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Even Scandinavia Can’t Get Along: On COVID's Cold Diplomacy
Carl-Johan Karlsson

-Essay-

What does it say at the bottom of a Norwegian ketchup bottle?

Opens at the other end.

As a Swede, I know about a hundred jokes like that, and it wasn't until I moved to Norway in my early twenties I realized Norwegians tell the exact same ones about Swedes.

This fraternal rivalry between Scandinavian neighbors came to mind this morning as I read a headline in Swedish daily Dagens Nyheterabout "corona bullying." But the article wasn't about some schoolyard taunts or national chest-thumping, but rather a burgeoning erosion of longstanding cooperation on crucial matters of state between neighboring countries.

If such free and friendly countries can't make it work, what does it mean for international cooperation at large?

This last year has been fraught with sharp criticism between Northern experts and politicians, especially as Sweden has stuck to its light-touch containment strategy despite the region's highest COVID-19 death and case numbers. At the pandemic's deadly peak in May, Frode Forland, Norwegian Director of Infectious Diseases at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, said that his Swedish counterpart Anders Tegnell needed to be more humble in his approach; Tegnell snapped back saying it wasn't his job to review the Norwegian strategy.

Sweden's outspoken top epidemiologist Anders Tegnell in Stockholm in October — Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT/ZUMA

A recent poll now shows that 44% of Swedes believe Nordic cooperation has been harmed. The study was published days after the Swedish government announced that the armed forces would be assisting the police at the Norwegian and Finish border to enforce demands on COVID-19 tests before entry.

Many of the measures meant to curb the spread risk amplifying nationalism.

This deterioration of Nordic comity and limits on trade beg the question: If such free and friendly countries can't make it work, what does it mean for international cooperation at large?

Our tendency to search for scapegoats has been evident during pandemics of the past: As syphilis spread during the early 16th century, the illness was dubbed the French disease, the Spanish disease, or the Neapolitan disease, depending on where you were. Indeed, In the absence of adequate international collaboration, many of the measures meant to curb the spread (border controls, vaccine passports) risk amplifying the nationalism that was on the rise around the world before the pandemic struck.

As such, it should worry us that not only has a certain former American president chosen to refer to the Chinese virus, but that some of our Norwegian and Finnish neighbors have come to see COVID as the Swedish virus.

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Geopolitics

New Probe Finds Pro-Bolsonaro Fake News Dominated Social Media Through Campaign

Ahead of Brazil's national elections Sunday, the most interacted-with posts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Telegram and WhatsApp contradict trustworthy information about the public’s voting intentions.

Jair Bolsonaro bogus claims perform well online

Cris Faga/ZUMA
Laura Scofield and Matheus Santino

SÂO PAULO — If you only got your news from social media, you might be mistaken for thinking that Jair Bolsonaro is leading the polls for Brazil’s upcoming presidential elections, which will take place this Sunday. Such a view flies in the face of what most of the polling institutes registered with the Superior Electoral Court indicate.

An exclusive investigation by the Brazilian investigative journalism agency Agência Pública has revealed how the most interacted-with and shared posts in Brazil on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Telegram and WhatsApp share data and polls that suggest victory is certain for the incumbent Bolsonaro, as well as propagating conspiracy theories based on false allegations that research institutes carrying out polling have been bribed by Bolsonaro’s main rival, former president Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, or by his party, the Workers’ Party.

Agência Pública’s reporters analyzed the most-shared posts containing the phrase “pesquisa eleitoral” [electoral polls] in the period between the official start of the campaigning period, on August 16, to September 6. The analysis revealed that the most interacted-with and shared posts on social media spread false information or predicted victory for Jair Bolsonaro.

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