In the Norwegian TV series Okkupert – the first episode aired in 2015 – Norway is in a near alternative future occupied by Russia, with the approval of the European Union (no irrelevant detail in the Norwegian context). Direct cause is the coming to power of the Green Party and its policy to stop the production of oil and gas, switching instead to a new sustainable source of energy: and what else could that source be but thorium? This change does not find appreciation in a Europe that is suffering from a severe energy crisis. Naturally, the occupation sets in motion a complex series of political intrigues, diplomatic scandals, and violent incidents, and spawns a Norwegian resistance movement that does not shy away from military confrontation. Despite the many implausibilities suffusing the plot, the series is well worth watching, which is no complicated matter: it is readily available on Netflix.
The Russian ambassador to Norway was not amused by this political thriller. To a Russian news agency he stated that “[i]t is certainly a shame that, in the year of the 70th anniversary of the victory in World War II, the authors have seemingly forgotten the Soviet Army’s heroic contribution to the liberation of northern Norwayfrom Nazi occupiers, decided, in the worst traditions of the Cold War, to scare Norwegian spectators with the nonexistent threat from the east.”
Russophobia and Scandinavism
It can be debated in how far Okkupert succumbs to Russophobia. (The Russian ambassady had by the way been informed of the taping of the series at a very early stage). In this article I instead want to have a closer – and historical – look at the controversial premise of the story, the occupation of a Scandinavian country by the Russians. A reviewer in The Daily Telegraph called this invention in Okkupert “bang on trend” and praised it for its originality. Yet, the script by Jo Nesbø was not the first work of literature to evoke a Scando-Russian dystopia.
To understand this, we most go back to 1809. That year the Russian Empire snatches Finland from Sweden, which had been in union for over four centuries. The loss of Finland constituted a traumatic experience and indeed for many Swedes the “threat from the east” was by no means sensed as being “nonexistent”. For one thing, Russophobia played a major role during the early years of the student Scandinavist movement in the early 1840s. Hostile feelings towards Russia were paired to irredenist dreams of reconquering Finland. During the first major Scandinavist student meeting in Uppsala in 1843, many a poet directed their words eastwards. None more arousingly so than Talis Qualis, who in his poem Vaticinium encouraged his fellows to take up arms and win Finland back with force: “Before the sun sets, the Cossack tumbles bleeding to the ground.”
Sweden’s Final Struggle
For the author and priest Gustaf Henrik Mellin (1803 – 1876), who had been present when Talis Qualis reeped a thundering applause in Uppsala, the loss of Finland had been a very personal affair. Born in the Swedish-speaking western part of Finland, his parents – patriotic as they were – had been forced to flee the country when the young Gustaf Henrik was only five years old. Nostalgia for Finland and a detest of Russia characterised many of his works, perhaps most interestingly so his political science fiction Sveriges sista strid from 1840.
The ingredients of this intriguing little book seem very familiar for those who have seen Okkupert: the story is set in a near alternative future and Sweden, indeed, is occupied by Russia. The resistance is led by a good friend of Mellin, the writer and politician August Blanche (1811 – 1868). Blanche does not come away without a scratch in Sverige sista strid, to say the least. His forehead was marked by cuts from a sabre, a Kossack had poked out one of his eyes, and a musket had blasted away half of his chin, while his cheeks were black from all the gun powder that was flying around. Yet, racked and battered as he is, he still manages to succesfully lead his band of free shooters to victory and drive the Russians out of Stockholm. Sweden’s final struggle has been fought and won.
So, this “wild fantasy” or “blood-stained dream”, as Mellin himself described the novel, was partly inspired by his personal experience as a refugee and partly by the Russophobia that was on the rise during the time of writing. And also in 1843 – as much as in 2015 – the Russian establishment was not amused. They saw the language used in Uppsala as a provocation. It has been said that the second student meeting scheduled for 1844 was canceled due to pressure from Russian diplomats. That second meeting would still take place a year later, in Copenhagen. This time, Russia was not so much targeted; the Scandinavists had found a new favourite enemy. And that enemy was Germany.
Kari Haarder Ekman, Mitt hems gränser vidgades: en studie i den kulturelle skandinavismen på 1800-talet (Göteborg & Stockholm: Makadam, 2010).
Åke Holmberg, Skandinavismen i Sverige vid 1800-talets mitt (Göteborg, 1946).
Lotta Lotass, “Gustaf Henrik Mellin”, Litteraturbanken.
Gustaf Henrik Mellin, Sveriges sista strid (Stockholm, A. G. Hellsten, 1840).