Lessons from Anna Lindh’s death

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(Host) Commentator Philip Baruth marks the recent murder of Sweden’s young foreign minister, Anna Lindh.

(Baruth) It’s funny the way one unexpected fork in the road can take you to an entirely different landscape like marrying somebody, this somebody as opposed to that somebody. I know almost nothing about Lithuania, mostly I think because I didn’t marry a woman from Lithuania. Or Portugal, or Brazil. But I know a ton about Sweden, that’s for sure. That’s because my wife is a Swede, and she made it clear from the beginning that she thought it would be a good thing if I were to learn a ton about Sweden.

Sometimes when Annika’s mother Birgit visits, and they sit talking in rapid Swedish with our daughter, the three of them laughing and eating these strange cheese and caviar spreads squeezed like toothpaste from metal tubes at those moments I’ll think to myself, How in the world did this happen?

Don’t get me wrong I’m ecstatic about it. But it’s nothing that could have been predicted, sort of like getting on a plane to Newark in February and having it somehow touch down in the Virgin Islands, without a word of warning from the pilot or the crew.

And so without a word of warning, a part of my loyalties, my affections, now lie in this skinny, sparsely populated finger of land in Northern Europe. When Astrid Lindgren died, I was pretty broken up about it. Everything my daughter knows about being a stand-up girl she learned from Astrid Lindgren.

And now, just a few days ago, Sweden’s foreign minister Anna Lindh was murdered, with a knife, in broad daylight, right smack in the middle of a department store called NK in Stockholm. The Swedish police now have a suspect in custody, but there was a period after the crime when it looked as though the murderer might just slip away into the crowds, like the murderer of the Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palma in the 1980’s.

Lindh was 46, with a husband and two kids, and she was smart: a foreign minister on track to become prime minister herself some day fairly soon. She’d been leading the campaign for Sweden to convert to the Euro, the “YES” campaign as it’s known. She personified the future of Sweden’s Social Democrats.

My wife Annika was devastated Anna Lindh was one of her role models, and NK is one of her favorite stores, and Stockholm is her favorite city in the world. And I found myself hit almost as hard. I know the spot where Lindh turned to see the man in the Nike baseball cap coming toward her. I know the tranquility of Stockholm, even with its million or more inhabitants. The people on the streets always feel to me like a crowd that’s just let out of church or a good movie restless, but with their heads and their hearts undeniably in the right place.

It’s like a Vermont crowd, almost exactly, and finally that’s what really troubles me about Anna Lindh’s death. Sweden is the Vermont of Europe, and Vermont is America’s Sweden, and their hard lessons apply to us. Our politicians also walk without bodyguards and sit unprotected in their offices, and buy bagels with us on Sunday mornings.

We need to remember that, and we need to remember Anna Lindh, who was 46, the mother of two, and surrounded by people and light and safety when she first saw the man in the baseball cap.

Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont.

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