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Swedish Armed Forces rejects ad films criticism

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15:20 CEST+02:00
National service comes to an end in Sweden on June 30th, and a recruitment drive launched to attract new voluntary recruits has come in for criticism for allegedly painting a false picture of life in the armed forces.

The Swedish defence forces have spent a 25 million kronor on a new campaign of films featuring the challenge: "We are waiting for your opinion on our work, if you have what it takes to have one".

Fredrik Svahn at the Swedish Armed Forces (Försvarsmakten) told The Local on Tuesday that the films should not however be seen as a recruitment drive for a military career but should be seen more as a "discussion with the Swedish people".

"National service ends on June 30th and will be major major change with the first voluntary recruits admitted on August 15th. We want to open a discussion and invite opinions on the purpose of the Swedish Armed Forces," he said, while adding that the campaign website can also be used to apply for a job.

The three advertising films - for the army, navy and air force respectively - feature soldiers battling a forest fire, chasing Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, and pilots scrambling their jets to meet an incoming threat to Sweden's borders.

The films feature the typical dramatic fare served up by the UK and US armed forces to attract recruits, but in Sweden, with its 109-year history of compulsory national service and limited professionalism, they have come in for some criticism for romanticising the work of the military with comparisons made to the Die Hard films.

"They use Bruce Willis sequences to project an awesome operation and to tempt with employment. But this applies to young people's career choices for operations that may ultimately concern life or death. You should not use advertising gimmicks to address such serious issues," advertising expert Mats Ekdahl told the Svenska Dagbladet daily.

The air force film features a command centre and is dated "Ronneby 06:52", referring to the Swedish air force base in south-eastern Sweden, but like the other two films are in fact a backdrop filmed in South Africa, with local actors clad in Swedish military attire.

The depiction of a darkened room with radar screens and alarm bells sounding the alert is the stuff of fiction and the reality is far more mundane and perfunctory, the newspaper explains.

But Fredrik Svahn has rejected the accusations and argues that "these are commercials and not documentaries and we are under no obligation to present 100 percent reality."

Svahn said that logistical and budgetary concerns lay behind the decision to film the commercials in South Africa and he argued that they depict "a part of life as a soldier" although conceded that 90 percent of the military's work is done at home and is more routine.

"The films are based on the Armed Forces' description of operations and shows how extreme situations can look. The Gulf of Aden film for example shows exactly how we work," he said.

The Armed Forces has so far received 360,000 registered opinions in the ten days since the launch of the television and billboard campaign.

"We are happy with the response, which has both been positive and negative," Svahn said adding, "I think the criticism (of the campaign) is unjustified, it is not as if we have used humour."

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