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Another reminder of why anonymity is sometimes necessary, this time from Sweden

I missed this article when it came out in the Observer (the Guardian‘s Sunday sister-paper) three weeks ago: ‘People are scared’: “Sweden’s freedom of information laws lead to wave of deadly bombings”

In a night in September, as summer was turning to autumn, Soha Saad dozed off on the sofa as she stayed up late studying. The 24-year-old, who lived in a quiet village near the Swedish university town of Uppsala with her parents and siblings, had recently graduated as a teacher, a career she was passionate about, and had big dreams for the future.

But in the early hours of the morning, all of that hope came to an end. An explosion ripped through their home, removing the windows and walls, and ending Soha’s life.

She is not thought to have been the intended target of September’s bomb attack – reports at the time said it could have been a neighbour related to a gang member – but was an innocent victim with no connections to gang violence.

With typical cowardice, the Observer article does not mention that the sharp increase in violence in Sweden is almost entirely driven by immigrants, mostly from the Middle East, and to a lesser extent from the Balkans. How does anyone think a problem can be solved if it cannot even be mentioned? In other respects, Miranda Bryant’s article was a good piece of journalism, highlighting how something that was for centuries considered a valuable freedom in Swedish society has become dangerous for many:

In recent years, Sweden has been caught in the grip of escalating gang conflict involving shootings and explosions – largely driven by drug trafficking, involving firearms and bombs. September was the worst month for fatal shootings in Sweden since 2016, with 11 deaths, and 2023 saw the most explosions per year to date.

The Moderate party-run coalition – supported by the far-right Sweden Democrats – have pledged to take action by sending more young people to prison and giving police more powers to search people and vehicles. But with younger and younger people being pulled into crime, turning them into “child soldiers”, the violence is showing little sign of stopping.

The explosions – usually targeting rival gang members and their families – often contain dynamite or gunpowder-based substances, according to police. Hand grenades have also been used.

In most countries, tracking down the address of a potential victim could be a laborious process. But not in Sweden, where it is possible to find out the address and personal details of just about anybody with a single Google search. Experts say criminals are being greatly helped by a 248-year-old law, forming part of Sweden’s constitution.

The 1776 freedom of the press act (tryckfrihetsförordningen) – a revered feature of Swedish society that gives everyone access to official records – marked the world’s first law regulating the right to free speech; the documents are protected on Unesco’s Memory of the World register.

“Public access to information is a fundamental principle in Sweden’s form of government,” according to the Swedish Institute for Human Rights (SIHR). “One of the fundamental laws, the Freedom of the Press Act, contains provisions on the right to access official documents. According to this rule all documents available at an authority are in principle open for the public.”

I can see why Swedes want to keep their traditional tryckfrihetsförordningen. My previous post mentioned the “Streisand Effect” with very little sympathy for Barbra Streisand’s famously counter-productive effort to keep information about her residence out of the public domain. Maybe I should have shown more. Being a libertarian does not oblige me to defend to the hilt everything which has the word “freedom” on it, and it does seem to me that, given how much easier it is for a criminal to track down a victim nowadays than it was in 1776, the freedom not to have one’s name appear in public government records ought be given more weight in Sweden and elsewhere.

19 comments to Another reminder of why anonymity is sometimes necessary, this time from Sweden

  • Paul Marks

    In Sweden “Diversity” has been a disaster – but it will soon be unlawful to say that in the United Kingdom, if it is not unlawful to tell the truth already.

  • george m weinberg

    Sweden is culturally different from US / UK when it comes to concepts of personal privacy. Everyone there has a “personnummer” and they don’t mind at all using it all the time. Nothing like that would fly over here, at least not anythime soon.

  • lucklucky

    With typical cowardice

    Why do you say it is cowardice? i think it is willingly censorship on Guardian/Observer for its communication propose because that news goes contrary to the narrative that The Guardian wants to preach.

    The Guardian/Observer just follows efficient rules of communications. No noise, no disturbance of signal.

    The media do not exist to give you the news, it exists to tell you what you should think.

  • Martin

    You could read that whole piere and be forgiven for thinking there’s an epidemic of young, native Swedes turning into violent gangbangers. We know better of course.

    Anyway, they had a nice Sweden before. Now they have mass immigration, they’re now finding you can’t have nice things anymore.

  • JohnK

    Sweden’s laws were formulated when Sweden was populated by Swedes. They worked well then. However, since Sweden is no longer fully Swedish, it must follow that these laws no longer work in the new circumstances. It turns out that importing uneducated people from violent parts of the world has consequences. Who knew?

