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    Sweden History
    Source: US State Department
      During the seventh and eighth centuries, the Swedes were merchant seamen well known for their far-reaching trade. In the ninth century, Nordic Vikings raided and ravaged the European continent as far as the Black and Caspian Seas. During the 11th and 12th centuries, Sweden gradually became a unified Christian kingdom that later included Finland. Queen Margaret of Denmark united all the Nordic lands in the "Kalmar Union" in 1397. Continual tension within the countries and within the union gradually led to open conflict between the Swedes and the Danes in the 15th century. The union's final disintegration in the early 16th century brought on a long-lived rivalry between Norway and Denmark on one side and Sweden and Finland on the other.

      In the 16th century, Gustav Vasa fought for an independent Sweden, crushing an attempt to restore the Kalmar Union and laying the foundation for modern Sweden. At the same time, he broke with the Catholic Church and established the Reformation. During the 17th century, after winning wars against Denmark, Russia, and Poland, Sweden-Finland (with scarcely more than 1 million inhabitants) emerged as a great power. Its contributions during the Thirty Years War under Gustav II Adolf (Gustavus Adolphus) determined the political as well as the religious balance of power in Europe. By 1658, Sweden ruled several provinces of Denmark as well as what is now Finland, Ingermanland (in which St. Petersburg is located), Estonia, Latvia, and important coastal towns and other areas of northern Germany.

      Russia, Saxony-Poland, and Denmark-Norway pooled their power in 1700 and attacked the Swedish-Finnish empire. Although the young Swedish King Karl XII (also known as Charles XII) won spectacular victories in the early years of the Great Northern War, his plan to attack Moscow and force Russia into peace proved too ambitious; he fell in battle in 1718. In the subsequent peace treaties, the allied powers, joined by Prussia and England-Hanover, ended Sweden's reign as a great power.

      Sweden suffered further territorial losses during the Napoleonic wars and was forced to cede Finland to Russia in 1809. The following year, the Swedish King's adopted heir, French Marshal Bernadotte, was elected Crown Prince as Karl Johan by the Riksdag (parliament). In 1813, his forces joined the allies against Napoleon. The Congress of Vienna compensated Sweden for its lost German territory through a merger of the Swedish and Norwegian crowns in a dual monarchy, which lasted until 1905, when it was peacefully dissolved at Norway's request.

      Sweden's predominantly agricultural economy shifted gradually from village to private farm-based agriculture during the Industrial Revolution, but this change failed to bring economic and social improvements commensurate with the rate of population growth. About 1 million Swedes immigrated to the United States between 1850 and 1890.

      The 19th century was marked by the emergence of a liberal opposition press, the abolition of guild monopolies in trade and manufacturing in favor of free enterprise, the introduction of taxation and voting reforms, the installation of a national military service, and the rise in the electorate of three major party groups--Social Democratic Party, Liberal People's Party, and Conservative Party.

      During and after World War I, in which Sweden remained neutral, the country benefited from the worldwide demand for Swedish steel, ball bearings, wood pulp, and matches. Postwar prosperity provided the foundations for the social welfare policies characteristic of modern Sweden. Foreign policy concerns in the 1930s centered on Soviet and German expansionism, which stimulated abortive efforts at Nordic defense cooperation. Sweden followed a policy of armed neutrality during World War II and currently remains nonaligned.

      Sweden became a member of the European Union (EU) in 1995. With the prospect of the enlargement of the EU from 15 to 25 countries on May 1, 2004, concerns arose that the Swedish welfare system would be unduly burdened by an influx of workers from the new member states. In March of that year, following similar action by other EU member states, the Swedish Government introduced legislation in the Riksdag proposing welfare and labor restrictions for migrant workers from the 10 accession countries for at least two years. However, the Riksdag rejected the bill at the end of April. This defeat was seen as a major reverse for the government and meant that Sweden was one of the few EU countries without any restrictions limiting access to jobs or social security to citizens of the new member states.

