A point of no return

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Written by Carin Stenström

„My greatest worry is that we find ourselves in a development that is irrevocable. That we have reached a point of no return.”

These words, cited from an interview in the magazine DSM, were uttered by Hans Bergström, the former chief editor of DN (Dagens Nyheter) and one of Sweden’s most respected journalists, and should have led to one of summer’s most intensive debates. Bergström has great respect for objectivity, discernment and honesty. He has often been cited and debated in cultural and editorial columns.

But this time there is silence, complete silence. This lack of reaction emphasizes Bergström’s concern: development has possibly gone too far, so far that uncomfortable, non-correct opinions, however important and correct they may be, are met by an unanimous, collective silence from the media. No one has given directions about what may be written, but everyone knows that criticism of the system and government should not be encouraged, everyone knows that silence applies when someone like Bergström deviates from the model.
Bergström is himself aware of these mechanisms: „The police are not necessary as a deterrent. There are far more subtle methods for - who is suitable for an appointment, who can be appointed, who is legitimate in the debate.”
The interview in DSM - standing for Debate • Search For Truth • Media Criticism - is about the development in Sweden towards a stronger central power, where politics, administration, the judicature and the media become blurred and are dependant on each other, and against all weaker counter powers where there is no longer an intellectual middle class with self-esteem and pride, who dare not even protest when development has gone astray.
Bergström means that there is a deliberate accomplished change in mentality that has now gone so far and is hard to repair. Bergström sees himself as an example of the silent intellectual elite. In former times, he means, that if things went wrong, it was both possible and obvious to protest and work for a change. There is today a different mentality: one arranges a personal exit strategy. To work for a change is regarded as impossible and instead one opens the door for a quiet but well prepared flight from the country. Bergström has himself made the decision to leave Sweden.
Bergström goes as far as to describe Sweden as a one-party state, with certain similarities to the old Soviet system. One similarity is that one must belong to a power elite in order to get somewhere in society. Another similarity is the spreading mentality of silence, of adaptation.
It is quite clear to the reader that these are questions that Hans Bergström has contemplated, weighed and considered for a long time. Perhaps this is what is most alarming. Bergström has, for many years, been the political chief editor for Dagens Nyheter, and then chief editor for the whole newspaper. He has held Sweden‚s most influential media position, he has had the possibility of formulating his criticism of the system on Sweden’s major editorial page, he has the power to steer managerial posts, he has been able to give free scope to those who have needed to be heard, support to those who have been ignored or bullied into silence.

But he has done very little about it. As long as he was part of the system, he also functioned as was expected of the system. He took no risk by formulating well motivated criticism, which could have, typical of Bergström, been supported by figures and statistics, and would have, without doubt, been met with resistance. He did not try to change the system and loyal tone of the paper, he did not notably give space to the oppositional. It is not until his own exit-strategy is launched that he speaks out and expresses his real feelings.
Fair enough, one can feel, but at the same time it is a confirmation of how incredibly far the change in mentality has gone to get Bergsröm to speak of „a point of no return”, a situation where we cannot count on being able to restore democracy in a functional state, or be able to restore to the civil society the power and independence necessary for balancing a more and more disrespectful, hungry political power.
A point of no return. It sounds ominous. And it is ominous.