A feature by Swedish national broadcaster SVT about recent research which contends that the prevalence of of murder has been falling steadily since the 15th century, has triggered a strong reaction among Swedes amid what many perceive to be a wave of violent crime.
Citing research by Cambridge professor Manuel Eisner, SVT stated that the risk of being murdered in Europe has fallen sharply over the past centuries, suggesting that today's people live in “one of the most peaceful periods ever”.
According to criminology professor Manuel Eisner, Europe used to be a much more dangerous place in the past. Eisner has mapped European homicide statistics from the 13th to the 21st century, a job that took him ten years to compile. By his own admission, he went through court records, prison records and cash registers.
“Every hundred years, the murder rate was halved,” Eisner told SVT. He attributed this dynamic to the more pronounced role of the state, increased literacy and better self-control.
However, many questioned the relevance of the research and interpreted the findings as an attempt to relativise violence in today's society.
“A desperate attempt to relativize the violence that has escalated over the past 10 years. Well done”, one reader commented.
Ett desperat försök att relativisera våldet som trappats upp de senaste 10 åren.— Tandläkar-Tompa (@Tandlakar_Tom) October 12, 2020
“800 years ago, didn't they die of major infections? Any assault could be fatal due to non-existent medical care. But it is clear, the purpose is to show that the recent years' explosion of violence in Sweden is really just business as usual, so it does not matter,” another one tweeted.
För 800 år sedan dog man väl av alla större infektioner? Varje misshandel kunde vara dödlig på grund av obefintlig sjukvård. Men det är klart, är syftet att visa att de senaste årens våldsexplosion i Sverige egentligen bara är som det alltid har varit, så spelar det ingen roll.— filurer (@filurer1) October 12, 2020
“It is really 1984 re-enacted in today's Sweden. Jesus!” another one mused.
Det är verkligen boken 1984 nu i dagens Sverige. Jisses😦😦— som en regndroppe i havet. (@masterplaninfit) October 12, 2020
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics,” another one said, quoting a saying popularised by Mark Twain and attributed to British PM Benjamin Disraeli.
"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.".— Bossebau (@BosseLehtonen) October 12, 2020
Many called it “political propaganda” and “East German TV” and some wryly pointed out that the number of dinosaurs has also decreased, compared with 65 million years ago.
However, others argued that the research held water, attributing the progress to “the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and – of course – capitalism & the liberal democratic society, which brought about economic prosperity surpassing everything seen before”.
One of the reasons the feature sparked such strong reactions was a recent National Security Survey by the Crime Prevention Council (Brå) that reported a record number of Swedes who have been exposed to crimes such as threats, assault, and robbery.
Some 9.2 percent of the respondents admitted to having been exposed to threats sometime in 2019, 3.6 percent stated that they had been subjected to assault, and 1.5 percent to robbery. These are the highest figures on record in Sweden.
The survey also recorded an increase in perceived insecurity, with men mostly worried about being robbed and women worried about sexual assault. Overall, the proportion of those who are concerned about crime in society has increased to nearly half of the population at 47 percent, another record high.