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Young Swedes lack knowledge about communism

Published: 09 May 2007 11:57 GMT+02:00
Updated: 09 May 2007 11:57 GMT+02:00

Less than fifteen years after the last Soviet troops pulled out of the Baltic States, a new survey has shown that young Swedes are still in the dark about the fate of its neighbours behind the Iron Curtain.

A poll carried out by Demoskop on behalf of the Organization for Information on Communism (Föreningen för upplysning om kommunismen - UOK) found that 90 percent of Swedes between the ages of 15 and 20 had never heard of the Gulag. This can be contrasted with the 95 percent who knew of Auschwitz.

"Unfortunately we were not at all surprised by the findings," Ander Hjemdahl, the founder of UOK, told The Local.

"We had a strong hunch that this would be the case having spent a few years travelling around to various schools," he added.

Of the 1004 young Swedes involved in the nationwide poll, 43 percent believed that communist regimes had claimed less than one million lives. A fifth of those surveyed put the death toll at under ten thousand. The actual figure is estimated at around 100 million.

The poll also found that 40 percent of young Swedes believed that communism contributed to increased prosperity in the world; 22 percent considered communism a democratic form of government; 82 percent did not regard Belarus as a dictatorship.

This information gap has roots that date back many years, according to Anders Hjemdahl.

"There were strategic reasons. For example, I think the Social Democrats only won one absolute majority in the post-war years. Therefore they had to rely on the support of smaller parties, one of which was the communist party.

"Another reason is that a large majority of Swedish journalists are left-wingers, many of them quite far left," he said.

Hjemdahl speculates that some historical ignorance may also be explained by the fact that Sweden accepted Stalin's takeover of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

"Sweden expressed its de jure recognition of the Soviet Union's World War II annexation of the Baltic States. Nazi Germany and Franco's Spain were the other countries to grant such strong recognition," he said.

The organization has provoked a strong reaction in the few short hours it published its findings in Dagens Nyheter.

"We have had lots of responses over the course of the morning. Some aggressive communists have called us to voice their opinions.

"But we also had two victims of communism crying on the phone, explaining that they had waited fifty years for this," said Hjemdahl.

He also added that the organization has plans to make its effort international and is currently working on translating its material into English.

Honorary members and contributors to UOK include former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar, Latvia's EU Commissioner Sandra Kalniete and Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.

Paul O'Mahony (paul.omahony@thelocal.se)

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