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On Nordic Depression

01 12 09 - 12:42 Every day I travel between Malmö and Copenhagen by the Öresund train. The view from the bridge is quite nice, but not spectacular enough to have hold my attention after the first couple of passes. So, I have spent my time (about two hours each day, unless the trains are late) by reading. First I went through our bookshelves and read most of those novels that I always hoped I'd have the time for, and then started ordering books from the net (mainly from play.com, and recently also from AdLibris).

Covering three of the five Nordic countries, I figured it would be a good idea to find something to read from each country. I was surprised to find out that one major characteristic that Finland, Iceland, Denmark, and Norway all share is a heavy, social depression; misery, ill luck, poverty, and general unhappiness run amok in the melancholic literature of each country. Sweden is an exception, as for some reason I'm yet to find a Swedish book that would carry the same sense of depression.

The degree, nature, and source of the gloominess seems to vary from country to country. In Finland the depression is internal, built within the hearts of individuals, and it seems to be passed from a generation to another - inherited in the mothers milk, as the saying goes. The consequences of this misery are suffered alone - this is grimly manifested by the high suicide rates and rampant alcoholism - but it is regarded as something of an integral characterstic for a typical Finn, and is even celebrated in arts.

For Danes their dejection is less welcome, as they generally feel that by default Denmark should be a happy nation of happy citizen. However, as this evidently isn't true, the Danes find themselves in a state of chronical Hamletian downheartedness. For this they blame the society, because they feel that they have been let down by the government that has been put in place to ensure that the people living in Denmark don't need to face the hardships of life. Externally, this dejection is visible by frequent public demonstrations, and flippant attitude towards politics - expressed by for example Nihilistic People's Party with its slogan "it's all meaningless anyway so waste your vote on us" (it's hardly a surprise that all the NPP candidates for the regional council in 2009 are either students or unemployed, except for one nurse, and one who reported "idiot" as his occupation).

Icelanders feel - quite rightly, too - that everything bad that happens to them is due to the extremely unpredictable conditions on their turbulent, remote island, and this is what the Icelandic depression has its roots. As long as the forces of nature cannot be tamed, Iceland is doomed to the eternal cycle of first having high hopes, then working hard against the odds, and eventually failing miserably. This is very much the reason why Icelanders feel dejected about the future and don't have much fate in it, generally forgetting all about all necessary precautions when starting a new venture; why bother, when we're bound to fail anyway? The current economical crisis in Iceland is a perfect example of this: the Icelanders took heavy foreign loans to invest in companies all over the world, causing the three major banks to accumulate estimated debt of 50 billion euros. The party was over when the international financial crisis destroyed the Icelandic economy, and now they must once again begin anew.

In Norway the depression appears to be something of a cross between the Finnish inner gloominess, Icelandic fatalism, and Danish discomfort caused by social pressure. Noregians have until recently lived rather humbly in the mercy of the harsh natural conditions, with poverty not being a rare visitor. Back then the depression was met with optimism, with a happy-go-lucky attitude towards hardships. However, the recently discovered oil resources have dragged the nation from rags to riches, and the Norwegian people faced a dramatic change in their lifestyle. Having always lived in dejection, people have not (yet) found a way to enjoy their new wealth, and they descent into depression perhaps even more profound than before - often aided with alcohol.

Sweden is the odd one in the melancholic Nordic bunch. It seems impossible to find the depression gene in the the Swedish DNA, as the whole country seems to run on optimism, acceptance, and good humour. This uncharacteristic behaviour for a Nordic country has been fueled by prosperity and carefully constructed social democracy that ensured that everyone was pretty well off, accepted, and that the people felt no threat from the outside. However, things are changing in Sweden too, and it may not be long until we can add Sweden into the unhappy group of fellow Northerners; the poorly managed immigration has created pockets of unrest in several major cities. Especially in Malmö there have been several demonstrations against poor living conditions and increased welfare gap, and recently there have also been anti-demonstrations.

So there you have it: we're all miserable here in the north (except the Swedes for the time being), even if it's for different reasons.

To have glimpses of Nordic depression, I recommend the following viewing and/or reading:

Finland
Film: Lights in the Dusk (dir. Aki Kaurismäki), Black Ice (dir. Petri Kotwica)
Literature: The Red Line (Ilmari Kianto), The Home of the Dark Butterflies (Leena Lander)

Denmark
Literature: Borderliners (Peter Høeg), Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow (Peter Høeg)

Iceland
Literature: Independent People (Halldór Laxness), Salka Valka (Halldór Laxness)

Norway
Film: Kitchen Stories (dir. Bent Hamer)
Literature: Hunger (Knut Hamsun)

Sweden
Film: Fucking Åmål (dir. Lukas Moodysson), Hour of the Wolf (Ingmar Bergman) Used tags: , , , , , , , ,
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