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Airline ad about imported Scandi traditions sparks turbulence

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Copenhagen (AFP)

A new commercial from airline SAS challenging the authenticity of Scandinavian traditions has provoked furore in the form of cyber attacks, a wave of social media anger and bomb threats against the ad agency behind it.

On Thursday morning, Danish police cordoned off the area around the Copenhagen offices of the ad agency which created the newly released commercial, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.

The cordon was lifted several hours later. Copenhagen police said a bomb threat had been emailed to the agency but that police had found nothing.

Published to YouTube on Tuesday, the ad asks "What is truly Scandinavian?," and then answers with "Absolutely nothing... everything is copied".

"We're no better than our Viking ancestors," says an actor, before an off-screen voice says: "We take everything we like on our trips abroad, adjust it a little bit et voila!"

It then goes on to list the origin of iconic Scandinavian staples like Swedish meatballs -- which were originally imported from Turkey -- and Danish pastries, brought to Denmark by Austrian bakers.

SAS, founded jointly by Sweden, Denmark and Norway in 1946, said in a statement that the commercial was meant to convey the message "that travel enriches us."

But it sparked anger among some in Scandinavia, where the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants since 2015 has led to fiery debates about integration and Scandinavian identity.

"What complete damn nonsense and self loathing," Richard Jomshof, a Swedish member of parliament representing the populist Sweden Democrats, wrote in a Facebook post.

In Sweden and Denmark, neo-Nazi circles, typically very active online, also criticised the clip.

"The ad is taking a political stance implying that everyone is welcome. This is obviously a sensitive message in a time of xenophobia," communications professor Lars Thoger Christensen of Copenhagen Business School told AFP.

- 'Enough is enough' -

In Denmark, Soren Espersen, deputy head of the anti-immigration Danish People's Party that dictated the country's restrictive immigration policy for two decades, told newspaper Ekstrabladet he was shocked.

SAS "is spitting on everything that is truly Danish," he said, adding: "The government has to say that enough is enough."

Both he and Jomshof vowed to never fly with the airline again.

Rival airline Norwegian also seized on the opportunity to poke fun at SAS by posting an image of a cheese slicer to Facebook with the caption: "Luckily, no one can take the cheese slicer from us."

Another Twitter user joked: "If Greta (Thunberg, the teen Swedish climate activist) made this 'commercial' with the goal of getting Swedes to fly less, she succeeded."

- 'Travel enriches us' -

In Copenhagen, the editor in chief of Ekstrabladet, Poul Madsen, meanwhile said the advert "hit the nail on the head on the most Scandinavian thing of all: self-mockery."

SAS, which transports around 30 million passengers every year and employs 10,000 people, is 70 percent controlled by institutional and private investors with the remaining 30 percent shared almost equally by Sweden and Denmark.

Contacted by AFP, the Swedish and Danish governments had no immediate comment.

Facing a barrage of reactions, SAS on Wednesday temporarily took the commercial down from their social media accounts.

The company said, however, that the "pattern and volume" of reactions meant it suspected "an online attack and that the campaign has been hijacked."

When asked by AFP, SAS did not indicate whether it intended to lodge a complaint, and the intelligence services would not confirm if they had opened an investigation.

The campaign has since been reinstated and on Thursday the video had almost 320,000 views on Youtube. Comments had been disabled but the video had more than 60,000 dislikes, and only 4,000 likes.

"We stand behind the message in the film that travel enriches us," SAS said in a statement.

"It is regrettable that the film is misunderstood, that some choose to interpret the message and use it for their own purpose."

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