Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Great War Had No Effect on Neutral Sweden, Correct?

Swedish Volunteers Who Fought with the Whites in Finnish Civil War Returning Home

Well, "NO," says Professor Pawel Jaworski of the University of Wroclaw:

Swedish media reports of successive anniversaries of the end of the First World War usually provide general commentaries concerning the military struggles on the continent. The war is seen as having had a minor effect on the fate of Sweden itself. Several years ago, a historian from Lund University named Kim Salomon even hazarded the thesis that “World War I scarcely marks a significant moment in the history of Sweden,” given that the country remained neutral, and thus remained in the ‘viewers’ stand’.” 

The lack of a more wide-ranging discussion on the legacy of World War I in Sweden is somewhat alarming, particularly considering the fact that there is a wealth of Swedish historiography relating to the period of 1914–1918. Although Sweden remained neutral, the war was felt to a considerable degree. Shortages of supplies, numerous demonstrations, riots – all this laid the foundation for increased political activity in a society that wanted to democratize the system, improve civil rights, and socialize the economy. 1917 seemed to be the year when the radicalization reached its peak, but major changes arrived only with the end of the war in November 1918. There were the revolutionary events in Russia, which were later exploited in Germany in the ongoing political struggle to introduce democracy. The new order imposed in Europe by the Treaty of Versailles forced the Swedish government to come to terms with the situation that was produced and to engage with affairs on the continent to a greater degree.

The end of the Great War was an important historical moment for Sweden, in terms of both domestic and foreign policy. The battles between the European powers left their mark on this country. The revolutionary events in Russia, and then in Germany, were exploited in an ongoing political struggle to introduce democracy. The new post-Versailles order in Europe forced the Swedish government to come to terms with the new situation and join in with the Continent’s affairs to a larger degree. It is another matter that – as local observers confess – the years 1914–1918 have slowly vanished from the Swedish “cultural memory” and, if anything, it is World War Two that is most vividly remembered.

Source: "The Great War and Its Consequences from a Swedish Perspective," Remembrance and Solidarity Studies in 20th Century European History, Winter 2014

1 comment: