The proud motto of northern Europe’s crack rapid-reaction force is ad omnia paratus. Prepared for everything, everywhere. But the heraldic lion above the Latin tag now sends a less plucky message – he has just been digitally emasculated and, though technically still a lion rampant, he does not seem to be ready for anything, anywhere.
The change was implemented after a group of women Swedish soldiers protested that they could not identify with such an ostentatiously male lion on their army crest. A complaint of sex discrimination was then lodged with the European Court of Justice.
“We were forced to cut the lion’s willy off with the aid of a computer,” Christian Braunstein, from the Tradition Commission of the Swedish Army, said.
Now the Nordic Battlegroup, a force of 2,400 soldiers, is looking deeply embarrassed. For sceptics who already consider the Nordic Battlegroup to be something of an oxymoron – it is led by the Swedes, who were last in battle in 1809 – the operation on the lion is not an auspicious omen.
“A castrated lion – the perfect symbol for European defence policy,” an American military blogger sneered.
There are 18 battle groups in the European Union and the Nordic one, comprising Sweden, Finland, Norway, Estonia and Ireland, goes on standby on January 1, 2008.
Most upset, though, was Vladimir Sagerlund, the designer of the crest from the National Archives. “A heraldic lion is a powerful and stately figure with its genitalia intact and I cannot approve an edited image,” he told öteborgs-Posten, a Swedish daily. “The Army lacks knowledge about heraldry. Coats of arms containing lions without genitalia were given to those who betrayed the Crown.”
The Swedish Army still has crests that feature well-hung animals, some of which were also designed by Mr Sagerlund. The eight-legged horse that represents the Logistics unit of the Swedish Army has a distinct bump. Various home army groupings also have crests that feature visibly male animals.
Even so, the heraldic norm seems to lean towards castration.
Royal coats of arms in Norway, Finland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Scotland feature rampant lions who have been snipped. Some crests are ambiguous, but the message remains clear: the lions are supposed to display courage and nothing else.
As for the three lions that feature prominently on the English crest – the pride and joy of England fans everywhere – they are as clean-cut as a eunuch in an Ottoman harem. Perhaps that goes some way towards explaining England’s recent performances on the football field.