Swedish government announced that it intends to allocate SEK30 million to promote a broad exchange between Swedes and Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, with a special focus on promoting relations between young people.
The announcement was made by the Swedish foreign affairs minister, Margot Wallström, who met with her Baltic colleagues on 26 May in Stockholm at the XIV Baltic Day.
The Swedish government intends to set aside SEK30 million (USD3.4 million, €2.9 million; SEK10 million for each country) as a basic contribution to the funds. “The government will also invite businesses, organisations and private individuals in Sweden and the Baltics to help ensure the funds grow, with the aim of creating lasting and dynamic relations in society, the economy and culture,” it said in a statement.
The XIV Baltic Day at Skansen, an open-air museum, brought together over 500 participants from Swedish-Baltic diaspora groups for a cultural day of song, dance, music, food and crafts to celebrate the 100th anniversaries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Sweden was once a destination for Estonian refugees
Before the Second World War, only a few hundred Estonians lived in Sweden, but this number changed dramatically when, in the autumn of 1944, fearful of the advancing Soviet Red Army, approximately 70,000 Estonians left their country behind and escaped to Germany and Sweden.
Some 30,000 were desperate to get onto any ship that stayed afloat, including tiny wooden fishing boats, making a journey of over 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres; 230 miles) to reach the Swedish shores. Some of the brightest Estonian minds, such as poets Marie Under and Gustav Suits, writers August Gailit and Karl Ristikivi, and architect Olev Siinmaa, settled in Sweden.
However, the Soviet Union’s aggressive repatriation politics caused fear in many people that they might be forcefully returned to the Soviet-occupied Estonia, resulting by a number of Estonian refugees in Sweden move to the US, Canada and Australia instead. Regardless, by the late 1940s, the Estonian population in Sweden had expanded within short space of time from few hundred to about 20,000. The baby boomer years saw this figure rise to 30,000 by the 1960s.
Numbers vary, but approximately 25,000 people who could be considered Estonians, currently live in Sweden, most of them in the large cities such as Stockholm or Gothenburg. In Stockholm, there is an Estonian nursery school and an Estonian elementary school. The Estonian language weekly newspaper, Eesti Päevaleht, has also survived, and is based at the Stockholm Estonian House that functions as an important centre for preserving and developing the Estonian heritage in Sweden.
Cover: Participants at the XIV Baltic Day at Skansen (image by Kristiina Gilts Stenhardt). Read also: Estonians and Swedes go back a long way.