SWEDEN'S RELATIONSHIP WITH THE BRITISH EMPIRE AND WITH CANADA IN PARTICULAR
AN ADDRESS BY
THE HONOURABLE PER WIJKMAN SWEDISH MINISTER TO CANADA
Chairman: The President, Mr. C. R. Conquergood
Thursday, November 9, 1944
MR. C. R. CONQUERGOOD: The growing status of Canada as a self-governing Dominion in the British Commonwealth of Nations is noted by the increasing number of countries who are establishing here their diplomatic and commercial representatives.
We are honored today to have as our guest speaker, the Honourable Per Wijkrnan, Minister to Canada from Sweden.
Mr. Wijkman graduated in Law in 1917 from the famous University of Upsala, a short distance from Stockholm, the capital city of Sweden. A year after his graduation, he joined the Swedish Foreign Office and served in many capacities which have brought a continuous and growing recognition from his country. For instance, he attended the World Economic Conference in Geneva 1917, the Economic Committee of the League of Nations 1930-33, the Monetary and Economic Conference in London in 1933. For four years from 1933 to 1937, he served in Washington. From 1937 to 1940, he served in Helsingfors, Finland. In 1940, he returned to his own Foreign Office, but was not to stay there long for, in 1941, he came to Montreal as Consul-General. In July of last year, he was appointed Swedish Minister to Canada, and presented his credentials to the Governor-General in Ottawa on August 4th, 1943.
His topic today is "Sweden's Relationship With the British Empire and With Canada in Particular". I have the honor to present the Honourable Per Wijkman.
THE HONOURABLE PER WIJKMAN: Mr. President, Members of The Empire Club of Canada: When I was honoured by the very kind invitation to speak to members of The Empire Club of Canada I was immediately very conscious of everything your name stands for. The British Empire has been a strong force for freedom for many centuries, and I know what it has meant to us in Sweden in recent years to have had the sympathy and understanding of the British peoples. Canada is the first Dominion in this Empire of free peoples, bound together by common ideals and a common outlook rather than by written words and imposed rules. Right here in Toronto you can feel the heartbeat of the Empire. The voice of Canada has added strength and new promise for the future to the British Commonwealth of Nations.
Sweden has stronger ties with Great Britain than you may realize here. Our first concern is quite naturally the future of the Northern countries and we long ago with drew from the larger field of world power interests. But many centuries of history have established in my country a way of life, of local self-government and of parliamentary institutions which are similar to those in British nations. Neither is Great Britain so very far away and the sea has always been the highway of seafaring people. A small open boat can sail from our western coast to England. By plane we are only a few hours away.
Throughout the war, Sweden has kept up air traffic with Scotland. Some of our planes were shot down, but we carried on and they brought us encouraging news. British visitors have come to Sweden during all these war years-journalists, trade union representatives, authors and churchmen. They have done a great deal to strengthen our sympathy for the British peoples. Their tact and understanding of our particular problems have convinced us that Britain is a democracy even in times of supreme national effort.
We are a very individualistic people, firmly determined to hold what we have, equally determined to accept no free gifts and ready to pay our way in every respect. We are quite satisfied with our present boundaries. But we have been prepared to fight for our way of life, if challenged, and that is why we have turned all our efforts to building up a good military defence. Out of a population of less than seven million people, we have now a well trained army of more than 600,000 men, a good navy and an air force using Swedish built planes.
We are completely united in everything that has to do with the safeguarding of our independence. Our Government has the fullest support from all of our leading parties-Liberals, Conservatives, Farmers and Labour, the last mentioned party being the largest. The only party never represented in the Swedish parliament is th Nazi party. They never managed to get enough votes for a single seat. The northern climate has not been very good for theories of totalitarian rule which are inconsistent with our free institutions.
Sweden is definitely a democracy. We have made our country a land of free individuals who are willing to assume the responsibility of the privileges they enjoy. Extreme elements have no appeal for us. The Communistic element is very small. The largest party, the Labour party, already has long experience of the responsibilities of Government and public affairs. We are probably known to you as a country of the middle of the road. Well, we are middle of the road. Sweden now very definitely has a modern set-up. It is an advanced democracy, but the labour class in Sweden has proved to us in this war that it is a very worthy one. They have been second to none in national unity and readiness to defend our country at any cost.
