Yesterday Swedens Foreign Minister died of stabwounds she received Wednesday while shopping at the NK department store in Stockholm.

Anna Lindh, picture from Swedens Foreing Ministry, photographer: Annette Andersson

Such an atrocious deed of course sparks debate on the question why she was not better protected. The thing is, Sweden, like the Netherlands, is a country where such a need for protection is almost never felt, we are open societies. In the Netherlands the same discussion was sparked last year, without reaching conclusions, when an upstart political candidate was killed outside a radio studio. That was in Dutch living memory the first political killing since Prince William I of Orange who led the Netherlands to independence in the 16th century was shot.
Protecting politicians with personal bodyguards is very rare, and only done when there are believable threats. And personally I like it that way.
I like it when I see our Prime Minister driving a bike through the city center on a summer morning, as a friend of mine once witnessed. I like it when I meet our mayor in the supermarket asking his wife which brand of coffee creamer he should take, at the same time me and my partner are choosing toothpaste during our friday’s weekly shopping for groceries. I like it when I see members of both chambers of parliament enjoying the weather on a pub’s terrace with a drink, at the same hour I decided that I’d like a beer as well. I like it when I see our Minister of Justice shopping on the market on an early saturday morning, as I did some years back. I like it when I see our PM visibly irritated by the bodyguards following him around at an UN General Assembly.
It reassures me. It reassures me that our politicians are human beings leading lives just as me, with all the little joys and troubles that come with it. It reassures me that they are in touch with life, and not estranged from the way the rest of us live. It reassures me because it says a lot about what kind of society we are, and what kind of society we want to be.
Open societies will not be governed by fear. Fear of things that might or might not happen. Yes, we had our share of terrorism in the seventies, yes we do have violent crimes, yes we do have all that. There is a lot of wrong in our society. But giving in to fear will mean giving the killer of Anna Lindh, and all those other perpetrators much more than they deserve: a hold on us. A hold they shouldn’t have.
We should not be ignoring risks, we should not be closing our eyes, we should not be willing to lose a politician to violence just for the sake of having an open society, but we should not give in to fear either. For one, putting our politicians behind a protective screen will probably make them more of a target than they are now. Precisely because they will not be seen doing normal human things anymore. They will become dehumanized talking heads on which hate and grievances are much more easily projected. It will reinforce their unsafety.
Fear fosters distrust, fosters intransparent situations, fosters division. Fear is a bad advisor. I’ve written about that in this blog where it concerns Knowledge Management, and willingness to change. I cannot aim for Open Organisations, while Open Society goes down the drain, while Open Society transforms itself into Michael Moores picture of a fear-ridden USA in his Oscar winning documentary Bowling for Columbine.
Sweden will vote in a referendum on the Euro on Sunday. All parties have stopped campaigning, urging everybody simply to go vote in stead. That is a first step in recovering the self-trust Anna Lindh’s murderer took away. Which second, and third, and following steps will you and I take?
So there it is, the question we have to answer: how to prevent murders like these without dismantling our valuable Open Society, without giving in to fear.

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