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Notini Burch, Cecilia

Refugee policy and national security in Cold War Sweden (1945 - 1960)

Granting a refugee political asylum inevitably entails a state making a political statement about that individual’s country of origin. This was particularly the case during the Cold War. In the US, for example, the bestowing of asylum on East European refugees became a political weapon in the struggle against the Communist world. This meant that refugees from communist states were welcome to the US to a greater extent than refugees from right wing dictatorships, which the US sometimes cooperated with on military and financial issues.

On the international level, refugee policies played a similar role. Kim Salomon, for example, has argued that the international refugee regime which was founded after the end of WW2 was built on the foundation of the Cold War. The term ‘refugee’ in the UNHCR mandate as well as in the Refugee Convention of 1951 was straightforwardly aimed at refugees from the Communist bloc. The international refugee regime thus became a component in the conflict.

However, for a non-aligned country like Sweden, which embraced an officially neutral position, the political implications of the refugee issue were somewhat different. Concerns for national security led Sweden to seek to maintain friendly relations with the USSR. At the same time, however, Sweden identified itself as a Western country in ideological and cultural terms, and wished to be a member of the Western international regime.

What implications did this complex situation have on Sweden’s refugee policy during the Cold War? How was Sweden, with its balancing ambitions in foreign policy, to handle Soviet and Baltic refugees? And – how can we understand the relationship between, on the one hand, foreign policy and concerns for national security and, on the other, refugee policies?

This is the topic of my ongoing PhD thesis. At the Helsinki conference I wish to present its preliminary results.

Friday 30 Oct, 9.00-11.00 SESSION4
Panel: Choosing Sides: Was Neutrality Really Possible