But here in Canada you should not forget that we held out for our way of life, all through the year of 1940. That was really a test of the strength of Swedish democracy. We were surrounded by marching armies. We had to work out our own policy of resisting aggression and compulsion never found the way to our hearts.
That is why we have been ready to listen to British voices. They have been gentle words as spoken by a man who knows his own might. They have been friendly. And we said to ourselves: People who are strong enough to live and let us live, they are our kind of people. They hold similar ideas of democracy.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century Sweden was an impoverished country, desperately in need of social reforms to set her house in order again. She had been engaged in a long struggle over a period of many centuries in her efforts to consolidate a Baltic Empire. Consequently, you will find that Sweden in the past had her part in power politics.
For three hundred years we fought and bled on foreign fields. If you refer to the records of any small Swedish parish of the time between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries, you will find entries of Swedish soldiers who fell in battles abroad. At the time of the Thirty Years' War, France under Richelieu was an ally of Sweden and Scottish troops under Sir John Hepburn and Patrick Ruthven, the Marquess of Hamilton and Alexander Leslie fought well in the Swedish armies. The Swedish people had their full share of fighting, not only for three centuries but much longer than that.
We have now developed into a unified small country determined to live in our own way.
All through our history from the period of the Vikings we have been in close touch with the British. Since the Middle Ages the two peoples never have borne arms against each other. It might be just as well, for the sake of contemporary history, to carry you back to a very early period. It will help you to understand us better.
We happen to have a good account of conditions in Sweden in the sixth and seventh centuries from the English Beowulf poem. At that time the ruling elements in Sweden were the Goths and the Swedish. The Goths were established in the southern part of Sweden, but they had lost much of their strength in constant emigration to foreign shores. The Swedish elements in the northern part of the country emerged victorious in the struggle for power, and the Beowulf poem has furnished us with a vivid description of those times. During the eighth century Sweden became a unified country, and the Kingdom of Sweden was established.
I am told by my wife, who has Scottish ancestors with many earlier traditions from Northern Ireland, that the Viking expeditions to England started with a visit to the Irish monastery of Lindisfarne in 793. She rather hesitated to mention what happened to the monastery but I assume that this event contributed greatly toward the efforts of the English to converting us to Christianity. At any rate, the following centuries led to a continued flow of Viking settlement in England, resulting in a strong influx of Scandinavian blood. From that time on, we have had many links of language and thought, right down through the centuries to the present day.
The Vikings also established the Duchy of Normandy in France. They came mainly from Denmark and Sweden. The Duchy was established in 911, but its boundaries were somewhat extended on two later occasions, in 924 and I believe in 931. When I lived in Normandy in 1924, the Normans celebrated the thousandth anniversary of the second settlement, and I was very kindly invited. The celebration took place in Bayeux, and I had the privilege of meeting Norman representatives from Guernsey and Jersey, Scotland and Wales, and Canada. It was strictly a family gathering and I was greeted as a member of the family.
The absence of actual warfare in the history of the relations between Sweden and Great Britain is a definite achievement in view of the reputation we had acquired in the earlier centuries of being a rather belligerent nation, somewhat difficult to get along with.
But England had a great deal to do with the development of this close relationship. England brought Christianity to Sweden. Sigfrid, the Archbishop of York, went to Sweden to preach the Christian faith and he converted the Swedish King, Olof Skottkonung, and all his army at Husaby in Sweden. This was in the eleventh century. He was followed by many others. The names of Saint David, Saint Botvid and Saint Eskil from England are prominent in the Church of Sweden. The Swedish city of Eskilstuna--which is mainly known for the excellence of the tools manufactured there--was named after Saint Eskil. The Anglo-Saxon influence on the Church of Sweden has been very strong and active.
There has been a tendency to overlook how much the old connections and the traditional trade with England have meant to Sweden.
One of the Swedish kings sent his emissaries to London in 1557 in order to negotiate a commercial treaty. They were given instructions in which special reference was made to the fact that "in former days, and particularly some few hundred years ago, a warm friendship had existed between the two countries and the two peoples had carried on a considerable trade with each other to their mutual advantage". It is interesting to note from such a document that the trade monopoly of the Hanseatic League had not succeeded in breaking the old Swedish links with England.
