Academics slam state history agency

A group of irate Swedish academics have penned a stinging critique of Sweden's Living History Forum, a state agency that they claim enables any sitting government to treat history as an ideological weapon.

Academics slam state history agency
Photo: Forum för Levande Historia

The agency, established by the Social Democrat-led government in 2003, initially focussed on the Holocaust. Later, however, the current centre-right government tasked the agency with informing high school pupils about crimes against humanity perpetrated by communist regimes.

Writing in Wednesday’s Dagens Nyheter, some 253 academics question the agency’s right to shine a light on “the darkest parts of human history”, as it claims to do.

“Why does the power to decide which are ‘the darkest parts’ rest with the sitting government?” they ask.

The signatories also wonder whether each high school generation can expect to be given history lessons based on the whims of the government in power at the time.

“Will the next government invest the Living History Forum’s annual 43 million kronor budget on enlightenment campaigns surrounding mass murders following in the wake of colonization under right-wing regimes?”

As long as the agency is steered by the government, the risk remains that the choice of topic will always be motivated by political expediency rather than solid research, say the signatories.

The group, consisting of researchers from different ends of the political spectrum, say they are united in the view that the state and the government should never be permitted to “replace regular history classes with campaign history.”

Education Minister Jan Björklund said he agreed with the academics’ assessment that it should not be the government’s task to influence the writing of history.

“On the whole that is correct. But among the signatories I notice several active communists. It is notable that they are reacting only when the remit is expanded to include communist mass murders. Nobody protested as long as it was about the Nazis,” said the Liberal Party leader.

Björklund added that the previous government’s initiative had been necessary, as history lessons in school were not of a sufficiently high standard.

“I think it was completely the right thing to do and and I think it is completely right that communist mass murders are included. But in the long term it is of course the task of schools to teach history. In the future it should not be the job of a particular forum. The agency came about as a result of failures in educational policy,” said Björklund.

Earlier this week the government submitted a proposal that would make history a compulsory subject for all high school pupils.