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Swedish word of the day: Rysskräck

Rysskräck, the Swedish term literally translating as "fear of Russians", has long been used to describe Swedes' distrust of Russia and fear of the potential military threat they pose to Sweden. But just how far back does Swedish distrust of Russia go?

Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Prior to the invasion of Ukraine, the term rysskräck was used disparagingly towards those who warned of the threat Russia posed to Europe, dismissing them as paranoid russophobes.

Indeed, those who cite the threat from Russia as a reason for or against joining Nato may be accused of carrying out rysskräckspolitik – politics exploiting a public fear of Russia.

The term has existed in Swedish for over a century – it first appeared in the Swedish dictionary in 1907, although Sweden’s distrust of Russia stretches even further back in history.

One of the most simple explanations for this distrust of Russia is the fact that, despite Sweden’s two hundred years of neutrality since the Napoleonic wars, tens of thousands of Swedes have fought and died in wars with Russia in Swedish history.

This includes over 30 wars between Sweden and Russia, often over control of the strategically-important Gulf of Finland linking Helsinki, Tallin and St. Petersburg, stretching from the 12th century to the 19th century, with both sides gaining and losing territory on multiple occasions.

Gustav Vasa, Sweden’s King between 1523 and 1560, used anti-Russian propaganda to stir up rysskräck and encourage support and recruits for his wars wth Russia, even describing Russia as Sweden’s “gamla arvfiende” or “old inherited enemy”.

A Swedish phrase which began around this time to describe Russian attacks is “Ryssen kommer!” or “The Russian is coming!“. Linguistically, “Ryssen kommer!” is interesting, as it refers to an individual Russian, rather than the Russian state.

Finland, which today is the only country separating Sweden from Russia, was for hundreds of years ruled by one of the two countries, meaning that they shared a land border until Finland became independent in 1917.

Indeed, Russia is one of only two states which has ever occupied part of Sweden – the other is Denmark. Over the years, Denmark has lost territory and Russia has gained it, leading to Swedish fear of the Danes lessening and fear of Russia growing. 

Swedish territory once stretched as far east as the now-Russian city of Vyborg in Karelia, on the Russian-Finnish border, which was founded by Sweden in the 1200s.

Vyborg which survived at least five attacks by Russia between 1411 to 1710, when it became part of Russia following the Great Northern War, was considered to be Sweden’s easternmost fortress, militarily at least as important for Sweden as Kalmar or Stockholm.

Refugees displaced by this war also contribute to the history of rysskräck in Sweden – thousands of refugees fleeing from what used to be Swedish territory arrived in Stockholm in the early 1700s, bringing with them stories of destroyed farms, death marches and Russian plundering by Peter the Great’s forces.

When Finland – formerly Swedish territory – was occupied by Russia just a few years later, a second wave of refugees arrived in Sweden with new stories of Russian atrocities, further fanning the flames of Swedish rysskräck.

Another, different wave of refugees arrived in 1917 following the Bolshevik revolt in St. Petersburg, where thousands of formerly well-off middle-class Swedish-Russians fled the city for Sweden, arriving penniless. The Swedish press gave much attention to their situation, using it as a depiction of Russia’s barbaric behaviour and further adding to Swedish rysskräck.

After the Russian revolution in 1917, rysskräck was often combined with kommunistskräck, or fear of communism, particularly among the right – especially after the 1939 Winter War, where the Soviet Union attacked Finland, as well as during the Second World War where the Soviet Union increased their territory in Europe.

After 1989 rysskräck decreased somewhat, as Swedes hoped that the fall of the Soviet Union would mean an end to the Cold War and peace and democracy in Russia, but this trend has reversed in recent years following Russian military aggression in Georgia, Crimea and now, war in Ukraine.

Now, following years of Russian threats if Sweden or Finland join Nato, as well as this increased military aggression, rysskräck in Sweden is back.

According to a survey carried out by Novus on behalf of SVT in January this year – prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine – 59 percent of Swedes answered ‘yes’ to the question “are you afraid of Russia as a world power?”.

This may just be due to Russia’s recent military activities in Europe, but some Swedes may also see this as a confirmation of what they’ve been wary of all along.

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For members


​​Swedish word of the day: pyttipanna

This word of the day is a lot of bits of leftovers.

​​Swedish word of the day: pyttipanna

Pyttipanna or pytt i panna is a Swedish dish, but really a Nordic dish, as it exists in Norway (pytt i panne), Denmark (biksemad), and Finland (pyttipannu). The word or words supposedly mean ‘little bits in a pan’. Panna of course is simply ‘pan’ as in ‘frying pan’. But pytt, it seems, is an interesting little word. 

Taken as is, pytt has several meanings: a penis (see pitt), a small person (as in liliputian, lilleputt), a local name for the ‘marsh tit’, which is a little bird, or simply small. But all of those might be wrong. The Swedish Academy actually proposes that the pytt in pyttipanna did not originally mean ‘small’, but that it instead might come from putta, a word that today only means ‘push’, but which has the same root as the English ‘put’ and once also had that meaning. 

This would of course mean that the correct translation into English of pyttipanna is ‘Put in a Pan’! While many refer to it as ‘Swedish Hash’ or ‘Swedish Fry Up, and one could imagine it as ‘Pieces in a Pan’, Jamie Oliver sticks to the actual name pyttipanna when he makes it, and that is the recommended way.

The dish itself is a dish worth tasting for reference, as nearly every Swedish school child will have eaten it, sometimes several times a month, during their entire schooling. The dish is as Swedish as any. And there are fancier variations if you wanna go that way – look for krögarpytt. 

As is often the way with words, people constantly find new and at times even funny uses for them. Pyttipanna is no exception. 

Here you can see Swedish journalist Sara Mitchell-Malm making great use of pyttipanna in the sense of someone being ‘pyttipanna-ed’ or in other word proverbially cut to pieces. The target is British prime minister Liz Truss, and Mitchell-Mann also grabs the opportunity to get a jibe in at the Swedish minister for foreign affairs, Ann Linde.

Translation: ‘Aaah, a whole hour of British local radio journalists making pyttipanna of Liz Truss – the evening shift couldn’t start better. You have to listen, I beg you, she makes Ann Linde on German television seem like a professor of rhetoric.’

What Sara Mitchell-Mann is doing here is replacing the standard slarvsylta, another dish used to say that someone is being shredded by critics or opponents, with pyttipanna. An English language equivalent would be the American ‘making chop suey of someone’. 

Before you ascend to Mitchell-Mann’s Jedi level of pyttipanna use, start by making the dish for your friends. There are many great recipes online. Good luck!

Example sentences:

Gillar ni inte pyttipannan så kommer jag göra pyttipanna av er nästa gång! 

If you don’t like the pyttipanna, I’ll make pyttipanna of you next time!

Pyttipanna eller krögarpytt? Vad är skillnaden?

Pyttipanna or krögarpytt? What’s the difference?

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to order. Head to to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Bokus or Adlibris.