In Sweden, can we go sledding in a cemetery?

STOCKHOLM LETTER

Swedes take advantage of the snow to toboggan in Golfangarna, in the town of Sundbyberg, near Stockholm, on January 16.

Are cemeteries made for the dead or the living? Should they remain places of contemplation, reserved for mourning, or can we also celebrate life there? While in Stockholm, the public health agency publishes the figures of Covid-19 victims from Tuesday to Friday, death has never been so present in society.

And yet, the pandemic has nothing to do with the controversy that has raged in Sweden since mid-January; a controversy due to a banal snowfall. Finally, perhaps not so commonplace, since global warming is helping, powder snow is becoming increasingly rare in the Swedish capital. Hence the frenzy that seized the Stockholmers when their city was finally covered with a thick blanket of snow.

Parents, in desperate search of activities for their toddlers deprived of swimming pool, cinema or museum, took out the sledges. Then, they set out to storm the best slopes Stockholm has to offer. In the residential suburb of Enskede to the south, the huge Skogskyrkogården cemetery – the “woodland cemetery” – is a unique place. Designed by the modernist architects Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz, it covers 102 hectares, alternating immense lawns, woods and hillsides, in the shelter of which are nestled 100,000 graves. Listed as a Unesco heritage since 1994, it is one of the capital’s tourist attractions.

« Respect mutuel »

But on this third weekend of January, it feels like the mountains. On the slopes, very close to the crematorium, dozens of children have a blast in the snow, encouraged by their parents, who patiently pull up their plastic sleds, before their offspring throw themselves again towards the big cross below, screaming loudly.

This is the moment that a television crew chooses to disembark. A woman who came to teach her son to ski, assures us that his grandfather is buried nearby and that he would be « ravi » to see his great-grandchildren having so much fun. A father evokes the principle of « respect mutuel » – implied, that of families who come to sled vis-à-vis the bereaved visiting a grave, and vice versa.

Broadcast the same evening on television, the report caused a scandal. The Bishop of Stockholm intervenes to demand “Respect for families who have relatives buried” in the cemetery. On social networks, Internet users are igniting. In the press, the columnists in turn seize on the subject. Each article gives rise to dozens of comments.

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