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How the truck attack brought the best out of Stockholm

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How the truck attack brought the best out of Stockholm
Stockholmers paying tribute to the victims on Saturday. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT
18:00 CEST+02:00
The deadly attack on Friday, April 7th, shook Stockholm. But the core of Swedish society – trust and openness – remains untouched by terror, the capital's residents and mayor Karin Wanngård tell The Local.

Stockholmers woke up to a calm and composed city on Saturday, April 8th, surreal and oddly normal at the same time. The usual dads with prams and dog walkers were joined in the city by police investigators while residents and government officials paid tribute to the victims at the scene of the attack.

“How do we move on from here?” a reporter asked Crown Princess Victoria when she and her husband Prince Daniel carefully placed a bouquet of red roses next to the other floral tributes.

“Together,” she said.

Her words rang true. If anyone thought people in Sweden were unfriendly and reserved, nothing proved that more wrong than the way the capital handled itself under pressure.

“It is terrible, of course, and my deepest thoughts go to the victims' families," Stockholm mayor Karin Wanngård told The Local on Saturday, almost 24 hours after the truck attack.

"It was an attack in the middle of the city centre with the purpose of killing. At the same time we've seen an incredible mobilization of resources from the police, emergency services, and hospitals.” 

Swedes have taken to social media en masse to hail the bravery of their first responders. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

Stockholm City Council's crisis management plan was up and running eight minutes after news emerged of a truck running into a crowd on Stockholm's busiest shopping street Drottninggatan on April 7th. Police were hailed for their quick reaction. Prime Minister Stefan Löfven received praise from opposition politicians.

With the capital in lockdown on Friday and trains and the subway being closed until late in the evening, thousands chose to walk several kilometres to get home to their families. Others spent the night with friends. And, using the hashtag #openstockholm, many opened their homes to strangers.

The council also provided overnight shelter to those stranded in the capital in several locations across the city.

“You have to make sure that people have somewhere to sleep, that elderly people who are supposed to have medication delivered to them get it, and much more. We have rehearsed situations like this,” said Wanngård, who had only slept for a few hours. “Our crisis management is working around the clock.”

“It is incredible to see how well our various response processes worked. And the way the people have volunteered to pull together and help each other out is just... outstanding,” she added.

READ ALSO: 'I witnessed the Stockholm attack three years after terrorists killed my brother - we mustn't give in to fear'

Mallory Moench, a freelance journalist from the US whose parents live in Stockholm, had just got off her flight at Arlanda Airport when the attack happened. She managed to make it into the city just before the buses stopped running, but a friend who flew in later found herself stuck on the outskirts.

“The bus only went as far to Järva Krog, which is just north of Stockholm, so I told her to get on it to at least get closer to the city. We live on Kungsholmen in central Stockholm and don't have a car, and obviously public transport wasn't running,” she told The Local.

Instead a neighbour offered to drive out there to pick up Moench's friend. “My parents had met him before, but I didn't know him. But I got in the car with him and we drove there. It took a lot longer than it normally would to get there but eventually we found her there in the middle of nowhere.”

“We were overwhelmed and weren't sure what we would have done if it hadn't been for his kindness. I think Stockholm gets a bad reputation for people being cold, but I feel it's not very true based on the people I've met. But I did think it was a very big gesture of him, so that surprised me.”

It may seem like a trivial story, but reaching out to people in need, be they strangers or family, is the glue that holds society together, and Stockholmers shared many similar stories on Friday evening.

“Come over to our place, we've got plenty of pizza,” one person offered strangers on Twitter.

A grocery in a northern Stockholm suburb reached out to parents stuck in the city on Facebook, offering to make sure that their children had enough food for the night if they were home alone.

An armed police officer was photographed taking a break from other duties to help an elderly lady cross the street. These were only some of many stories showing that Swedes' openness was intact.

Wanngård agreed. “April 7th will probably become a date that many will remember. But I also see the strength of people, saying 'this doesn't frighten us, we'll stay united. That's the strongest weapon against terror,” the mayor added.

“An open and democratic society is important. It makes us stronger.”

This is not the first attack on Swedish soil. In 2010, the security services raised the terror threat level after a suicide bomber blew himself up just metres from the scene of Friday's attack. In October 2015 an extreme-right supporter walked into a school in Trollhättan and killed three people. Sweden's prime minister Olof Palme was shot and killed in 1986, its foreign minister Anna Lindh stabbed to death in 2003.

Each event has been pegged as the defining moment when Sweden lost its innocence. But while society has changed somewhat (you will not see the Prime Minister without his bodyguards these days), what is remarkable is how little effect they have had on its core values: trust and openness.

And while some sections of the international media appeared keen to paint Sweden as a society in fear and disarray even the day after the attack, most stories shared by people in the country pointed to the contrary.

“I don't think [there's panic],” said Wanngård. “Instead people are looking each other in the eye and having spontaneous conversations. But at the same time there's a lot of sadness and anger.”

Tweets from law student Jenny Nguyen captured the mood. It was she who started the #openstockholm hashtag, replicating the kind of public-spirited responses that have also come in the wake of terror attacks elsewhere in Europe.

“It's easy to let fear take over when you feel alone and powerless. But that's why we must hold each other's hands, isn't it? That's why strangers eat pizza with each other, open their homes, give people rides in their cars? Because that's the way we want it.” 

“It does shake you up when this happens in a place where you've always felt so safe. But it's depressing to say that these things happen everywhere – it's the sad nature of the world,” said Moench.

Rebecca Ysamar, a Stockholm University master's student from California who has lived in Sweden for three years, told The Local the attack had not changed her view of Sweden for the worse.

“It's surreal and shocking,” she said. “But the people in this country, Swedish or not, continuously strive to make Sweden a better place. I have faith that Sweden won't be ruled by fear.”

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