Sweden to reflect on eugenics past

Sweden's government said on Wednesday that it had commissioned a study into why eugenics evolved in the country in the 19th and 20th centuries, leading to tens of thousands being sterilized by force.

“A fundamental aim is to find out what the society that developed this eugenics mentality and established accepted scientific research in the area looked like,” Swedish Minister for Education, Research and Culture Leif Pagrotsky said in a statement.

The social philosophy of eugenics, which advocates the improvement of human hereditary traits through social intervention, developed in Sweden and elsewhere in Europe during the 1800s before becoming the basis for widespread racial policies in the 20th century.

In its most extreme form Nazi Germany physically eliminated “inferiors”, but eugenics was also practised in other countries, including the United States.

A total of 63,000 people, mostly women, were sterilized in Sweden from 1935 to 1975 based on eugenics and the desire to weed out “inferiors” to create a stronger Swedish race.

The Scandinavian country, which remained officially neutral throughout World War II, forced mentally disabled people, epileptics and people with alleged social problems to undergo sterilization against their will, or pressured them to agree to the operation in order to be allowed to marry or be released from mental institutions.

In 1999, Sweden agreed to compensate the victims of forced sterilization, offering each individual up to 175,000 kronor.

The government said that its Living History Forum, an agency that focuses on the Holocaust and raises issues of tolerance, democracy and human rights, would map existing research on eugenics in Sweden and determine whether more analysis of the subject was needed.

“We want to create a basis for discussion (about) how this mentality evolved … History should serve as a lesson that strengthens people’s desire to work to improve the human condition,” ministry expert Ann Auren told AFP.

The results of the study are scheduled to be presented on March 31, 2007.

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