“What is truly Scandinavian? Absolutely nothing.”
Scandinavian Airlines temporarily removed an ad from its social media channels after receiving a deluge of criticism online and from right-wing politicians, going so far as calling on the Danish government (who owns 14% of the airline) to do something. What was it about the ad that garnered such a ferocious response?
The ad poses the question, “What is Scandinavian?” and then follows up with, “Absolutely nothing” as the answer. The narration goes on to point out that such hallmarks of Scandinavian culture do not originate in Scandinavian countries. Among the examples, the narration notes that parental leave comes from Switzerland, windmills came from Persia, and licorice China. It concludes by noting that what is Scandinavian is that “We take everything we like on our trips abroad, adjust it a little bit and it’s a unique Scandinavian thing. Going out into the world inspires us to think big even though we’re quite small…Bringing the best of everything to here. In a way, Scandinavia was brought here piece by piece, by everyday people who found the best of our home away from home.”
This mild—even poetic—sentiment was met with the sort of outrage one tends to reserve only for the most treasonous of betrayals.
According to ABC News, Richard Jomshof, a Swedish lawmaker, said the ad was “devilish nonsense and self-hatred. Have always tried to fly with SAS, but never again. It’s a promise.” Jomshof is a member of the anti-immigrant and populist Sweden Democrats, a party that, the BBC notes, has “roots in neo-Nazism, but rebranded itself in recent years.”
Comments on SAS’ social media ranged from people saying the ad denigrated Scandinavian culture to evoking white nationalists in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us” and stating that “Europe is for whites.”
SAS released a statement on its website that the decision to temporarily remove the ad was not the result of a change of heart, but rather a suspicion that the deluge of negative attention was part of a coordinated attack. “The pattern in the comment sections and the volume of reactions in SAS’ social media channels suggest that the campaign was subject to an attack. We cannot accept being a platform for values that we do not share.”
A second statement noted that SAS will continue with the campaign as planned, adding it back to its YouTube channel and Facebook page. “We stand by the core message in the commercial, that travel enriches us.”
SAS did not say in what exact way the ad was believed to be hijacked, but the flooding of hateful comments is reminiscent of previous far-right harassment campaigns. Indeed, a 45-second version of the ad, which was added back to Scandinavian Airline’s YouTube page earlier today, has (at the time of this writing) 332 likes and nearly eight thousand dislikes and the full-length version has 43 thousand dislikes—a suspiciously disproportionate reaction for such a mild ad.
Ironically, the ad is highly complimentary of Scandinavian people and culture. (But, rather predictably, racists are so ignorant and hateful that they’re inured to anything resembling common sense.) You would think that self-described patriotic Scandinavians would take great pride in how they have taken many of these ideas and put their own spin on them. That so many of the named elements (democracy, parental leave, bicycles) are often cited as why Scandinavian countries consistently rank at or near the top of lists of the best places to live and the happiest countries in the world. What a great compliment to this region that what is “uniquely Scandinavian” is a history of curious explorers and travelers with an eye for the best of what humanity has to offer.
Why wouldn’t someone be proud of that? Unless you think cultures other than your own (especially non-white cultures) are something to be ashamed of.