  • Steven R

    The West is dead. It died in the trenches of World War I. All we’re seeing now is the death spasms.

  • Kirk

    Steven R said:

    The West is dead. It died in the trenches of World War I. All we’re seeing now is the death spasms.

    While I agree with you in terms of one of the causative factors, I’d submit that the “trenches” were also symptoms of something deeper in, which was the disdain that the political elite of the pre-WWI era felt for their own people. The proles were just resources, along with their own children, to be burnt up in the war… Which was fought over things that were truly petty, in the end.

    It wasn’t the war so much as it was the insouciant manner with which they expended all those lives for a meaningless cause, on both sides. What did the three Imperial powers get out of it? Self-immolation; what did the Republics get out of it? Essentially, the same thing for the French, and to a lesser degree, the Americans.

    The reaction to the war was what did a good deal of the damage, the realization that the people running everything were uncaring dunces, and that nothing really mattered to them about the lower classes, even those right below the elite. In terms of the demography, the damage wasn’t insurmountable, but the damage done to the culture and the rest of it? Deadly.

    Although, you really have to wonder at the naivete on display in the masses… What on God’s green earth made them think that the war was a good idea, that anyone above them knew what they were doing? Was the track record particularly good, given the idiocy that all the various Powers had gotten up to? Did none of them remember what a hash the British had made of the Boer War, or the mess that the Russians got into with the Japanese? Why on earth did anyone give those idiots-in-charge all that heartfelt trust that they’d gladly line up and enlist in the forces so willingly? It’s not like there was this vast history of the elites doing so well at organizing war, either… Look at the Crimean War, for example.

    I agree that WWI was the when the dream broke, but I’ll be damned if I can wrap my head around the dream ever being a thing, either. Frankly, looking at the level of idiocy in the ruling classes at the time, everywhere? I’d feel about like I do, today: They’re all too stupid for words, and I’d trust them to run things about as far as I can throw them. It was no different then than it is today; they’re blindly blundering about, doing the stupid. And, none of it makes the slightest sense, either: What the hell are the Russians getting out of Ukraine, except the immolation of a generation and the expenditure of billions of dollars worth of stored wealth in the form of weaponry that was meant to defend Russia? What, exactly, are they “defending” in Ukraine?

    End-state coming for the Russians? Demographic and economic disaster, probable Chinese imperium as the Chinese are forced to pick up the pieces in Central Asia and Siberia, which may well be the over-reach that kills them, as well. The whole thing is nuts, and exhibits an utter disregard for the welfare of the “comman man” in all these states. Which, given the demographic decline setting in world-wide? Sweet babbling baby Jesus, but are they going to excoriate leaders like Putin in the coming years… And, here in the West, as well.

    The Swedes are doing exactly what the US and Britain are doing: Making it too damn hard and expensive for the native-born to raise kids, and then bringing in foreigners to make up the difference, whose cultures and backgrounds are entirely incompatible with the natives… Won’t end in anything other than disaster, and they did it to themselves with a thousand-and-one little “fixes” to things like the mandates for car seats and smaller cars…

  • Steven R

    War was seen as a rite of passage and a grand time all around. Toting a rifle for king and country was seen as a way to prove one’s manhood during the Victorian and Edwardian Ages. Women went along with the whole program with their white feather. Winning a girl’s love on the battlefield was just part of the whole cultural zeitgeist and not just in the Anglosphere. There was rampant militarism in Prussia, and by extension all of Germany. Just like in the American South prior to the Civil War, there were military clubs and local militias were participants trained for war. And the big wars were still within living memory. The old men remembered fighting in the Franco-Prussian War or the Boxer Rebellion or the Indian Wars or the Spanish-American War or any of those colonial wars and they told the stories the same way they heard the stories of glory and excitement from the men who fought in the Napoleonic Wars. They didn’t think of whether or not the war was for a good cause or if the generals and kings knew what they were doing. They just went because it was just part of their culture. And that is before we get into the desire to settle old debts like the French had against the Germans because of the humiliation of the Franco-Prussian War.

    Our grandfathers went to war because Hitler and Tojo had to be stopped. Their fathers went to war because it was expected of them to do so. None of them ever thought they would be one of the lions led by asses.

  • Kirk

    The mistake is seeing any glory whatsoever in war. The problem is that there are other people out there who think that it is “glorious”, and who want to use it as a means of getting ahead. The Germans in WWI had a lot of that, as exemplified in the novel “All Quiet on the Western Front”, and so did everyone else.

