No bigger example that punditry is a dangerous game exists than Lincoln Steffens’ wildly optimistic declaration — after a three-week visit to the Soviet Union in 1919 — “I have seen the future and it works!”
I am on my way back from a two-week tour of Baltic cities, including one in Russia, and I will throw caution to the wind with my own declaration — “I have seen the future and it’s miserable.”
I was tempted to say “stinks,” rather than “miserable,” but I decided to hold back just a tad. After all, the six cities I visited — Copenhagen, Gdansk, Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, and Oslo — are distinct one from the other, although Stockholm and Oslo, especially, have a great deal in common. They’re rich, beautiful, and suicidal.
Oslo in particular is a bizarre experience. The port is super modern and gorgeous, splendid apartments of the most up-to-date architecture overlooking the cruise ships and yachts. The streets are lined with smart cafes and shops you might see on Rodeo Drive or the Via Condotti. There’s a modern opera house to rival Sydney’s.
But walk a little further and it’s a different story. Heading up hill toward the Munch Museum, you begin to enter the Third World. The faces stare at you with hostile looks as you pass, as if you are intruding on their territory. Yesterday, according to someone traveling with me, a group of Muslims started chanting in a local park and attempted to raise an Islamic flag over the city hall. It was pulled down immediately, she said.
I wondered what Norway’s renowned painter Edvard Munch would have thought. Was this worth a silent scream, like his famous painting? Was a combination of guilt from World War II and North Sea oil riches destroying his country, now one of the wealthiest in the world? It certainly looked that way. What happened to those marauding vikings, forever at war with each other? At least they were willing to protect their own cultures. These days they are objects of curiosity, or simply tourist attractions, their boats preserved as museum pieces in both Oslo and Stockholm, yet another similarity between the two cities.
Sweden, where the implosion seems more advanced than Norway’s, indeed has something to be guilty about. They feigned neutrally in World War II while enriching themselves making arms for the Nazi war machine. (Of course, they lead the way these days in criticizing Israel while the Jews flee Malmo. How dark is that?)
But the ties between Sweden and Norway are great. They are headed in the same direction together, for now. You can pick up an officially marked city bus in Oslo to the local IKEA, although the furniture giant is putatively another country’s company. Whether they will move in lockstep into the future is hard to say. We can hope otherwise, because Denmark has had the sense to opt out of the immigration madness.
Speaking of which, America, and its own craziness, is never far away when in Europe these days. Fox News is even available on our cruise ship. But seen from here, the U.S. problems look like an extreme version of Freud’s “narcissism of small differences.” The constant yammering about Russia seems to have even less to do with Russia than it does at home. Some useful idiot judge in Hawaii trying to expand Trump’s travel ban seems stupefyingly dumb when Islamic flags are being hoisted, for however short a time, over the Oslo city hall.
I return home more determined than ever to prevent this.