Sweden and Norway were “close to war”

These days the two Scandinavian neighbours are the best of buddies but a hundred years ago it was a very different story.

As Norwegians throughout Sweden don their festive garb to celebrate their country’s national day on Tuesday, Dagens Nyheter reported that previously unpublished government records show that the two countries were perilously close to war in 1905.

That was the year Norway declared its independence, dissolving the union with Sweden that had been in place for over 90 years. The split has been viewed by history as being largely peaceful, despite 20 years of growing friction between the two countries.

But Dagens Nyheter’s access to memoranda of the time reveals that Sweden’s chief of staff, Axel Rappe, along with several influential members of parliament, advocated a pre-emptive invasion of Norway.

“Only with a mobilisation of all our forces could we protect ourselves against Russia. Against Russia and Norway at the same time we would not be able to defend ourselves,” he declared.

Others called for war “to uphold Sweden’s honour” and Sweden’s prime minister, Christian Lundeberg, argued for conditions to be placed on Norway’s independence. One of those conditions was for Norway to dismantle its border defences.

In September 1905, in an atmosphere of suspicion, Sweden went so far as to send 5,000 fully-equipped soldiers to the Norwegian border. Norway responded with the partial mobilisation of its army. But with the posturing threatening to burst into conflict, Lundeberg met Norway’s leader, Christian Michelsen and they reached a compromise.

On Tuesday up to 9,000 Norwegians are expected to invade Stockholm’s Skansen with more peaceful intentions. It is the traditional location for the celebrations of Norway’s national day and, according to Svenska Dagbladet, a brass band, Norwegian flags and folk dress are obligatory.

And that’s not the only Norwegian invasion. Swedish Radio reported on Tuesday that more Norwegians than ever are buying houses in Sweden. Indeed, despite the fact that the Norwegian krona is weak compared to two years ago, every other house sold by estate agents on the Swedish side of the border is being snapped up by Norwegians.

Reidar Istad, who recently bought a house in Strömstad, told SR that you get a lot more for your money in Sweden than in his native Oslo.

“There, both land and living area is quarter the size of what you get here,” he said. “But the price is three times as high.”

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, SR