At the time of Cromwell, England was the main importer of wood and iron from Sweden. Trade between the two countries was active and a most important factor in their economic life. A treaty was concluded in 1654. It has remained in force as a proof of the stability of our relations with the British Empire. This agreement, as well as later treaties from various periods down to 1826, was still listed in the last handbook of the Swedish Foreign Office as having ruling force.
The treaty of 1654 is actually valid between Sweden and Canada this very day, as well as the other treaties I have mentioned. They were confirmed in relation to Canada by an exchange of notes dating from 1911.
You will be interested in knowing that the world-wide reputation of the city of Sheffield in England for high grade steel products, especially cutlery, was originally made on the basis of Swedish ore, which was the highest grade obtainable at that time. This was a strong foundation for our trade with England. We also had a rich natural resource in fairly large deposits of copper. A company operating these deposits and still in existence dates back to the year 1288, when privileges were first given to them as a share-holding company.
As a very young boy I was convinced that the names of Hamilton, Mackay, Spens, Ramsay, Douglas, Murray, Fleetwood and Stuart were typically Swedish names. They had been established in Sweden for three hundred years. They came from men who fought in the Swedish armies on the Continent under King Gustavus Adolphus during the Thirty Years' War.
Much later English merchants came to the western coast of Sweden and settled down in the city of Gothenburg. Some of them have played an important part in the development of our forest industries. When new and improved Methods of agriculture were introduced in Sweden in 1807, the lead was taken by Rutger Maclean who followed English models.
The first steam engine was introduced in Sweden in 1804 by the Englishman, Samuel Owen.
It is really not any more astonishing to meet those names in Sweden than it is to find a great many words of Scandinavian origin in the English language, dating back to the time when Danish, Norwegian and Swedish chieftains established the Danelaw in the north-eastern part of England. Even now Swedish fishermen can manage fairly well to understand fishermen from Scotland. Their accents are rather alike.
There are less than 100,000 people of Swedish descent in Canada, counting the second generation, but they brought to this Dominion traditions from Sweden which in many respects are close to English traditions. They have the same sense of local self-government and independence. A Swedish country court consists of a judge and twelve men elected among the people of the community. If the latter are unanimous they can overrule the judge and give the decision of the court. Such people do a great deal of thinking for themselves and they are not easily regimented. But they have been easily assimilated in Canada because they felt at home with you. '
They have given you some 14,000 soldiers in the present war. Swedish people who have settled in Canada feel that, if this country is good enough to live in, it is good enough to die for. And they take a tremendous pride in this Dominion, speaking with her own voice among the nations.
Swedish Canadians have followed with keen interest the stand of Sweden in the present war. I believe they have noticed that the Swedish people have been ready to fight for their country, even with all odds against them. When Denmark and Norway were invaded, Sweden had a difficult choice to make. Should we have resigned ourselves to the thought of complete domination of the Northern countries by a foreign power? It was perfectly clear that our resources at that time were not sufficient for anything but our own defence, if attacked. and not sufficient even for that. We made our choice. The only thing we could possibly do was to keep our own country free, to keep our faith in the future and redouble the strengthening of our own defence.
The position of Sweden in the World War has been determined by two main considerations.
Immediately upon the outbreak of the war Sweden, as did Denmark and Norway, declared that her policy was aimed at safeguarding her independence with all means at her disposal. We had no political alliances. This policy of independence meant neutrality. None of the Northern countries could have taken any other course, because of their limited military strength and their economic structure. We had to rely upon ourselves. Sweden has no oil and no coal, which are essential to our economic life.
The second consideration in deciding our policy was therefore that we must make some arrangements with the belligerent powers in order to secure a minimum of necessary supplies and we had to build up our army. Otherwise we would have lost all liberty of action. As a matter of fact we are satisfied in our own minds that our military preparedness saved our independence in 1940.
In December, 1939, Sweden signed a wartime trade agreement with Great Britain. This was based upon an undertaking to limit our exports to prewar levels, so that our most essential imports might continue. Before the war England took a greater part of our exports than any other country, or some 24 percent. All exports to countries within the British Empire amounted to some 30 percent of the total. Germany took some 16 percent. On the other hand our imports from Germany exceeded those from England.
