Det omstridda arvet: Den kommunistiska erfarenheten i dansk och svensk historiekultur

Translated title of the contribution: The Disputed Heritage: The Communist Experience in Danish and Swedish Historical Culture

Valter Lundell

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)

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This thesis investigates the dissension and dividing force present with regard to dealing with the communist experience in Sweden and
Denmark. It studies the manifestations and causes of this dissension and compares the ways it has been dealt with in historical culture. 38
in-depth interviews with history teachers and historical scholars, belonging to two generations, have been conducted. They have been
asked questions that belong to the most disputed ones in public debates, as well as in scholarship on Soviet history. The answers have
then been analysed by means of three paradigms in scholarship on Soviet history and by means of two historical cultures.
An overall conclusion is that in Denmark there is more change and discontinuity in dealing with the communist experience. Perhaps
most clearly this can be seen in the ways the informants treat questions about ideology and morality. The Danish informants in a much
stronger way relate ideology to terror. They also firmly declare that behind this terror there are agents with intentions, and that it is
possible for historians to describe these agents as perpetrators with personal responsibility for their actions. The Swedish informants, on
the contrary, tend to remove ideology from the communist repression and find it difficult to answer the moral questions, often ending up
with contradictory explanations. For example, they can relativise and contextualise morality, explaining that questions about perpetrators
and their responsibility must be related to a certain historical context. However, when explaining Nazi crimes, they de-relativise and decontextualise
morality, which is thus made timeless, and they do not find any difficulties in stating Nazi agents as perpetrators, driven by
evil intentions.
These different patterns of explanation can be related to different historical cultures. In Denmark from the 1990s there has been a heated
cultural battle and debate about the Cold War and communism, where questions about ideology and morality have come to the fore.
Just as was the case with Nazism after the Second World War, dealing with communism after the Cold War is about Danes, who are
accused of having taken sides with the enemy. In Sweden, on the contrary, as a conseqence of policy of neutrality and non-alignment,
there has been a tradition of not having to take anyone’s side in conflicts. Moreover, there seems to be a widespread concept of
communism as a good idea. Probably due to this concept, the Swedish informants in this study are not inclined to describe communists
as perpetrators but depict them instead as victims.
Although Sweden and Denmark seem to be very similar, this study shows that their historical cultures differ from each other in many
respects. Furthermore, the different ways the Danish and Swedish informants explain communist repression suggest that the two
Scandinavian countries, with respect to historical culture and dealing with communist experience, have taken two different paths.
Translated title of the contributionThe Disputed Heritage: The Communist Experience in Danish and Swedish Historical Culture
Original languageSwedish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of History
  • Karlsson, Klas-Göran, Supervisor
  • Zander, Ulf, Supervisor
Award date2017 Mar 31
Place of PublicationLund
EditionStudia Historica Lundensia
ISBN (Print)978-91-88473-29-5
ISBN (electronic) 978-91-88473-30-1
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Mar 2

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Humanities

Free keywords

  • communism, historical culture, strategies of historical culture, comparison, ideology, morality, generation, interview, the Second World War, the Cold War, Denmark, Sweden, totalitarianism, revisionism, postrevisionism


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