In November of 2014, the Swedish military carried out an intense sweep of their territorial waters. The investigation, which focused primarily on the waters off the coast of their capital city of Stockholm, confirmed their suspicions: a foreign submarine had trespassed in their waters. At the time, they said officially that they could not confirm the origin of the encroaching sub, but unofficially, there was never much doubt that it had belonged to the Russian Navy.
“The government considers this to be extraordinary serious,” Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said at the time. “Those who consider to enter Swedish territory shall understand what huge risks it will mean in the future.”
The following year, a plan was put into place to increase Sweden’s defense spending by 11% over five years, with a sizable portion of the budget increase allocated toward submarine detection and defense. The nation’s government and military both went on the PR offensive as well, making it clear that Sweden would not tolerate intrusions into their sovereign waters from a foreign military. One civilian group, however, believed the government hadn’t done quite enough — and they had their own novel approach to preventing Russian submarines from entering their territory: shaming them for their homophobia.
The Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society, an organization that lobbies for “peace, disarmament and democratization” that has since transitioned into the International Peace Bureau, created the “Singing Sailor” to lower into Sweden’s territorial waters for the purposes of being seen by encroaching submarines. What exactly is the Singing Sailor? Well, it’s a sign that depicts a sailor in only a hat and briefs, complete with thrusting hips and a sub-surface sonar system that broadcasts a very specific message in Morse code: “This way if you’re gay.”
Along with the hip-swinging sailor and some hearts, the sign also says in both Russian and English, “Welcome to Sweden. Gay since 1944.” That year alludes to when the Swedish national government legalized homosexuality.
According to the group, the sign is intended to combat both Russia’s military presence in the region, as well as serving as a form of protest against Russia’s oppressive laws regarding homosexuality — most notably, the Russian “gay propaganda” law that bars adults from addressing LGBTQ equality with minors.
“In times of unrest, love and peace across boundaries is more important than ever. We want to break up with the violence,” Daniel Holking said after the sign’s launch. He served as both the organizations fundraising and communications manager.
The sign, of course, was more PR stunt that it was a legitimate initiative, and it can be said with some certainty that such an endeavor wouldn’t be well received in many nations. Despite their claims that the sign is intended as a protest against Russia’s perceived homophobia, one can’t help but its mocking tone. “This way if you’re gay” sounds a bit more like a grade school insult than a push for homosexual equality.
But then, according to the group’s president at the time, Anna Ek, the world needs to try more of these sorts of outside-the-box defense efforts.
“If military actions and weapons had functioned as conflict-resolution methods there would be peace in the world a long time ago,” she said. To be fair, Russian incursions into Swedish waters have not resulted in any outbreaks of violence since — so, maybe the sign worked?
… But probably not.
Modified feature image courtesy of the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society
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