If you think that nothing could possibly beat a bunch of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad when it comes to triggering conflicts in the modern world, think again.
My advice if you should ever for whatever reason happen to visit Sweden is: Don’t mention the carnivores! Ever!
If you do, you will soon discover that the Swedish reputation for moderation and rational discourse is – shall we say somewhat exaggerated. It is not without reason that the English “let sleeping dogs lie” has been translated into the Swedish “let sleeping bears lie”. And by bears we don’t mean Russians but members of the species Ursus Arctos.
To a foreigner living in Sweden the obsession with carnivores is fascinating because the greatest danger to humans is in fact posed by the common moose. Traffic incidents involving mooses are frequent and as a full-grown animal is not only big and heavy but also designed a bit like an SUV, it will cause severe damage on an ordinary car. This is why Volvos have traditionally been built like tanks.
The carnivore which poses the biggest danger to a human, should you encounter it, is the bear. The good news is that bears are shy and will try to escape if they catch the smell or hear the noise of a human. This is why direct confrontations between humans and bears are very rare.
Wolves are much less dangerous to humans than bears but have a worse reputation (Test: Would you rather give your 1-year old a toy wolf or a teddy bear?). Part of the reason is that wolves attack small livestock (yes, sheep!) and imposes a cost on some farmers but irrational fears steeped in the ancient peasant culture seems to live on.
The Wolf enters Politics
The Swedish elections are 7 months away but the wolves have already entered the campaign. In Älvdalen the local branch of the Moderate Party (the Swedish Conservatives) managed to collect enough signatures to bring a petition for a local referendum about the regulation of the carnivore stock on the agenda of the local council. The issue has also been on the political agenda in other parts of Dalarna and Värmland.
The carnivore question has an interesting centre-periphery aspect: In Dalarna and Värmland national carnivore policies are also seen as a sign of urban indifference to agricultural societies. At the same time, the Social Democratic hegemony in Swedish politics is built on the party’s ability to penetrate and mobilise the Swedish periphery.
The government at first tried the tried and tested way of dealing with such questions: Estabishing a public inquiry and incorporating potential opposition. On January 19, the Department of Environment issued the former chairman of the Federation of Swedish Farmers, Hans Jonsson, with the task of reviewing national policies. The review was to be finished in June 2007.
Nice try but the elections are in September 2006. What to do?
In a letter to Dagens Nyheter on Tuesday Februar 7 the Minister of Agriculture Ann-Christin Nykvist (note the portfolio) and the Social Democratic party secretary Marita Ulvskog (elected in Dalarna!) announced that the Social Democratic party would establish a fast-working group that in cooperation with local interests would present new proposals for a decentralisation of policies regarding the regulation of carnivore stocks.
If you are an independent observer you may want to ask why the Social Democratic government first establishes an inquest and then three weeks later declares that the party can’t wait for the results and sets up a competing committee.
Hans Jonsson did that and declared on Wednesday that he would resign from the inquiry.
Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? The Social Democrats, that’s who.