    Russia strikes me as having that “glory” mentality, today. The Ukrainians, on the other hand? They’re just trying to survive more of the usual Russian insanity, so far as I can tell. At least, on the side of the lower-level troops. What the people running the show really think and what motivates them? I will not speculate, because I’ve got no idea.

    Seeing anything glorious in war is a delusion of such epic magnitude that I can’t even begin to express that in words. Even when you’re fighting “the good fight” on the “right side”, it is enormously destructive and enormously damaging to the participants. I knew a lot of good people who were ruined by it, even when it was “relatively” moral and justified. Even “war-adjacent”, like peacekeeping operations in Somalia does psychic damage to people, just from the exposure to that wholesale inequity.

    I think that what would surprise the average person most about the truly professional military is just how many of us are ardent pacifists, reluctant to go to war. For any cause. War is like fighting a forest fire by setting the rest of the forest on fire, and nobody likes being the one setting the backfires…

  • Lee Moore

    The freedom of speech and the right to access government records are different ideas.

  • Kirk

    Lee Moore said:

    The freedom of speech and the right to access government records are different ideas.

    You would think, but I suspect that the Swedes see it differently. Very differently… There’s a huge component of enforced egalitarianism in modern Swedish culture.

    You don’t want to “stand out”, and the social controls surrounding all that imply that anyone wanting to know anything about you, from government records? That they can do it. I remember reading a few years back about how Swedish investigative journalists were really lucky and naive about being able to access things that in other countries would be covered under privacy laws, which their concept of is extremely different than ours. Income tax returns, for example? All open, all accessible to anyone.

    You’ve got the right to free speech, sure, but… There are imposed limitations inherent to this other thing, the unfettered access to government documents about you. It’s quite like the way the Catholic Church leverages confession: Even though you’re promised confidentiality, you have that looming Sword of Damocles overhead for all your life. You know you did it, the priest you confessed to knows you did it, and you have to keep in mind that he could always breach the sanctity of the confessional… Which tends to keep you in line. This is the same thing.

    The interesting thing that I took from that is that Sweden was a very high-trust and homogenous country when they came up with these ideas, and that they would have to adapt to new conditions once they got done turning their society upside down. This adaptation ain’t happened, yet. But, it will. It will have to, thanks to the ill-judged stupidity of the people who thought it would be just brilliant to bring in all these primitives.

    Same thing happening in Minnesota, right now. I expect that there will either be pogroms or they’ll be submerged in a morass of low-trust society members. You can’t run things, both ways, in the same state-space…

  • djc

    I suspect that in 1776, the government’s records, in Sweden or anywhere else, contained very little personal information. Was there an income tax then? Driving licence? Searchable national databases?

  • Paul Marks

    Sweden did not fight in the First World War – or the Second World War.

    Nor was the West “dead” in say 1964 – the West was, basically, doing fine – positive demographics and so on. If the West was O.K. in, say, 1964 how can the West have been killed in a war that lasted from 1914 to 1918.

    As for the growth of the state, that is indeed a terrible thing – but in the United Kingdom that started in the 1870s (even as a proportion of the economy), not in 1914. And Sweden, which has not fought in any wars at all for centuries, has seen just as much growth of the state as other Western countries have.

    This does not mean the First World War was a good thing, far from it. The German Ambassador (yes the German Ambassador) to the United Kingdom in 1914 was quite right to condemn his own government in Berlin – for invading countries without just cause, and for refusing to even discuss matters of dispute at a conference (proposed by Sir Edward Grey the British Foreign Secretary).

    All Berlin was interested in was the fact that their army was ready for war whereas both the Russian and French armies were in a mess, both in the middle of a reorganisation that would have taken years to complete. The French reorganisation would have taken at least two years to finish, the Russian reorganisation at least four years to finish (in 1914 the Russian armed forces were basically nonfunctional – after the German Declaration of War on Russia and invasion of Belgium and France, the Russians just flung themselves into the fight, without any real organisation or professionalism, counting or raw courage alone – the French soldiers fought in brightly coloured parade ground style uniforms, with brass bands playing, this did not go well) – but the attitude in Berlin “we are ready for war, you are not, so let there be war” was short sighted.

    General Falkenhayn (who later killed so many French soldiers at Verdun and so many British soldiers on the Somme) was AGAINST war – pointing out that Germany being ready and its rivals be utterly unprepared was not the only factor that should be considered.

