Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Wingnut Tradition

From Hitchens's For The Sake of Argument, pgs 98-100 (reprinted from The Nation, December 1989):

Hating Sweden

The Cold War may wax and wane, China may move from being official enemy to official chum, the armaments industry may succeed in defining the strangest regimes as certified 'moderates', but through it all the American right maintains a permanent, visceral hostility to one small, durable country: Sweden. Ever since President Dwight Eisenhower made a demagogic, philistine attack on Swedish social democracy, contrasting its road to serfdom with the American way and saying that its citizens had an addiction to suicide and despair, Sweden has been the target of ignorant abuse from conservatives. A good recent example was offered by The New Republic, which seems more and more to aim at annexing the heavy sarcasm and witless sneering that were once the special signifiers of the Commentary style. Furious at Sweden's role in sponsoring talks bewteen American Jews and the Palestine Liberation Organization, the magazine advised its readers that Sweden had been 'neutral' in World War II. So it counts as a minor but instructive irony of history that two recent foreign policy 'breakthroughs' -- both claimed as successes by the Reaganites -- were made possible partly by consistent, active Swedish diplomacy. Both the 'mutual recognition' strategy for the Palestine conflict and the 'mutual disengagement' solution for the Angola-Namibia one, imperfect as both are, owe a great deal to Swedish efforts and Swedish internationalism.

Sweden's role in the Middle East conflict goes back to 1948 and before, with the appointment of Count Folke Bernadotte as the United Nations' mediator in the partition argument. Bernadotte had been Raoul Wallenberg's deputy during the tense and bitter struggle to save the Jews of Hungary from the Final Solution, and he was personally responsible for securing the release of thousands of Jews from Bergen-Belsen in the closing months of the war. The use of Swedish passports and Swedish neutrality for this purpose would, I imagine, not be thought contemptible by The New Republic. I suspect that Bernadotte's exemplary role in the Wallenberg mission would be better known if he had not been murdered on the orders of Yitzhak Shamir in 1948. (Nobody could accuse Shamir of being neutral in World War II. His Stern Gang offered a military alliance to Hitler against the British.) After the 1956 invasion of Egypt, it was a Swede, UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, who brokered the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai, thereby saving the stupid Eisenhower's bacon. After the 1967 war the UN mediator was Gunnar Jarring. Sweden's involvement in the question is thus a rather more mature and patient one than most countries could claim. When Sweden's Foreign Minister, Sten Andersson, sponsored the December meeting in Stockholm between Yassir Arafat and some American Jewish activists, he was building on a considerable tradition. One of those present at the occasion told me that the whole atmosphere changed when Menachem Rosensaft, founder and chair of the International Network of Children of Holocaust Survivors, introduced himself and said, "I was born in a concentration camp. My life was saved by Count Folke Bernadotte."

In the case of Namibia and Angola, pundits are already queuing up to award the palm to 'constructive engagement' and to the fearlessly soft attitude displayed by Chester Crocker towards apartheid. This is all nonsense. Credit for the agreement belongs to the South-West Africa People's Organization (Swapo), which has refused to buckle despite decades of foreign occupation and has created a movement that does not consider race or tribe when defining Namibian citizenship. Independence on these terms could have been won years ago if it were not for Crocker's procrastination and Reagan's attempt to change the subject to the presence of Cuban forces in Angola. Here again, the United States dogmatically extended diplomatic recognition to one side only -- South Africa's. Here again, without 'neutral' mediators American policy would have deservedly become the victim of its own flagrant bias. An important participant was Bernt Carlsson, UN Commissioner for Namibia, who worked tirelessly for free elections in the colony and tried to isolate the racists diplomatically. Carlsson had been Secretary-General of the Socialist International, and International Secretary of the Swedish Social Democratic Party. He performed innumerable services for movements and individuals from Eastern Europe to Latin America. His death in the mass murder of the passengers on Pan American Flight 103 just before Christmas 1988, and just before the signing of the Namibia accords in New York, is appalling beyond words.

In Sweden a few years ago, it was claimed by social scientists and physicians that for the first time in history you could not tell the social class of a child by examining its health record and rate of growth. Ought this not to be considered a modest, even boring, achievement? It is common sense, after all, that a child should not suffer for its parents' disabilities or misfortunes. (We have preachers and savants who dilate endlessly on the sanctity of family and childhood but who tolerate a system in which a casual observer can correlate a child's social origin with its physical well-being.) I must say that I doubt whether Sweden would be so trusted on the international scene if it did not have a citizenry which turns out to vote at a 90 per cent rate, and has abolished at least the major injuries of a class system. Yet the conservative intellectuals of a country poisoned by empire and riven by class have no shame in denouncing the Swedes. After Eisenhower's sneer came the hate campaign against Prime Minister Olaf Palme for his temerity in opposing the Vietnam War and sheltering draft resisters. (These were the years when Sweden was thought not to deserve an American ambassador.) Further insults were directed at Stockholm because of tis opinion about a nuclear-free Europe, and because of its scepticism about the great American anti-'terrorist' crusade. You might think a country that had lost Bernadotte, Hammarskjold, Palme and now Carlsson to violent death would require no lectures on how the world is a dangerous place, least of all from the forces who have done so much to make it so.


All the wingnut bile of the last few years directed at France in particular and the EU in general is just an extension and enlargement of the anti-Swedish tradition.

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