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Open Access Publications from the University of California

From “False” Neutrality to “True” Socialism: US “Sweden-bashing” during the Later Palme Years, 1973–1986

  • Author(s): Marklund, Carl
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License

Throughout the Cold War years, images of the USA, the American Way, and notions of Americanization played a significant role globally. Partly due to the dominance of this US-centered notion of Western democracy, admittedly marginal images of Sweden and the Swedish Model were held out as a palatable alternative to US capitalism. However, this alleged “exemplarity” of Sweden also made it the subject of a genre of “Sweden-bashing” in global public opinion.

In this genre, US media actors played a key role for the shift from the Utopian image of Sweden in the 1960s to the more Dystopian visions of a welfare state in decline circulating from the 1980s and onwards. While US criticism of Swedish anti-war protests is well-known, the time period from 1973 to the assassination of Palme in 1986 has not been studied. This article therefore follows the active but largely unofficial American Sweden-criticism and the official Swedish tracking of this publicity, its reception in Sweden, and various Swedish attempts at affecting the image of Sweden in the USA.

In particular, the article tracks a shift in US Sweden-bashing from targeting alleged “false” neutrality of Swedish foreign policy to attacking the “true” socialism supposedly detectable in Swedish domestic policies and development aid. Central themes of Swedish “People’s Home” criticism in the 1990s first emerged in US media and then spread in global public opinion, well before they entered Swedish debate, highlighting how transatlantic exchange may belatedly and indirectly impact upon national identity, collective memory, and historical consciousness.

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