    Such things as the German Declaration of War on France in 1914 (which was a blatant tissue-of-lies – it even pretended the French were bombing Bavaria) troubled many Germans of conscience – including in the German army.

  • Paul Marks

    French (like Russian) reliance on courage rather than tactical professionalism (the “science of war” as the Germans called it) did not start in 1914.

    In 1870 a French General asked in despair “where are the soldiers you promised to send me?” – upon being answered (with some bafflement) that here-they-are, he replied “no – these are brave men who are going to get themselves killed, but they are not soldiers”.

    In 1914 General Samsonov commander of the 2nd Russian Army (which, like the 1st Army under Pavel Rennenkampf, had been flung forward any-old-how to try and distract the Germans from destroying France) reported that his scouts had discovered that the army was marching into a German trap – should he not move away from it?

    General Jilinsky replied – “General Samsonov will not be permitted to play the coward, I insist on him continuing the advance”.

    So Samsonov continued to fling his men, and himself, forwards – later shooting himself to avoid capture.

  • Paul Marks

    Kirk and jdc – both of you make good points.

    As for Confession – Hollywood gets this wrong (although, so do many priests) absolution is not supposed to be granted after just saying a few “Our Fathers” or “Hail Marys” – the person must show they have sincerely repented.

    For example, someone who confesses murder or some other crime – “go now and hand yourself over for just punishment, then I will visit you in the cell and God will grant you absolution for your terrible sin – as you have shown sincere repentance”.

    So confidentiality should not be an issue – not for someone who shows their sincere repentance by openly admitting what they have done and accepting just punishment.

    “We should not be judgemental – just grant absolution even if they do not hand themselves in for just punishment” has no basis in Canon Law.

    Again, sincere repentance must be shown – it should not just be a matter of saying a few ritual words.

    A confession may indeed be heard from someone who is not sincerely repentant – but absolution may not be granted.

  • phwest

    On the subject of war and the death of the west, I think it is difficult for those of us fortunate enough to have lived in a modern, industrial society to understand just how abnormal it is in human experience. Look at an actuarial table sometime. Something close to 98% of infants born in the US are expected to live to their 30th birthday, and something like a quarter of those who don’t die in their first year. It wasn’t that long ago that median life expectancy was close to 30. Human beings don’t perceive very low odds chances very well, and the 1 in a 1000 or so chance an adult American in their prime years has of dying is close enough to zero that we take life largely for granted. You can’t do that when you’re facing more like a 1-2% chance, and you see peers in your immediate social group dying every year. That is a very different world, and if you observe the parts of the world today that live closer to that condition (there may be a few pockets left that are truly primitive, but not many) you see attitudes towards life and violence that are very different.

    I believe most social change over the last 100 years has roots in this change in our circumstances. The decline of Christianity in the West can be ascribed to affluence. The Christian Faith excels as a means of facing trials and tribulations, in the absence of those challenges it becomes little more than a social club. The virtual elimination of childhood mortality has lead to smaller families. The prolongation of adolescence rests in part on the confidence that you have plenty of time before you need to get serious about life – which further saps family formation and increases population decline. The dramatically different response to COVID compared to the influenza outbreaks in the 50s and 60s was the outrage of a culture that didn’t think death from disease was something they had to think about. With each generation raised in modernity we get further and further from the world our genes and traditional cultures evolved for.

    This aspect of the modern world is something that human beings and human cultures are not adapted for. Temporary abundance sure, but not this level of security. We are still trying to work out a new culture to sustain it.

  • jgh

    Yes, I keep saying that culturally people have no understanding that until very recently the population pyramid was this:
    0- 9 20% ****************************************
    10-19 18% *************************************
    20-29 15% *******************************
    30-39 13% ***************************
    40-49 10% *********************
    50-59 9% *******************
    60-69 6% *************
    70-79 3% *******
    80-89 0% *
    90-99 0%
    (UK 1911)

    and they think that this is normal:
    0- 9 12% ************************
    10-19 11% **********************
    20-29 13% **************************
    30-39 13% **************************
    40-49 13% **************************
    50-59 14% ****************************
    60-69 11% **********************
    70-79 8% ****************
    80-89 4% ********
    90-99 1% **
    (UK 2021)

    and are horrified when people do actually die. Until recently, *everybody* had 10% or more of their peers die every decade. By now, half of my classmates would have died. As far as I know all of them are still alive.

