History of Sweden (1945–67)

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This article covers the history of Sweden from the end of World War II to 1967.


Sweden emerged unharmed by World War II. The Swedish non-alignment policy officially remained – Sweden rejected NATO membership but joined the United Nations and later EFTA. Tage Erlander (s) was Prime Minister from 1946 to 1969 – a period of exceptional economic and social prosperity, and generally low unemployment, but the housing situation posed problems as more and more people moved to the cities. Responding to the housing shortage, the government introduced the Million Programme – a national wave of suburban development with the aim of creating a million homes from 1965 to 1974. This period saw the beginning of large-scale immigration to a country that used to be one of the more ethnically homogeneous in the world. The first phase of immigration consisted of workers from southern Europe, who were actively wooed over by campaigns of advertisement and recruitment in their home countries, for instance Italy & Austria. In the 1970s and 1980s many refugees with families arrived from e.g. Chile, Kurdistan, Vietnam & Somalia, some of them with refugee status, others on the immigration quota. At the same time, the economy was entering less powerfully prosperous times: while Sweden continues to be a thoroughly industrialized nation with many businesses of cutting-edge innovation, especially in telephonics, energy management, chemicals, pharmaceutics & food industry, this growth both in production and complication is not generating a great amount of new employment in Sweden anymore, and therefore did not swallow the generations who have grown up since 1980.

On September 3, 1967, Sweden was the last country in continental Europe to introduce right-hand traffic. This was done on Dagen H, in spite of the negative result of a referendum in 1955.

Swedish neutrality in the Cold War

During the Cold War, Sweden maintained a dual approach, publicly the strict neutrality policy was forcefully maintained, but unofficially strong ties were kept with the U.S. and it was hoped that the U.S. would use conventional and nuclear weapons to strike at Soviet staging areas in the occupied Baltic states in case of a Soviet attack on Sweden. Over time and due to the official neutrality dogma, fewer and fewer Swedish military officials were aware of the military cooperation with the west, making such cooperation in the event of war increasingly difficult. At the same time Swedish defensive planning was completely based on help from abroad in the event of war. The fact that it was not permissible to mention this aloud eventually led to the Swedish armed forces becoming highly misbalanced. For example, a strong ability to defend against an amphibious invasion was maintained, while an ability to strike at inland staging areas was almost completely absent.[1] The political unity among the democratic parties on the neutrality politics where total which made it possible for Sweden to rearm the military. In the 1970th and 1980th Sweden's military expenditure per capita where the highest in the world. Because of the neutrality politics most of the military equipment where produced and developed in Sweden by companies such as SAAB, Kockums, Bofors and Hägglunds (today BAE Systems AB). Prime minister Olof Palme summarized the Swedish neutrality in a speech in 1985; Vi står för Sveriges oberoende i fred och kommer med fasthet att värna vårt territorium mot varje inkräktare (en: We stand for Sweden's independence in peacetime and will, with firmness, defend our territory against every foreign intruder).

In the early 1960s U.S. nuclear submarines armed with mid-range nuclear missiles of type Polaris A-1 were deployed outside the Swedish west coast. Range and safety considerations made this a good area from which to launch a retaliatory nuclear strike on Moscow. The submarines had to be very close to the Swedish coast to hit their intended targets though. As a consequence of this, in 1960, the same year that the submarines were first deployed, the U.S. provided Sweden with a military security guarantee. The U.S. promised to provide military force in aid of Sweden in case of Soviet aggression. Knowledge of this guarantee was by the Swedish governments kept from the Swedish public until 1994, when a Swedish research commission found evidence for it.

