Nordic conspiracy theories through the ages
1 March 2021
Conspiracy theories are becoming more common in the world, and the Nordic countries are no exception. Are some conspiracy theories unique to the Nordic countries? What typical narratives are disseminated? And when did this really start? A new book examines these questions.
A group of researchers from various universities in Scandinavia wrote the book Conspiracy Theories and the Nordic Countries, which Routledge published in January 2021. Andreas Önnerfors, acting senior lecturer at the Department of History at Uppsala University and professor in intellectual history, is one of the authors.
“Conspiracy theories are interesting because they are so odd, and at the same time they attempt to explain historical change. They give people a template, an explanation for both big and small events. The conspiracy becomes a conceptual model of what is true and false and also good and evil.”
Importing conspiracy theories
From an international perspective, the Nordic region does not stand out as a region where the belief in malicious conspiracies is particularly strong. Nordic countries are known for their stable policies, welfare, progressive values and a high degree of trust among different societal stakeholders. But a closer look shows that this is not the case.
“Three different levels of conspiracy theories exist. We import conspiracy theories from outside, such as those surrounding 9/11 (acts of terror in the United States). We also have special theories that have relevance only in a national context, often linked to national traumas, such as the Olof Palme murder, the Estonia ferry disaster and the terrorist attack in Oslo in 2011,” says Önnerfors.
“In addition, we are caught up in conspiracy theories about Scandinavia. For example, the feminist attack on the Swedish Academy. Or conspiracy theories about the Nordic countries and ‘Nordic Noir’ – the dark image promulgated in Nordic detective literature of the Scandinavian welfare state’s dark side.”
The attacks on the Swedish Academy
Önnerfors participates in a chapter on the government and secret elites, based on his research on the conspiracy surrounding Gustav III that led to the king’s assassination.
“I have also written about contemporary conspiracy theories, such as the Swedish Academy’s crisis. According to one theory, the attacks on the Swedish Academy were actually about destroying one of the last outposts of Enlightenment thought in our society. I also write about Swedish perspectives on the Palme murder and the Estonia disaster, which involved a great deal of speculation about the truth being suppressed.”
The book addresses conspiracy theories from the period shortly after the French Revolution, when Gustav III was assassinated, and all the way to our own time, when COVID-19 has shifted the intensity of conspiratorial explanations of the world to overdrive.
Are conspiracy theories becoming more common?
“Yes, we are more active on social media, so it is just a click away. Conspiracy theories also become more common in connection with major crises. People need good explanations for major events in society, such as now during the coronavirus pandemic.”