Vice-Chancellor’s blog: Ill fares the land
In Ukraine, exhausted people are fighting for their lives against the Russian aggression. They are fighting for democracy and freedom of speech, for themselves and for all of Europe.
In Sweden, violent crowds assault police officers set to protect citizens and ultimately our democracy and freedom of speech. Over the Easter weekend, this played out in one of Örebro’s parks, where a few hundred rioters injured some ten police officers and set fire to a number of police vans. This during the holy month of Ramadan and on the otherwise so quiet Good Friday – a day of mourning and stillness in the Christian calendar. The university sympathises strongly with the injured police officers, their families and colleagues in Örebro and other parts of the country.
Personally, I have a profound dislike for blasphemy and insults of religious beliefs. Burning the holy texts of the world’s religions is nothing but offensive and foolish. But – in a democratic society, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly take priority. For a university, academic freedom is crucial and can only prosper within a democracy. Research must not dodge the tough questions but allow different perspectives to meet in respectful dialogue, where new knowledge is sought freely. What happened over Easter leaves us with many such questions. Questions to which we must be able to find answers.
I have taken the title of this blog post from the name of a book by the deceased British-American writer Tony Judt. This because the events that unfolded in Sveaparken on Good Friday really are symptoms of a country faring ill. The numerous shootings, gang crime, and the fact that so many adults are unable to make a living are other signs of a Sweden that is not faring very well. This negative development in society is deeply troubling. It undermines trust between people, but it also undermines trust in politics and, by extension, democracy.
Tony Judt offers a perspective on society which in many ways differs from mine, yet I very much agree that:
“The only thing worse than too much government is too little: in failed states, people suffer at least as much violence and injustice as under authoritarian rule, and in addition their trains do not run on time.”
Naturally, Sweden is still far from being a “failed state”. But it is becoming increasingly apparent that the state is not in sufficient control and that its necessary monopoly on violence is severely challenged. The riot of Good Friday is therefore not only a matter for the police, press and politicians. It is something that really concerns us all.
The purpose of a university, among many things, is to serve as society’s living memory, but reasonably also as its sophisticated early warning radar. A radar which can highlight climate change, predict pandemic developments and discover important social change in time.
Ps. Of course, this land is not only faring ill. There are a great many things that work very well in Sweden. But if the state cannot uphold internal and external security, there is a real risk that all else will fail too.