As part of the military cooperation the U.S. provided much help in the development of the Saab 37 Viggen, as a strong Swedish air force was seen as necessary to keep Soviet anti-submarine aircraft from operating in the missile launch area. In return Swedish scientists at the Royal Institute of Technology made considerable contributions to enhancing the targeting performance of the Polaris missiles.[2]

Population change

Since 1930, emigration has been slight. About 15,000-30,000 people left Sweden annually after 1965. Sweden welcomed refugees and displaced persons at the end of World War II. Because of the low birth rate, immigration accounted for 45% of population growth between 1945 and 1980. By 1991, 9% of the population had been born abroad. After 1980 immigration again increased rapidly, mostly because of new refugees, reaching more than 60,000 annually by 1990. The increase stirred some anti-immigrant feelings. Already by 1994 there were 508,000 foreign nationals in Sweden, concentrated mainly in the larger cities. The largest groups were Finns (210,000), Yugoslavs (70,000), Iranians (48,000), Norwegians (47,000), Danes (41,000), and Turks (29,000). Turks and Iranians make up 8% and 12% respectively of the foreign born non-European population. Aliens may vote in Swedish local elections after three years of legal residence.[3] Swedes have for centuries exhibited Islamophobia (fear of Islam), but a change began in the 1990s with the acceptance of Muslims in Swedish schools, an increase in contact between Muslims and non-Muslims, and legal changes.[4]

Sweden became highly urbanized after World War II, reaching 83% urban in 1990 and 85% today. As recently as 1940 only 38% of the population lived in urban areas, and in 1860, before industrialization, the proportion was only 11%. Large-scale movement from the countryside to the United States ended about 1900. Since 1945 the movement to Swedish cities has accelerated and has brought about a population decline in many areas, especially in the north. Most cities are small. Only 10 cities have populations of more than 100,000. The Stockholm metropolitan areas has a population of 2 million; Gothenburg has 906,000 in its metropolitan area and Malmö (including Lund) has 260,000, while the educational center of Uppsala has 130,000. The only large city in the north is Sundsvall (95,000 in metro area), which grew with the development of the forest industries in the 19th century and now is also a data processing center.

Culture and mass media

Main article: Culture of Sweden

Cultural influence from the United Kingdom and the United States has been obvious since the war. Imported and indigenous subcultures rose, with the rockabilly-inspired raggare and anarchist progg cultures as notable examples. (Before the world wars, Swedish culture was more inspired by Germany). Swedish film and music achieved international fame with names like Ingmar Bergman, Sven Nykvist, Lasse Hallström, Birgit Nilsson, ABBA, Entombed, Roxette, Denniz Pop and Max Martin. Currently, Sweden is the only non-English-speaking country in the world with a net export of music. Most Swedes are today proficient in English, a great deal of Swedish-produced popular music has originally English lyrics, and English language branding is very common.

The sexual revolution, together with sexual content in mass media (notably films 491 and I Am Curious (Yellow), together with the broad entry of women in many lanes of professional life (including the priesthood) in the 1960s and 1970s provoked a moralist counter-movement including the Christian Democratic party, but this trend has had scant political success.

Radio and television early became widespread in Sweden, but government struggled to keep the monopoly of licence-funded Sveriges television until the late 1980s, as satellite and cable TV became popular, and the commercial channel TV4 was permitted to broadcast terrestrially.


Sweden has produced many world-famous athletes during this period, among them boxer Ingemar Johansson, alpine skier Ingemar Stenmark, tennis player Björn Borg and ice hockey players Börje Salming and Kent Nilsson. Sweden has hosted several high-profile sports events, for instance equestrian events of the 1956 Summer Olympics and the 1958 FIFA World Cup.


  1. Livlös livlina till väst Framsyn 2004, Nr. 1 (The Swedish Defence Research Agency’s bi-monthly publication)
  2. Hemliga atomubåtar gav Sverige säkerhetsgaranti Framsyn 2005, Nr. 1 (The Swedish Defence Research Agency’s bi-monthly publication))
  3. Irena Kogan, "Ex-Yugoslavs in the Austrian and Swedish labour markets: the significance of the period of migration and the effect of citizenship acquisition," Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Volume 29#4 July 2003, pp 595-622
  4. Jonas Otterbeck "The Depiction of Islam in Sweden: An Historical Overview," Muslim World, Spring 2002, Vol. 92 Issue 1/2, pp 143-56 online
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