During the early period of the war we could carry on trade on the basis of this agreement, which meant that exports to Germany did not exceed prewar levels. Immediately upon the outbreak of the war we had introduced complete control of our foreign trade.
When Norway and Denmark were invaded in April, 1940, the situation changed completely. We had iron ore shipments for Great Britain which could no longer go forward because of the German blockade. This did not increase the shipments of iron ore to Germany. On the contrary, we gradually reduced them. But we had depended upon Great Britain for our supply of coal, over 50 percent of our imports having come from England and some 30 percent from Poland. The Polish mines had been taken over by the Germans at the initial stage of the war and British shipments could no longer get through after the occupation of Norway. Without coal we could not keep our industries going and we had to maintain them in order to keep our army supplied. We had to drive a bargain to get it in return for iron ore and we have not shipped more than we needed to cover the coal we required.
It is not generally known that after the invasion of Norway, Swedish shipowners placed at the disposal of the Allies 600,000 tons of Swedish ships. Of those there are only 200,000 tons left; the rest have been sunk. Many of those ships had come to Canadian ports and were well known there. The total of lives lost in the Swedish merchant marine is some 1,400. They died in war services.
Nor is it so well known that even after the German blockade some trade has continued between Sweden and England. No Swedish reports have appeared on the subject, but one was recently released from London that a small fleet of fast-going British boats had kept up a regular traffic through the German blockade, from the Swedish port of Lysekil on our western coast to England. One of those ships, specially built, was named the Corsair and carried a picture of Nelson in the captain's cabin, which was very small' indeed. Those ships brought Swedish ball bearings to England.
That is, of course, a tribute to British daring and British seamanship. But the shipments were made from Swedish territory and they did reach their destination.
A small fleet of Norwegian ships happened to be in Swedish waters at the time of the invasion of Norway. The owners, who were then in occupied territory, asked for their release. The Norwegian Government in London, on the other hand, claimed that all Norwegian ships were under their orders. The Supreme Court of Sweden decided that they were not to be released for return to occupied territory. They set out for England. Some reached English ports, some were sunk and some had to return to Sweden. But we did not send them back to Norway.
Such events could only have happened in a country with a policy of her own. They certainly do not indicate any special favours to anyone at war with Canada.
I do not know if you realize that a special edition of The Economist has been printed in Sweden during the war in order to save space for mail on the planes between England and Sweden. I do not know if you are aware of the fact the London Tinges reaches Sweden with the least possible delay; or that films shown in Sweden are predominantly of British or American origin. Don't you think old historical ties between England and Sweden, to which I referred at some length in the early part of my speech, might have something to do with it?
There has never been any doubt of the complete unity of our people and their opinion in this conflict. By keeping her own freedom and aiding our Northern neighbours in their distress, Sweden quite clearly indicated the general aims of her policy. It should not be forgotten that this policy has been maintained by a country surrounded on every side by the military forces of one of the warring powers.
Now I know that some of you would like to ask me why Sweden has traded at all with our neighbours to the south. The answer is quite simple. We have traded to survive and only to survive, to get coal for our industry or rails for our railways. If we had not, our ability to resist pressure would have been weakened because our industries could not have been kept going. Very recently Sweden closed all of her Baltic ports for shipments abroad, which means that all trade with Germany has ceased and we have to rely upon the stocks we have available at home.
We are consequently limited to our own resources in our relief to the Northern countries. Those demands are quite heavy and the Swedish people have made it clear that they are prepared to pay for such relief by reducing their own standard of living. The Swedish Parliament some time ago allotted. 200 million kroner for relief, mainly for our neighbours. This is only an initial part of the relief requirements. We have already made an arrangement with the Norwegian Government in London in respect of Swedish deliveries to Norway in due time. We have also made an agreement with Finland, subject to their armistice with the Soviet Union, regarding immediate shipments to Finland of foodstuffs in order to solve their most pressing needs. Those deliveries are made from supplies in Sweden which we will have to replace from abroad.
In a recent Gallup Poll here, the question was asked if the Swedish people would consent to a reduction in their standard of living in order to render greater service to their neighbours in distress. A clear majority favoured that course of action.
There are at the present time some 115,000 refugees in Sweden. Many of them are Danes and Norwegians. There are a great number of children from our neighbouring countries who have been cared for. by various organizations, among them the Swedish "Save the Children" Society. In relation to population, the number of refugees in Sweden would correspond to three million refugees in the United States.
