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Swedish political attitudes towards Baltic independence in the short 20th century

Kuldkepp, M; (2016) Swedish political attitudes towards Baltic independence in the short 20th century. Ajalooline Ajakiri (3/4) pp. 397-430. 10.12697/AA.2016.3-4.04. Green open access

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Abstract

This article considers the history of Swedish attitudes towards Baltic independence in the period in the so-called short 20th century (1914-1991), focusing primarily on the years when Baltic independence was gained (1918-1920) and regained (1989-1991). The former period was characterized by Swedish skepticism towards the ability of the Baltic states to retain their independence long-term, explainable by the Swedish political elites’ conviction that the weakening of Russia in the First World War had been temporary and that Russia, due to its “natural” geostrategic interests in the Baltic region, would reconquer its lost territories with the exception of Finland. For this and other reasons, such as orientalist stereotypes about the lack of culture and moderation “in the east,” as well as a turn to the left in domestic politics which encouraged an even stricter neutrality policy, Sweden decided to engage with the new Baltic states only in noncommittal ways, avoiding taking on any obligations that could have compromised its security in case of their future annexation attempt by Russia. When the annexation actually happened in 1939-1940, it therefore naturally seemed that the Swedish policy had been the correct one. Sweden also became one of the very few Western countries to officially recognize the incorporation of the Baltic states in the Soviet Union as lawful. Over the post-World War II decades, Sweden gained a reputation for its policy of activist internationalism: voluntarily taking on the role of a supporter and generous sponsor of democratization processes in the Third World. At the same time, for security-related reasons, it ignored the breaches of human rights and deficit of democracy in the Soviet Union including its Baltic republics. In the years 1989-1991, when the Soviet influence went into unprecedented decline and concluded with the collapse of the USSR itself, Sweden could hardly remain as skeptical and pragmatic in the question of Baltic independence as it had been during the interwar era and the Cold War. Both its generally value-based approach in international relations and the more concrete feelings of guilt felt over previous Swedish disengagement encouraged it to support the cause of Baltic independence. In Swedish domestic politics as well, it was a time of significant changes, and strong Swedish support for Baltic independence was consolidated on government level as a part of the new policy package that came with the Carl Bildt’s right-wing cabinet in autumn 1991. Sweden thereby took on the role of an active manager of Baltic post-soviet transition: acceptable both for Swedish conservatives, since it gave Sweden back its “natural” role as a regional power in the Baltic Sea Area, and to at least some social democrats as a way of continuing the traditions of activist internationalism in the changed circumstances.

Type: Article
Title: Swedish political attitudes towards Baltic independence in the short 20th century
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.12697/AA.2016.3-4.04
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.12697/AA.2016.3-4.04
Language: English
Keywords: Baltic independence, Sweden, political history
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > SELCS
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1519826
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