If you read material from the Swedish labour movement at the beginning of the 20th century, you can see that Russia is a very big issue. The Tsarist Russian Empire persecuted minorities, cracked down on opposition, and attacked other countries. In Sweden, Russia was used as an insult. If, for example, police or soldiers were deployed against workers, the labour press called it “Russia in Sweden” (Brand 4–5/1902) or said it was reminiscent of Petersburg (Social-Demokraten 1 May 1905). Of course, it didn’t mean that you were against ordinary Russians, or even Russia as a country. On the contrary. The Swedish labour movement actively supported the Russian opposition and also helped political refugees who came here from Russia.
I think it is very good that attention is paid to the Russians who protest Russia’s attack on Ukraine. It must take tremendous courage to do that. In this country we have a long and fine tradition of international solidarity and of protesting against superpowers that attack other countries. In part of course, the protests against the US war in Vietnam. But also, the protests against the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan.
It is important that we continue that tradition, stand up for an independent foreign policy, for peace and solidarity, for the right of all peoples to decide for themselves. We must never stop criticizing superpowers that try to control other countries and that try to build empires, be it Russia, the United States or China. Or the EU. It doesn’t matter what justifications they use; superpowers will always come up with a bunch of excuses.
During the Swedish great power period in the 17th and 18th centuries, there were always excuses when attacking other countries. Often it was God and religion that were used. When Sweden was to join the Thirty Years’ War, it was said that it was to defend the religious freedom of the German Protestants. The Thirty Years’ War devastated large parts of Europe, it also devastated Sweden, even though the war did not take place here.
There were approximately 100,000 Swedish men and boys who died as soldiers in the Thirty Years’ War. We should remember them, but we can also remember all those who refused. It has often been forgotten in the history books, but there were actually thousands who escaped, they hid in the forests for example, because they did not want to be part of the war.
The Swedes who escaped from the Thirty Years’ War, they were not cowards. They were incredibly brave. They probably didn’t mind defending their homeland if we had been attacked, but they weren’t going to be sent away, far away to a foreign land to be slaughtered in some war that it was extremely unclear what it was about.
There is only one solution to the war in Ukraine and that is for Russia to immediately call off its invasion, withdraw its troops and leave Ukraine alone. The Russians who protest the war do so because they care about their people and love their country. They love it so much that they are prepared to take great personal risks to defend it. They deserve our solidarity.