Outdoor World

How Spanish flu helped create Sweden’s modern welfare state

The 1918 pandemic ruined the remote metropoli of stersund. But its bequest is a city and country well-equipped to deal with 21 st century challenges


On 15 September 1918, a 12 -year-old boy identified Karl Karlsson who lived just outside Ostersund, Sweden, wrote a short diary enter:” Two who died of Spanish influenza embed today. A few snowflakes in the air .”

For all its brevity and matter-of-fact tone, Karlsson’s journal stimulates grim read. It is 100 years since a particularly virulent stres of avian flu, known as the Spanish flu despite likely originating in America, ravaged the globe, killing somewhere between 50 million and 100 million people. While its effects were felt everywhere, it struck particularly hard in Ostersund, earning the city the name” capital of the Spanish influenza “.

” Looking back through contemporaneous accounts was quite creepy ,” says Jim Hedlund at the city’s commonwealth repository.” As many people died in two months as generally died in a whole year. I even found out that three of my forbears were embed on the same day .”

There were three main reasons why the flu made this remote metropolitan so difficult: Ostersund had speedy railway communications, several legion regiments stationed in close quarters and a malnourished population living in cramped accommodation. As neutral Sweden retained its armed forces on high alert between 1914 and 1918, the garrison town’s population swelled from 9,000 to 13,000.

Ostersundets torg i januariblatt .

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By 1917, when navvies poured in and structure started on an inland railway to the north, widespread food shortages had led to violent employees’ demonstrations and a near mutiny among the army units.

The city became a hotbed of political activism. Its small-time sizing put the unequal distribution of money in early industrial society under the microscope. While working-class families mobbed into insalubrious accommodation, wealthy tourists from other parts of Sweden and farther afield came for the fresh mountain breath and restorative water- as well as the excellent angling and elk hunting( passionate angler Winston Churchill was a regular visitor ).

” Many of the demonstrators’ pertains seem strikingly modern ,” says Hedlund, pointing to a facsimile of a political poster that speaks:” Sightseers out of our structures in times of crisis. Butter, milk and potatoes for laborers !”

It wasn’t just the urban proletariat requiring better accommodation. At Sweden’s first ever national convention of human rights and indigenous Sami peoples held in Ostersund in early 1918, delegates necessitated an purpose to discriminatory policies that forced them to live in tents.

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Social inequality in the city intend the Spanish flu hit all the harder.

As the epidemic raged in late August, when around 20 people were dying daily, the city’s bank director Carl Lignell withdrew monies from Stockholm without authorisation and requisitioned local schools for apply as a hospital( the city didn’t have one ).

‘ You can lower your kids off at kindergarten on the way to work and be out hiking or skiing by late afternoon.’ Photograph: Sergei Bobylev/ TASS

” If it hadn’t been for him, Ostersund might quite literally have disappeared ,” says Hedlund. For a brief period, Lignell operated like a benevolent dictator, quarantining suspected occurrences in their homes- and divulging the squalor in which they lived.

As his hastily convened medical squad moved through Ostersund, they found whole households mobbed into wooden shacks, just a few streets away from the proud, stone-built civic arrangements. In some homes, sick children lay on the flooring for wishing of beds.

The local newspaper Ostersunds-Posten questioned rhetorically:” Who would have thought that in our fine city there could be such awful destitution ?”

People of all political convictions and terminals in life started cooperating with each other to a town otherwise riven by the class departments of early industrial civilization. Ostersunds-Posten itself moved from simply reporting on the epidemic to helping to organise succor, publishing calls for money, food and robe, and opening the office of internal oversight services for application as storerooms. The country had proven itself insufficient, as historian Hans Jacobsson wrote:” The cataclysmic spread of the Spanish flu in 1918 was in no small-time place down to the authorities’ bewilderment and often clumsy reactions .”

He cites the fact that Stockholm High Command refused to halt strategy military exercises for weeks, despite the facts of the case that regimental sickbays were overflowing.” What is interesting is that, after the epidemic, the state dropped investigations against Lignell and induced tentative steps towards a cooperative approaching to social reform. Issues such as poor nutrition and housing were on the political agenda ,” says Hedlund. Anyone trying to date the inception of Sweden’s welfare state cannot overlook the events of autumn 1918.

One hundred years on, there are few better places than Ostersund to envision the effects of Sweden’s much-vaunted social model. The metropoli is once again growing rapidly, but nothing could seem further away than epidemics and political radicalism. The left end of centre Social Democrats have been in ability in city hall since 1994, and council president AnnSofie Andersson has built housing a priority- new developments are spacious, well-ordered and equipped with schools and playgrounds.

” There’s nothing that evidences confidence like building stuff ,” she says.” In fact, our neighbourhood authority building partnership should, in my view, continue a small excess of flats in hand, because without a reserve people won’t move here .”

Ostersund attracts a net inflow of people from southern Sweden.” It’s partly a quality of life issue ,” says Andersson.” You can plummet your kids off at kindergarten in the morning on the way to work and be out hiking or skiing by late afternoon .”

The city has recovered from company relocations of the Swedish armed forces boxer jet-black squadron in the 1990 s by playing to its strengths: athletics and tourism investments. A university now occupies the old-time barracks with a special focus on athletics materials and technology. The airbase has become a thriving airfield, treating half a million passengers a year.

Despite the net inflow of working-age people however, Ostersund is facing a demographic challenge as baby boomers begin to retire. The shortfalls are being felt most acutely at all the regions health power, which resides the Epidemisjukhus the building hastily converted into wards during the course of its Spanish influenza by Carl Lignell. Clinical staff are demonstrating hard to find and retain, and the region’s health service is underfunded. Some occupants still propose solving that lack of funding from central government” the Jamtland route”, like Lignell formerly did.

History doesn’t repeat itself identically, though. Sweden’s consensus-orientated political example now tends to defuse conflict even in proud cities with a propensity for mavericks. One of Andersson’s strategies for addressed with the approaching absence of labour, for instance, is cooperating with local and national institutions to civilize up the young refugees the city has welcomed since 2015.

” School starts tomorrow- for the last period ,” divulges Karl Karlsson to his publication on 4 September 1918.” I leave in spring and it feels mournful. I like farming, but I would still prefer to continue at school and survey. But it’s impossible .” Ten days later, he notes that his family’s food stores are extending low-grade.” We’re almost out of flour and eat, the barley hasn’t dehydrated yet, and we shan’t get any more rations, everything is being requisitioned .”

One hundred years later, a city- and a society- formerly unable to educate or even feed its youth is now one of the world’s wealthiest and fairest.

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Read more: https :// www.theguardian.com/ cities/ 2018/ aug/ 29/ how-spanish-influenza-helped-create-sweden-modern-welfare-state-ostersund

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