Leaving the USSR: Ethnic Swedish Attempts at Legal Emigration from Soviet-Controlled Estonia, 1940-1941

Glenn Kranking (Gustavus Adolphus College)

The arrival of the Soviet military in 1940 displaced a large percentage of the Estonian-Swedish population, who principally resided on the islands and coastal regions of Estonia.  Rather than relocate to the mainland, these displaced persons appealed to the Swedish government for permission to immigrate.  Once Sweden eventually agreed, the Soviet government denied the group permission to leave the region.  While initially granting permission to 110 Swedes, the Soviet government increasingly dragged its feet in the negotiations.  Progressing from individual and group petitions to appeals involving the Swedish Foreign Ministry and Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov, the debate seemed to involve communist ideals and propaganda as much as attempts by the Soviets to use the people as bargaining chips with the Swedish government.  By the end of the initial Soviet occupation of the region in 1941, no other group besides that initial 110 were granted legal permission to leave, despite repeated efforts and the Swedish government’s willingness to accept a broader relocation.  This paper, based on archival research in Sweden, Estonia, and Russia, investigates the communication and continued attempts by the Estonian-Swedes and the Swedish Foreign Ministry to legally relocate this population in the early stages of World War II.

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