'A Flag Worth Defending': Swedish Armed Forces Raise Eyebrows With Heavy Pride Advertising
As the Swedish Armed Forces press secretary put it, the military has been traditionally associated with “macho culture” and seeks to distance itself.
The Swedish Armed Forces have invested heavily in celebrating the Pride Festival. On 1 August, the Swedish military bought the entire front page of Svenska Dagbladet, one of the country's leading dailies, which bills itself “independently moderate”.
The full-page advertisement shows four soldiers, one of whom is holding a rainbow flag. The motto above the picture reads: “A flag worth defending”. Below it is the caption: “We defend human rights, the equal value of all and our right to live as we choose.”
“We take a stand for the equal value of people. The Armed Forces are open to everyone regardless of religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation. We have traditionally been associated with macho culture, we want to get away from that,” Armed Forces press secretary Therese Fagerstedt told the newspaper Expressen.
The Armed Forces will, as in previous years, also take part in Pride. This year, the campaign takes place digitally, just like last year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, and extra staff has been called in to moderate comments and questions on social media during Pride Week
The PR-stunt has stirred polarising reactions ranging from support and admiration to criticism and disgust.
Former chairman of the liberal-conservative Moderate Party Youth League Benjamin Dousa hailed the front page and its message.
“Totally agree. Good of the Armed Forces,” he tweeted.
“A flag worth defending. Couldn't have said it better myself. Whoever gets upset about this, well then you're just a f***ing idiot”, regional Centre Party youth leader Bilan Jonsson tweeted.
“Why are people so emotional about this ad? Surely no one believes that the Armed Forces wouldn't defend Sweden? I think it is a good signal to, say, countries in the Middle East that in Sweden you can live with whoever you want. We are open and tolerant,” Lars Beckman of the Moderate Party tweeted.
“It is a nice and telling ad that tells that the Armed Forces is inclusive and defends everyone's right to love whoever they want. A clear and good marking of what is worth defending in Sweden”, journalist Patrik Oksanen, senior fellow of the Frivärld (Free World) think-tank told the newspaper Expressen. He ventured that the pushback was “predictable” as such issues tend to mobilise “right-wing extremists” and “Russian accounts that like to portray Sweden as decadent”.
Others went so far as to say that they “get the shivers” and are “damn proud of the Swedish military”.
Still others, however, were far less pleased with the signalling.
Journalist and debater Ivar Arpi emphasised that the rainbow flag is seen by many as a political symbol and that it is therefore “unfortunate” that the Armed Forces choose to be seen as a political actor.
“The Armed Forces must beware of controversial symbols. They can stick to the Swedish flag, that is enough,” he mused.
Many supported his train of thought.
“Worth defending. This is what the Swedish flag looks like, the Armed Forces,” blogger Micke69 tweeted, attaching a photograph of Sweden's national flag.
“A flag worth defending, but not for the Armed Forces,” another user wrote, attaching a video of Olympic gold medallist in discus throwing Daniel Ståhl celebrating his effort with Sweden's national flag.
“Hello, this is how the Swedish flag looks like,” another one chimed in with a photo of the national flag.
The Swedish Armed Forces have in recent years embraced diversity, inclusivity
, and equality with mottos like “Come as you are”, “We don't always march straight” and “Our strength consists of differences”, pledging to increase the share of women, LGBT people and Muslims.