Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Not Quite Dag Hammarskjöld

Joe The other day we went down to the main university building to hear Ban Ki-moon give a brief speech. He was, no doubt, in country on some sort of official business (probably to do with the fact that Sweden holds the presidency of the EU at the moment…), but I'm sure that no Secretary-General of the U.N. could visit Sweden without stopping to pay respects at the grave of Uppsala's most beloved son: Dag Hammarskjöld, the second Secretary-General, who died in a plane crash in Rhodesia while trying to broker a peace treaty.

The half-hour speech itself was about what you'd expect, a call to fix the problems of the world, err, somehow. At least, the part before I dozed off at the end was pretty standard, and I assume it kept going in that vein. There was one amusing bit, though. In what must have seemed a guaranteed crowd pleaser, the Secretary-General mentioned that he liked the university motto, engraved over the entrance to the hall he was speaking in: "Tänka fritt är stort men tänka rätt är större."

Ignoring the fact that this isn't actually the school's motto ("Gratiae veritas naturae"), the truth is that most local Swedes are somewhat conflicted about this statement—hence the response Ban Ki-moon got, which I can only describe as "nervous laughter." The problem is that, while Swedes pride themselves on living in a modern and free society, the fact is that it is also a society where there is a right way to do things—and they'll never admit it, but the drive to fit in is particularly strong in Sweden.

Admission was free, but you had to get tickets in advance for security reasons, and the tickets were accounted for within a few hours of becoming available. We got there perhaps not quite as early as we should have, but before the real crush, and quite innocently managed to avoid all the security by coming in the back door (if they didn't want us to come in that way, then that nice young man shouldn't have opened the door for us, now should he?). Anyway, the upshot is that we managed to get seats up in the balcony shortly before the last minute crush of students, who mostly wound up standing in the aisles through the whole speech. How does one say "fire marshall" in Swedish?

No comments:

Post a Comment