There are Canadian fliers who have landed in Sweden, when in difficulty. They have been well received and have made themselves well liked. One of these Canadian fliers recently published an article in MacLeans Magazine under the heading "The Swedes Are Our Friends!" Gentlemen, I can assure you that he was correct. The Swedes are your friends, and we wish to count on it that Canadians are our friends. All Canadian fliers who have landed in Sweden during this war have been splendid representatives for Canada.
The war has brought about quite as radical changes in the economic life of Sweden as have occurred here in Canada. There is, however, a difference which may have been overlooked abroad. Sweden's foreign trade has been drastically curtailed. Our main export markets have been cut off and we have met with increasing difficulties in securing some of the most essential imports. The war reduced the volume of Sweden's foreign trade in 1941 to less than half of prewar volume (in 1938). Our exports have been further reduced in the following years. The value of Swedish exports in the first five months of 1944 was down to 314 million kroner. In the corresponding period of 1939 the value was 730 million kroner.
Gentlemen, I am sure it is clear to you that we have suffered as a result of the war. We have suffered in our trade; we have suffered in our food supplies and our fuel supplies and we have voluntarily agreed to give all possible help to our sister nations. Do not think for one moment that we have profited at the expense of our fellow democracies.
When Denmark and Norway were invaded in 1940 Sweden was cut off from 70 percent of her usual markets. We made a trade agreement with the Soviet Union in September, 1940, in order to meet some of our most urgent import requirements. Our trade with the Soviet Union ceased at the outbreak of the German-Russian war in 1941. We took up new negotiations to secure some limited traffic through the Allied and German blockades. and with the consent of Great Britain and the United States a so-called "safe conduct traffic" was established with some overseas ports. It has naturally been a small traffic. In the first six months of 1944 sixteen ships engaged in this traffic arrived in Sweden with some 160,000 tons of cargo from abroad.
British and American approval of the safe conduct traffic has meant that Sweden was not entirely isolated. When our main trade with Great Britain was cut off we solved some of our problems by new methods at home. Before the war coal and coke covered over 80 percent of our fuel requirements; in the first part of this year only 40 percent. The remaining part of our fuel requirements have been covered by firewood and peat. We have also used electric power on a much larger scale than before.
In this way we have kept our liberty of action. When it became increasingly difficult to secure necessary imports from Germany, mainly of coal, we were in a position to hold back our exports to the equivalent of what we received. Trade with Germany has gradually fallen off. In September Sweden closed her Baltic ports to foreign ships, which means that our exports to Germany stopped. During this winter therefore we can not count on imports from Germany, and we will have to rely upon our own fuel to keep the factories going.
We will also close our borders in another respect. The Swedish Minister of Social Affairs announced in a speech on September fifth that Sweden would refuse asylum to war criminals. He stated on that occasion
"Our policy so far has been to keep our frontiers open for refugees, but it should not be concluded that Sweden will be open, or is prepared to grant asylum, to those who by their actions have defied the conscience of the civilized world or betrayed their own country."
"It can be taken for granted that Sweden will close its frontiers in the face of a large or a small invasion of such "political" refugees and should anyone slip through he will be returned to his own country."
Canada has a great place among the nations of today and a great future. It is a place that you have won for yourselves by opening up this wide and beautiful country, by pioneering spirit and resourcefulness and sacrifices in war. It is a place that you will have the privilege of maintaining in planning for a world of peace, justice and progress. Sweden will have many interests in common with you and will have a similar outlook on many problems in the fields of international collaboration. To such collaboration Sweden will be ready to bring goodwill and efforts of her own as well as an unbroken record of free institutions and free thought.
I would like, in conclusion to sum up a few points. It is obvious that Sweden has suffered from the war. Sweden has not profited by trade or commerce because of the war. By maintaining her independence Sweden has been of greater value to the United Nations than would have been possible had she been invaded. Sweden has been able to help Norway and Denmark greatly by receiving refugees from their countries. And the independent position of Sweden has been the necessary condition for her participation in humanitarian work on a large scale during the war.
I am very grateful for the privilege of visiting The Empire Club of Canada and bringing you a greeting from Sweden.