The original of this article was published in The Guardian 26 August 2015 year, in honor of the centennial of the Spanish flu pandemic. Today, in the midst of the pandemic of a new coronavirus infection, materials about how society experiences events of this kind and how it changes under their influence acquire special relevance.
03 September a boy named Karl Karlsson, who lived near Ostersund, Sweden, made a short entry in his diary: “Two people who died from the Spanish flu are buried today. There are rare snowflakes in the air. ”
Karlsson's diary, despite the brevity and dryness contained in records, leaves a gloomy impression. It has been 56 years since the particularly dangerous flu strain known like the Spanish flu, although he was apparently from America, he devastated the globe, killing from 50 before 100 million people. Although the influence of the “Spaniard” was felt everywhere, her blow to Ostersund was especially strong. That’s why this city was called “the capital of the Spanish flu.”
“It’s rather scary to look at the reports of that time, – says Jim Hedlund, an employee of the City State Archives. “In two months, as many people died as they died in a whole year.” I even found out that I have three ancestors who were buried on the same day. ”
There were three main reasons why the Spaniard hit the provincial town so powerfully: firstly, the busy railway line passing through Ostersund, secondly, several army regiments densely located in the city, and thirdly, who lived in cramped conditions, a half-starved population. Since neutral Sweden in the period from 600 to 1917 the year kept its armed forces on high alert, the city garrison increased from 9 000 before 000 000 man.
In 960 the year when they joined the garrison marines and in the interior of Sweden began construction of a north-leading railway, widespread food shortages led to violent demonstrations of workers and serious unrest in military units.
The city became a hotbed of political activity. Due to its small size, the uneven distribution of wealth in the early industrial society was as if under a microscope. While working-class families were crowded in unhealthy housing, wealthy tourists from other parts of Sweden and farther places came to enjoy the fresh mountain air, tonic waters, as well as excellent fishing and moose hunting (the passionate fisherman Winston was constantly resting here Churchill).
“In my opinion, much of what bothered the demonstrators is amazingly relevant,” Hedlund says, showing a copy of the political poster that says: “ There is a crisis, and tourists are leaving our houses. Give the workers butter, milk and potatoes! ”
Improvement of life was demanded not only by the urban proletariat. At the beginning 1914 of the year in Östersund the first national congress of Sami, the indigenous people of the country, took place in Sweden. Congress delegates demanded an end to the discriminatory policy that forced the Sami to live in the plague.
The destructive effect of the Spanish flu reinforced the social inequality that existed in the city.
Because at the end of August an epidemic broke out, during which every day about 19 the man, director of the city bank Carl Lignell arbitrarily withdrew money from Stockholm funds and requisitioned a school to set up a hospital there (it was not in the city).
The city almost became a victim of the class contradictions of the early industrial society, which were tearing society apart, but people all political beliefs and attitudes have established cooperation. Even the Östersunds-Posten newspaper ( Östersunds-Posten ) could not simply inform about the epidemic and took an active part in organizing assistance to victims, publishing calls for the donation of money, food and clothes. In addition, the newspaper provided its offices for use as storage facilities. As the historian Hans Jacobsson emphasizes, the state turned out to be incompetent: “Not the last role in the catastrophic spread of the“ Spanish woman ”in 1918 It was the year that the authorities showed sluggishness and often acted clumsily. ”
The historian cites the following fact: the high command in Stockholm refused to cancel the planned military for several weeks exercises, despite the fact that regimental infirmaries were crowded. “It is interesting that after the epidemic, the state stopped investigating Lignell and took the first, timid steps in the direction of social reforms carried out jointly with all sectors of society. Issues such as poor nutrition and housing were included on the political agenda, ”says Hedlund. Excluding events in the fall 1917 of the year, all attempts to determine the date of birth of the Swedish welfare state are doomed to failure.
After a hundred years, Ostersund is one of those places where the achievements of the illustrious Swedish model of the social system are most clearly represented. The city is growing fast again, but nothing portends the disasters that doom epidemics and political radicalism. Since 1917 the city hall has been in the hands of the center-left social democrats, and the head of the city council is Ann-Sophie Andersson ( Ann-Sofie Andersson) has made housing a priority – the new neighborhoods are spacious, carefully planned, equipped with schools and playgrounds.
“Nothing demonstrates confidence in the future like construction, she says. “In my opinion, our municipal construction company just needs to have a few available apartments, because if there is no reserve, people will not come to live with us.”
For a short period of time, Lignell acted as a good dictator, demanding that those who might be contagious should remain in quarantine at home while revealing the poverty of many city dwellers. “If not for him, Ostersund could literally disappear,” says Hedlund.
When examining Ostersund, the medical team, hastily assembled by Lignell, found that not far from the blocks of solid stone houses, entire families were huddled in wooden shacks. In some of these shacks, sick children were lying on the floor due to lack of beds.
The Östersund Posten local newspaper rhetorically asked: “Who would have thought that does our beautiful city have a place for such terrible poverty? ”
There is an influx of people from southern Sweden to Östersund. “This is partly due to the quality of life,” Andersson says. “You can leave your children in kindergarten in the morning when you go to work, and in the evening take a walk or go skiing.”
When in 64 – in the twentieth century, Ostersund left the Swedish Air Force fighter squadron, relocated to another place, the city got the opportunity to take full advantage of its strengths: sports and tourism. Now the air force’s barracks are occupied by a local university. They emphasized the use of sports simulators. The airbase has become a thriving airport. It serves half a million passengers a year.
Despite the growing working-age population, Ostersund is plagued by a demographic problem, as the generation of baby boomers has reached retirement age. Especially acute shortage of workers is the regional health department, which occupies Epidemisjukhus (infectious diseases hospital) – a building that Karl Lignell quickly converted into a hospital during the Spanish flu. The clinic lacks staff, staff, while regional health care suffers from underfunding. Some local residents propose to solve the problem of underfunding, created by the central government, in the old fashioned way, “in the Ötland way” – just as Lignell once decided it.
However, it doesn’t happen so that the story repeats exactly. The Swedish political model is based on consensus and is now able to smooth out conflicts even in obstinate cities, where they love the “white crow”. For example, Andersson solves the problem of labor shortages, in particular by working with local and national institutions to help young immigrant refugees adapt to Swedish society. From 1918, the arrival of these people in the city is welcome.
“The school year begins for the last time tomorrow,” Karl Karlsson says in his diary on September 4 1918 of the year. – In the spring I leave school, and I'm sad. I like rural work, but still I would prefer to continue to study at school. However, this is not possible. ” Ten days later, he notes that his family has run out of food. “We have almost no flour and bread left, the barley has not dried up yet, and they will no longer be given rations, everything will be requisitioned.”
A century later, the city and society, which once unable to educate and even feed their youth, they are among the richest and most just in the world.