In a film about neutral Sweden during World War II, the protagonist, a young women hiking in the woods near her home sees an escapee from Norway fall dead into the brook marking the common border. The German officer of the occupying force calmly puts away his gun, saluting the Swedish border guard having rushed to the scene. Hesitantly, the latter returns the salute. Who recovers the body we don’t learn.
What is now Nordregio with the ambition of becoming the most sustainable and integration region in the world by 2030 (Braun 2021) was split between neutral Sweden, German-occupied Denmark and Norway and the ally of the Wehrmacht against the USSR, Finland.
A good Swedish friend told me once about a Norwegian recounting his father having taken the same dangerous route as the dead man in the film. Having been apprehended by the Swedes, during his medical checkup, his father had asked for a cigarette. Having seen that it was his birthday, the doctor had given him the whole packet. The doctor having been my friend’s father, the story was part of the family lore. Having found each other, my Swedish friend and the Norwegian took advantage of the chance discovery of their mutual bond and shared a good bottle of cognac.
I was reminded of both border episodes when reading a Nordregio Report on the effects of Covid-19. (Giacometti, Meijer 2021) Now part of Schengen, the Nordic Passport Union has enabled citizens to travel and reside in any Nordic country since 1954. On frequent visits, Copenhagen‘s Kastrup airport rather than Arlanda at Stockholm was more convenient for reaching Karlskrona, a three hour plus journey through the undulating South of Sweden by a Danish rail company. Until Sweden’s unilateral border closure to stem the flow of refugees coming to the same airport at Kastrup, this was more convenient, but it became less so when, to stem the tide, passports were checked at the first Swedish station at Malmö. The very platform from where I used to depart – and where friendly locals gave refugees food and advise – now features in the report on Covid-19: If only for different reasons, passengers coming from Sweden are being checked upon entry to Denmark. Consider that, thanks to the Øresund Bridge, Kopenhagen en Malmö are closely integrated to the extent of their having a joint Øresund University. (http://www.uni.oresund.org/)
Yes, like in the rest of the Schengen Zone where freedom of travel had reigned, border fences have reappeared as ‘… a strong reminder that we are still living in the age of the nation-state’, as Giacometti and Meijer (2021, 15) say, quoting Hwang and Höllerer (2020). This even where, as in this part of Europe, people are generally able to communicate in their own language and where English is very common anyhow. (As the film I have seen shows, this was not yet the cases during World War II!) So, as the Nordregio report once again states, closures inflicted significant costs, separating families and friends, disrupting access to work, education and basic services, giving communities that have not seen anything like this since World War II a shock. Worse still, there was a surge in nationalism ‘…driven by the frustration of conflicting approaches in neighbouring countries … often fuelled by sensationalistic and one-sided media coverage.’ (Why is Nordic cooperation struggling during the pandemic?’ Press release, March 15 2021. Available at: https://nordregio.org/why-is-nordic-co-operation-struggling-during-the-pandemic/) Sounds familiar?
Braun, M. (2021) The Politics of Regional Cooperation and the Impact on the European Union, Edgar Elgar, Cheltenham.
Giacometti, A., Meijer, M.W. (2021) Closed border and divided communities: Status report and lessons from Covid-19 in cross-border areas, Nordregio Report, Stokholm. Available at: http://pub.nordregio.org/r-2021-6-crossborder-covid/#.
Hwang, H., Höllerer, H. (2020) ‘The COVID-19 crisis and Its consequences: Ruptures and transformations in the global institutional fabric. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 2020, Vol. 56(3).