      The perceived failure of the main political parties to adequately address the strong current of EU skepticism expressed in Sweden's rejection of the euro led to the February 2004 formation of a new political grouping, the Junilistan (June List), which opposed further integration with the EU, but did not advocate withdrawal. The grouping stressed that it was not itself a political party, and went as far as appending its candidates' usual party affiliation to their names on the ballots for the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament. In this way voters would be able to support the June List on the issue of the EU while not altogether abandoning their usual party. This strategy proved successful, allowing the June List to draw support from across the political spectrum. It was widely believed that the June List's success in the European elections might increase pressure on the government to consider holding a national referendum on the ratification of the EU constitutional treaty, which had finally been approved by the Council of the EU in June 2004. Instead, the government chose to present the treaty for approval (or otherwise) in the Riksdag; legislation was to be presented by September 2005, with a view to adoption in December of that year. However, following the rejection of the treaty at national referendums in France and the Netherlands in mid-2005, Sweden was one of several member states to decide to delay the ratification process indefinitely.

      In May 2005 the UN Committee against Torture ruled that Sweden had violated the 1984 UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in December 2001 by returning an asylum seeker to Egypt, where he had been convicted in absentia of membership of a terrorist group. Human rights groups had earlier expressed concern at the treatment of the asylum seeker and another Egyptian national deported at the same time; the two men had controversially been flown to Egypt in a U.S.-leased aircraft, having been handed over to U.S. security officials by the Swedish authorities. In November 2005 the Swedish Government ordered the Civil Aviation Authority to investigate media reports that aircraft used by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had landed at Swedish airports while transporting suspected terrorists to third countries for interrogation. In the following month the Authority, which examined the period from January 2002, reported that it could not substantiate the claims.

      In September 2005 the Riksdag rejected a proposed amnesty for illegal immigrants living in Sweden, despite considerable public support for such a measure. Following the vote, a number of protests took place and 150,000 signatures were collected in favor of an amnesty. In November the Riksdag approved legislation allowing failed asylum seekers to reapply for a residence permit before the end of March 2006. It was estimated that 20,000 asylum seekers whose deportation orders had not been carried out due to conditions in their home countries or who had gone into hiding after having their original applications refused would be eligible to submit new applications under the law.

      In February 2006 the government announced its intention for Sweden to overcome its dependency on petroleum within 15 years, without constructing any further nuclear power stations. A committee of industrialists, academics, farmers, vehicle manufacturers, civil servants, and others was charged with devising a plan to achieve this, and was to report to the Riksdag later that year. The government hoped to protect Sweden from the adverse economic effects of climate change and from fluctuations in the price of petroleum, which had increased substantially in recent years.

      In March 2006 Laila Freivalds resigned as Minister for Foreign Affairs, following criticism of her ministry's involvement in forcing the temporary closure, in February, of the website of SD-Kuriren--the newspaper of the far-right SD (Swedish Democrats)--which had asked readers to submit cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. (The publication of caricatures depicting the Prophet in a Danish newspaper in late 2005, and in a number of other European newspapers in early 2006, had led to world-wide protests by Muslims.) Freivalds had initially denied responsibility for the decision to intervene, which Prime Minister Goran Persson had denounced as being contrary to the freedom of the press. She had already come under pressure to resign in December 2005 after an independent commission held her partly responsible for the government's slow response to the tsunamis in Southeast Asia on December 26, 2004 (which killed more than 500 Swedes). Jan Eliasson, the President of the UN General Assembly, was appointed as the new Minister for Foreign Affairs and held both positions until the expiry of his UN term in September 2006.

      Elections to the Riksdag were held on September 17, 2006. The Alliance for Sweden (a coalition of four center-right parties--the Moderate Party, the Liberal People's Party, the Christian Democrat, and the Center Party) won 178 of the 349 seats, securing Fredrik Reinfeldt the position of Prime Minister, while the Swedish Social Democratic Party (SAP) coalition took 171 seats. Taking a cue from the British Labor Prime Minister's electoral strategy a decade earlier, Reinfeldt remodeled his party as 'New Moderates,' moving away from the party's right-wing, upper-class roots to appeal to a large middle ground of voters, and successfully winning over many who had until then supported the SAP, as well as others who had previously voted for the smaller, non-socialist parties. Reinfeldt was instrumental in uniting the notoriously divided four-party, center-right opposition. The Alliance managed to offer a cohesive campaign and a set of alternative policies that persuaded the electorate that change was both possible and desirable. The Social Democratic Party had been predominant in government for 65 of the 74 years since 1932, and the 2006 election ended its recent term of 12 years in office.

      NOTE: The information regarding Sweden on this page is re-published from the US State Department. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Sweden History information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Sweden History should be addressed to the State Department.
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    Revised 25-Jul-02
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