Sweden owes its Baltic neighbours a “debt of honour” for turning a blind eye to post-war Soviet occupation, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told his counterparts on Monday.
During a ceremony in Stockholm attended by the prime ministers of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, Reinfeldt spoke of “a dark moment” in his country’s history.
“Sweden was among the first countries to recognise the Soviet occupation of the Baltic countries” in 1944, he said at a celebration marking the 20th anniversary of the three countries’ independence.
In 1945, Stockholm extradited to the Soviet Union around 170 soldiers from the Baltic countries who had fled the Red Army and found refuge in Sweden.
“The extradition of the Balts is a dark moment in Swedish foreign policy,” Reinfeldt said.
He said that Sweden had long ignored its Baltic neighbours and urged for post-independence relations to continue strengthening.
“For decades, Sweden did not acknowledge Baltic suffering,” the conservative prime minister said.
“I hold in my hand a Swedish school book used during the 1980s. It makes no mention at all of the destiny of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania after the Second World War. Not one word,” Reinfeldt said.
“In fact, it is hard to find any reference to the fact that there had ever been any Baltic countries. This was the reality when I went to school,” the 46-year-old leader said.
I wonder what our own textbooks say, even now — I mean our American textbooks. I am not being polemical, or merely polemical: I really do wonder.
In the past few weeks, I have written about Estonia, and its “Singing Revolution” of the late 1980s and early 1990s. One of the leaders of that revolution was Mart Laar, who became prime minister (twice) and is now defense minister. He is also a historian and a founding member of the Foundation for the Investigation of Communist Crimes. As I said in a column recently, Laar is “one of those who say, ‘The crimes of Nazism are well-known and widely condemned. Why shouldn’t this be so with those of Communism?’”
Sweden has done an admirable thing in coming clean about its stance toward the Baltic states — its neighbors. What about our own Left, the American Left? Have they done as well as Sweden, in facing up to their behavior during Soviet times? Eugene Genovese, the once-Marxist historian, did a brave and honorable mea culpa. Few have joined him, so far as I know.
One more thing: We conservatives often groan about presidents who apologize for American sins, real or imagined. For one thing, these apologies are often meant to flatter the apologizer, most of all. But sometimes national apologies are in order. And Sweden has now cleansed itself somewhat, through the person of its prime minister, Reinfeldt.
P.S. When I was in elementary school, there was a Lithuanian boy, and I think people in general thought of him as Russian. He and his family were at pains to tell us, “No.”
P.P.S. Ignat Solzhenitsyn and his brothers were schoolkids in Vermont, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The kids on the bus razzed them as Commies. Can you imagine?
P.P.P.S. The Lithuanian kid aside, I don’t think I heard anything about the captive nations, or the prisonhouse of nations, in my classes: in any classes K through grad school. I think I learned about them through National Review. Honestly.