power makes national colors ominous

I was sitting on the Stockholm subway the other day, on my way to watch bunny hopping with NK, I think, and I noticed that the subway cars are decorated in blue and yellow.

As in the colors of the Swedish flag. Blue seats, yellow poles.

The effect is rather charming, actually. But then I thought about how I would react to a New York City subway car done up in red, white and blue.

I would be disgusted. Overdoing it. Ugly nationalism. I mostly blame the recent Republicans for taking a wonderful flag and turning it – and the country it represents – into an often unpleasant symbol, especially when abroad.

But still. Are the Stockholm subway cars not overdoing it? I see more Swedish flags flying in the summer in Sweden than American ones in America. Why am I not more turned off by this? For I am turned off a littlle, actually.

Because Sweden is not a superpower. It simply comes down to that.

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7 thoughts on “power makes national colors ominous

  1. Because the Swedish flag is more pretty than the American one? Just a thought. or maybe because most Americans out there, in the US, are way more nationalistic (some might say, not too far away from the degree of the nationalism displayed by the Nazis in the 1930s and 40s) than most Swedes will ever be.

    Read this little segment of the “Flag of the United Stated”-entry on wikipedia:

    “Flag etiquette

    Main article: United States Flag Code

    The United States Flag Code outlines certain guidelines for the use, display, and disposal of the flag. For example, the flag should never be dipped to any person or thing, unless it is the ensign responding to a salute from a ship of a foreign nation. (This tradition may come from the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, where countries were asked to dip their flag to King Edward VII: the American flag bearer did not. Team captain Martin Sheridan is famously quoted as saying “this flag dips to no earthly king,” though the true provenance of this quotation is unclear[17][18]).
    Flags on display on the National Mall.

    The flag should never be allowed to touch the ground and, if flown at night, must be illuminated. If the edges become tattered through wear, the flag should be repaired or replaced. When a flag is so tattered that can no longer serve as a symbol of the United States, it should be destroyed in a dignified manner, preferably by burning. The American Legion and other organizations regularly conduct dignified flag-burning ceremonies, often on Flag Day, June 14. It is a common myth that if a flag touches the ground or becomes soiled, it must be burned as well. While a flag that is currently touching the ground and a soiled flag are unfit for display, neither situation is permanent and thus the flag does not need to be burned if the unfit situation is remedied.[19]

    Significantly, the Flag Code proscribes using the flag “for any advertising purpose” and also states that the flag “should not be embroidered, printed, or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use”.[20] Both of these prohibitions are widely flouted, almost always without comment.

    Although the Flag Code is U.S. Federal law, there is no penalty for failure to comply with the Flag Code and it is not widely enforced—indeed, punitive enforcement would conflict with the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.[21] Passage of the proposed Flag Desecration Amendment would overrule legal precedent that has been established.”

  2. Hm. Never thought about it. But if it is a thought behind yellow-blue, it could be called a chic thing to do for tourists (who wants to get wrapped up in the all-Swedish for a while), sort of likt the Swedish flags on the train from Arlanda airport, not real nationalism.

  3. And of course, they do the same thing at American airports. American flags everywhere. I guess I just find it off-putting in the states now. Too much. But I don’t feel that way in Sweden.

  4. Hi Nathan, Nick just pointed out your blog to me. Is very interesting so far!
    I too noticed the huge number of flagpoles in peoples’ gardens when travelling in Scandinavia. And like you, I also feel uncomfortable when I see our British Union Jack displayed too overtly. But a Norwegian explained to me that they are proud to fly their flag, not to show their power, but simply because they are proud to belong to a decent, modern, progressive society. I guess that might be the same in Sweden, too.

  5. Hi Alex! I think that Norwegian is probably right. And that is certainly the way most people would think about it on the surface. But there is a lingering distrust of immigrants in this region, most obviously in Denmark, and some people have a pretty strong sense of the “folk,” which I don’t love. But all in all, probably just a charming way to show some solidarity and pride.

  6. There is no Swedish flags at Arlanda airport. I only talked about the train that connects the airport with the city. The seats have Swedish flags. That is a strange thing. It’s more a chic tourist thing, or “art”, then real nationalism.

    The existence of flag poles is never debated here. I have never heard anyone describing it as nationalism. It’s more that it is a decoration tradition since the 50’s or something. If you’ve got a red house with white edges you must have a flag pole too. It’s sort of like that every boat has a flag.

    But it is extremely rare with people standing up and defending “the Swedish” (actually, liking everything that is “unswedish”, continental, is much more common – ask Fredrik Lindström, the icon of analyzing the Swedish soul). The defenders of “the Swedish” is mostly brutal working-class/unemployed men (and some female followers) who are into viking culture and organized anti-immigration politics. It contributes that those people often live in ghetto suburbs among immigrants. That makes them more extreme.

    Therefore my advice is to only associate the flags that is on balconies in suburbs with nationalism/racism, not the poles in the yards. This is not a speech for all non-working class people, but I really think the balcony/yard distincion is a good way to describe it.

    You can try asking some Swede if they have heard the debate about Nazis kidnapping the flag so that no one else dare using it in fear of being associated with Nazis (except if you have a yard with a traditional Swedish house or a boat). It is extremely likely that they have heard about it. That’s the big debate.

  7. I think this comes down to my personal experience. I lived in the former Yugoslavia for three years after the wars there, and saw how seemingly innocent symbols were transformed into true ugliness. And I lived just outside New York City on 9/11 and covered the aftermath as a journalist. And there, too, I became very uncomfortable with the way the flag and patriotism ended up being used by a chunk of people (though not everyone, of course, that was a time to come together and the flag was a wonderful way to do it).

    But I still come away a little nervous about even the flag poles on the houses. I guess I just don’t love nationalism, even in its nicest, most picturesque, patriotic forms.

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