out of date, reliable - threading, central - peripheral, progressive - destructive. It is important that till 1995 Swedes practically did not see so-called "usual" Russians and they developed the impression, that Russians are only a group of high-ranking politicians within the limits of the Kremlin.

There was absolutely another opinion after the Swedish journalists began to visit the provinces: the ordinary inhabitants of Russia began to appear on screens and pages of newspapers. Professor Ekecrantz connected it with the economic difficulties (people were usually asked about difficulties and sufferings) and regarded this tendency of illustrating the Russian validity as negative because the number of the articles about the positive sides of the Russians’ life had not increased, and the general tone of what was written and broadcast in Sweden about Russia remained hopeless and decadent.
If you look through the "Dagens Nyheter", the most popular and respectable newspaper in Sweden, without reading the text, looking only at the titles, you can see what the Swedish journalists write about our country. Here are some of them. " Three explosions in the south of Russia "," The Russian customs penalties threaten IKEA "," Russia wants to get rid of the Swedish TV system"," Russia became paradise for paedophiles "," Saddam has moved to Moscow "," Russia spies for CIA ". There are often such words as: " danger "," threat "," explosions ", contra, " warns "and" were lost " in one line with the word “ Russia”.

Having analysed texts of these and other articles for current, 2003, we found out, that all the articles can be divided into four groups. They are sensational, showing low cost of a human life (so-called, "criminal-bloody"), economic and a small part is of the indefinite topic. All four groups are different at the first sight, what unites them is the following: the negative characteristics in the texts, expressed to a greater or lesser extent. Let’s analyse the group of sensations. Russian spies if you trust what is written in DN, put gauges on nuclear objects in Northern Korea to transfer these data to CIA, 13 Russian military-industrial companies supply Iraq with the weapon through the third countries,14 and our diplomats try to transport Saddams confidential archives to Moscow to hide this compromising the country fact. 15 The next is blood and criminal. There is full revelry of lawlessness in Russia: there are explosions, people died, Russian planes and helicopters fall one after another, by the way, according to the texts, it is possible to conclude, that won’t be visible end to these fallings. 16 In the north people die of cold which, according to the articles ”holds down the country in an iron vice ", 17 and in the south, on the contrary, they die from wood fires. 18 the paedophilia is widely spread because there is no law about childrens prostitution and slavery.19 People who are potentially capable to change something, that is, who are fair deputies, who have nothing wrong in their reputation, are killed at midday, and, as a smile of the fate, in Freedom street. 20

Even the articles about the economic aspects, by definition are to be neutral, do not avoid the negative-estimated character. If people in the north-western part of Russia start to work effectively, for example, an oil well, it is obligatory with risk for the environment in the entire Baltic region. 21 If the partnership is adjusted with the western company, for example, with the dearest to every Swede IKEA, Russians begin to oppress the partners with high custom taxes. 22 And they are not ashamed of the direct provocation to the Swedish economy. The literal translation of a fragment of the article, titled ”Russia wishes to get rid of the Swedish TV system ":" The purpose of the Russian espionage against "Ericsson" was to have an opportunity to destroy the communication system which is used as well in the military purposes. Hearings on this topic were closed, but as the representative of the information bureau of the concern " Ericsson " Henry Spensson said that the task of this espionage was to have an opportunity to listen to this system, to interfere with its work and also to block it completely" 23 The most typical example of the last group is the article" Russian heroes in a dump of history ". This is announcing of David Brandenbergens book "The National-Bolshevism, Stalin’s culture of masses and the formation of the modern Russian consciousness” which has been recently published in the USA. The conclusion which is done by the author of announce: "Russia and Russians were the most advanced people in the USSR but when the Soviet empire was destroyed, Russians were destroyed together with it. And former ”leading force” among all the Soviet people pays the high price for it today ". 24

Summarizing this analysis, it is possible to say, that an average Swedish reader who takes in hands daily and most numerous newspaper " Dagens Nyheter ", has an image of Russia as the country, which is constantly ready for any sorts of unscrupulous acts where the price of life is extremely low, the morals practically does not exist, something constantly burns, blows up and falls, and people die of cold. Besides being engaged in the doubtful activity in the international scene, Russia represents danger to other countries and is a permanent source of intensity if not in the world, then at least in Europe and Asia. The narrow-minded mentality is arranged so, that what is written in the newspaper especially respectful, is perceived as trustworthy information. Thus, the negative image of Russia and the Russian, having deep historical roots, is supported and even is cultivated by the Swedish mass media which have a huge influence on the audience.




The bibliography

1. ”Historisk massgrav vid Savar sparas” Dagens Nyheter 3.7.2002
2. ”But at us people good ", "News" from 21.08.2003
3. Ivanov K.,.Smirnov A, " Everything, that you wished to know about Sweden " Publishing house of the Swedish institute, 2000
4. Kerstin Harme, " Våga satsa på Ryssland! "
5. K.Ivanov, A.Smirnov, ”Everything, that you wished to know about Sweden " Publishing house of the Swedish institute, 2000
6. Svensk ordbok. 1987 S 771
7. Chernyshova O.V., ”Swedes about Russian. On materials of the beginning of XX century (1900-1920) " " Northern Europe. Problems of history. "Science", ¹ 4, 2003
8. Jensen Alfred. Slavia: Kulturbilder tran Volga till Donau. Stockholm, 1896, S 25
9. Olsson Jan Olof. Leningrad. St-Petersburg. Stockholm 1980
10. Ryska sågfilare och andra//Aftonbladet 03.05.1914
11. Personal correspondence
12. Kerstin Harme, "Våga satsa på Ryssland! "
13. Dagens Nyheter 21.01.2003
14. Dagens Nyheter 25.03.2003
15. Dagens Nyheter 10.4.2003
16. Dagens Nyheter 26.8.2003, Dagens Nyheter 15.09.2003
17. Dagens Nyheter 9.1.2003
18. Dagens Nyheter 5.5.2003
19. Dagens Nyheter 6.3.2003
20. Dagens Nyheter 7.4.2003
21. Dagens Nyheter 11.8.2003
22. Dagens Nyheter 16.3.2003
23. Dagens Nyheter 19 033 003
24. Dagens Nyheter 7.7.2003

© 2003-09-20 Elena Degtereva (Елена Дегтерева)
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