Stiftelsen för forskning inom områden med anknytning till Östersjöregionen och Östeuropa

Swedes, emotions and moral diplomacy in the Great Terror. Foreign Office´s rescue operation in the Soviet Union, 1937-38 


Projektledare: Torbjörn Nilsson
Startår: 2020
Projekttyp: Projekt

The Great Terror in the Soviet Union 1937–38 was to a high degree accomplished on ethnic grounds. Especially citizens of German and Polish descent became victims for the “national operations” of the NKVD. Many Finnish people met the same destiny. In 1926 approximately 2 500 Swedish citizens were residing in the Soviet Union. In April 1937 a NKVD-directive declared “to detect and remove from the USSR all foreign nationals, who in one way or another were suspected of espionage”.

Paradoxically the authorities tried to cleanse the country from “dangerous elements”, but in the totalitarian communist system, returning home was still nearly impossible. The embassy in Moscow initiated a rescue operation, never before professionally studied. Hundreds of Swedes in various regions of the country contacted the embassy in order to escape the threats from NKVD. Many of them were rescued, but in many cases the efforts failed.

This unknown event gives a new perspective of Swedish diplomatic operations before the well-known contributions of Folke Bernadotte and Raoul Wallenberg. But it also contributes to the wider issue of Western rescue operations in the USSR.

1 How did “the applicants” act?

2 Which were the criteria for help?

3 How flexible was the rescue operation?

The interest is focused on the rescue operations: How they were carried out, which methods were successful and how the Swedish diplomats could make the most of the Soviet ambition to get rid of all Swedes. Did the Embassy try to define “Swedish connection” as broadly as possible? If so, did that cause conflicts with the Foreign Office in Stockholm? How important were the emotional reaction for the diplomats? These perspectives open up for theoretical concepts, based on the relevance of moral contents in international conflicts. Of specific relevance is the concepts strategic moral diplomacy and emotions.

The research material combines records from both the Swedish and Soviet archives, which will be study from different perspectives. The collection of the Foreign Office in the National Archives of Sweden contains various materials regarding the Swedish rescue operation. Many relevant records that still are classified in Russia are fortunately available in Ukraine, at the Security Service Archives in Kiev.