    (I hope those charts come out ok)

  • Kirk

    @Paul Marks,

    The point I’m making about what we could term “confessional social control” isn’t addressed at the big-ticket items like murder and so forth… Someone willing to do that sort of extremely transgressive act won’t be restrained by the idea that the village priest knows about it. The sort of thing I’m talking about is the lower-level sort of thing that really keeps the average person’s head down when it comes to committing social transgressions. Similar to the way that it’s rarely the males of a society clamping down on young women’s wild behavior, the whole thing boils down to the collective censurious pressure of the mass. When you’ve got the “old women” looking on and clucking at the costume you’re wearing, there goes your reputation as potential mate, your prospects for good marriage… And on and on. When the priest knows what you got up to with the widow Luisa, and then he asks you for some money to fix up the sacristy…? All those little things add up, and the surrounding matrix of custom and convention lock the society down.

    You have to look at these things from a watchmaker’s perspective: Any society can be looked at as a mechanism, with every feature having a function, even if some appear vestigial at first glance. Even relatively silly traditions like the various village festivals have their purpose… Consider the traditional Roman Saturnalia deal where there was one day a year that the masters served the servants, and the servants aped the masters: That reminded the masters that they should not go too far with their slaves/servants, and it allowed the servant class a moment of relief from their condition, and to signal the masters about problems in the household. As such, the tradition persisted up until the modern day, aped by even the Victorians who occasionally observed the forms of the very same custom. That’s one of those things that goes so far back that it may have come to Britain with the Romans, and we never really paid much attention to how it persisted or where it originated. Many cultures have had that same feature, for the same reasons: To relieve social pressure and remind the bosses where things come from. Hell, some commanders in the US Army do this on a fairly regular basis, although I dare say that most never stop to analyze why they do it, or what it really accomplishes.

    Social controls aren’t addressed at the people willing to break the norms in big ways, like murder. Little would or will dissuade that sort, so they’re not going to listen. Who will listen to those silent voices? The average person, who has to listen to his wife bitch and moan about how she can’t show her face unless his Sunday collection plate donation is up to snuff… All those little things add up, until you’re set in a straight-jacket of social norms and conventions.

    All this crap was set up and developed over the long haul by some very canny observational psychologists. You look at tradition, and see nothing but quaint obsolescence? You’re really not seeing the true reality: In my observation, down the years? There isn’t a single thing in persistent social customs that isn’t there due to serving some function in the greater whole.

    PHWest makes some excellent points that I’ve thought around the edges of, but which he makes crystalline-clear. It is a question of adaptation lag, to coin a phrase: Conditions have changed, in terms of human survival, and we simply haven’t adapted.

    I think that we’re going to have to make a whole series of changes in order to adapt to what I’d term “human scarcity”. What do you do, when there aren’t enough hands or minds to go around every single requirement we have to maintain our civilization? Will there be forced-draft job assignments, telling people “Yeah, you? You need to go into road maintenance, never mind your ambition to write the Great American Novel…” The whole thing is going to get very, very interesting… Especially when the economics of the whole thing start to break down. You see that now in fast food, here in the US: McDonalds is now selling your average Big Mac meal for close to twenty bucks a pop, and that’s not only due to the inflationary pressure, but because all these idiots wanted fifteen dollars an hour for what amounts to very low-skill labor. The more wages they demand, the higher the price a McDonalds franchisee has to charge, and the smaller the market becomes, which means… Yeah. Can you say “Doom Spiral”? I knew you could…

    Lots of industries are going to be facing that problem, in the coming years.

  • Paul Marks


    I see what you mean – I am sorry for being so slow on the uptake,

    My old head is full of sawdust these days.

    As for breakdown – we are fairly close to it.

    For example, in Britain most crimes go unsolved – and when crimes do get prosecuted the courts take years.

    The Magistrates Courts, once the unpaid feature that made the English and Welsh system work, have largely broken down already.

    Every time I walk into town I pass the police station (closed – there is a Police H.Q. on the outskirts of town, but the public are not allowed in, so it is not a police station as we understood the term, the magistrates courts (closed) and the country court (for civil, rather than criminal cases – anyway it is closed as well).

    This is an area of close to 100 thousand people – main town and near by places.

    The economy?

    Like America it is mostly “GDP” (Gross Domestic Product) – spending from Credit Money created from NOTHING, rather than farming or manufacturing.

    “Why do we import so much food and manufactured goods?” – “Oh you silly reactionary – farming and manufacturing are a tiny proportion of GDP, and we can increase GDP by creating more money, from nothing, and spending it”.

    That is what has passed for “economics” for many years now.

    The next Labour government will destroy what is left of the real economy – I will not survive it.

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