When Emmy Vilander turned 18 she, like everyone her age in Sweden, was sent an official email by the Swedish government. It asked her whether she’d consider conscription into the country’s military under Sweden’s “total defence” service and asked her how fit she was, if she had any health issues and what her motivation would be.
“I thought it might be a good thing [to do],” recalls Vilander – and so she duly filled in the form. Not long after that, she found herself in Sweden’s far north learning how to strip down a rifle, shoot a gun and build a shelter (as well as the “basic stuff like how to keep a tidy locker and how to make your bed”.) By the end of her 10-month military service, Vilander could also drive a tank in a variety of terrains. “You learn a lot about yourself – that you can do more than you think you can do,” she tells me. “I thought it was going to be so hard – and it was – but it was also fun.”
Vilander is now 21 and studying political science at university in her native Stockholm. But she could be called up any time to serve her country. As could anyone in Sweden aged between 16 and 70. Sweden, which is now preparing to join Nato, implemented its total defence strategy in 2017, which means everyone’s details are kept on file for service from their 18th birthday and anyone can be called up at any time if they are needed.