GREEK-SWEDISH RELATIONS: A HISTORICAL SYNOPSIS
(RIEAS Junior Analyst and Editor at Southeastern Europe at the World Security Foundation)
Greek and Swedish relations are not a well known subject; yet interesting connections have being developed between those states in historical, cultural and commercial level.
The first Greek that moved to Sweden (At least in modern times), was Efrosyni Rizou-Ragavi (1). She was from a well known Greek family (2) and her relatives were enjoying a high social status in Greece as politicians and businesspeople. She married the Swedish Adolf Eugene Von Rosen (3) and moved to Stockholm in 1848. Her husband was the principal creator of Swedish railways at that time and one of the most prominent industrialists of the 19th century Sweden.
In 1870 two Greek merchants from the island of Kalymnos were established in Sweden and formed a commercial network by which they imported Mediterranean goods mainly, into Northern Europe. During the interwar period of 1919-1939 quite a few Greeks pursued studies in Swedish universities and eventually some of them settled in the state.
Thus in 1941 the “Greek-Swedish friendship group” was formed that acted as the main link between the society of the newly immigrants and their hosting country and formed a string of cultural and social activities that continue up to date (4).
The main bulk of Greek populous came to Sweden during the post-war years, 1950-1975. The economic expansion of Swedish industrial base in parallel with the need for foreign workers resulted in the admission of Greeks that mostly worked in factory outlets and in vacancies not preferred by the locals(5) . In 1967 a military regime was proclaimed in Greece, and Sweden which is a state traditionally for the protection of human rights and the rule of law, accepted Greek political refugees.
Some of them were to become notable figures in modern day Greece. The late Greek Prime minister “Andreas Papandreou” –1919-1996- sought refugee in Sweden where he taught economics in a university during his stay there (6) . His son Giorgos Papandreou who is the current head of the opposition party in Greece-PASOK- has also lived in Sweden and has an articulate knowledge of the Swedish language and culture(7) .
In 1972 the “Confederation of Hellenic communities in Sweden” was established in Sweden, and acts as the leverage voice for all Greek groups and communities that reside in the Swedish Kingdom (8). There are 34 recognized members for the Confederation that encompass the around 15,000 Greeks in Sweden as well as the about 1,000 Greek students and researchers in Swedish educational institutions (9).
Presently there is a movement for the older aged Greeks especially, on returning to Greece to spend their retirement years (10) and there are quite a few younger ones like the 2005 winner of the Eurovision contest “Elena Paparizou” a Greek woman born in Sweden that is building her career in Greece after returning in Greece in the age of 18(11).
Maria Paschalidou is another young Greek woman that started her career as a TV presenter in the Sweden and returned to Greece after the 2004 Olympic Games to start a new career in the same field for a Greek TV network (12).
The main occupational habits of the Greek Diaspora are in mainstream terms related to Small& Medium size companies, especially in the commerce sector whilst there is a considerable inclination towards professional education that leads to quite a few Greeks becoming doctors, lawyers and accountants.
Another noticeable feature in the Greek- Swedish relations is mass tourism especially form the latter to the former. Even thought few Greeks venture into the far North, there is a large movement during the summer period from the Swedish urban centers on the way to Greece (13).
In 1997 according to an article –5th of April- by the newspaper “Expressen” there were 460,000 tourists from Sweden to Greece(14) and currently the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs calculates 330,000 visitors coming directly from Sweden, to enjoy the sun and the sea each year. On overall for the period 1995-2005 a 5% of the Swedish population spends its summer holidays in Greece, thus making it the most favorite tourist destination.
The island of Crete, Rhodes, Athens and Kos are the top meeting points for Swedish vacation driven citizens, and it is fair to say that during the peak season large Swedish communities are formed in the aforementioned areas where Swedish becomes –Albeit for a short time- the main language instrument of communication.
An area where Greek-Swedish commercial activities have greatly expanded the past decade is the arms trade. Greece has bought 4 Erieye type AWACS from Sweden worth some 700 million Euros (15) and 3 Arthur type anti-artillery radar systems (16). Moreover Greece has acquired the rights to domestically produce the anti-tank rocket launcher, the Carl Gustaf type (17). Companies such as Volvo, Hugglands and Ericsson regularly export military hardware in Greece, such as electronics, trucks and special type’s vehicles. Lastly the Greek coast guard ordered 3 Dragon type fast patrol boats, heavily armored.
Concluding one might assume that the current globalization process that enables and facilitates communication between nations will further expand the bilateral Greek – Swedish relations. Even though those two archetypical nations of the South and the North respectively do not have much in common; they have come together via immigration and tourism and they seem to be able to expand their potential for future growth in areas such as commerce and industry.
Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs: www.mfa.gr
Svensk/Grekiska Foreningen N. Sthlm: www.greekplace.com
Evxinospontos community of Stockholm: www.evxinospontos.com
Hellenic foundation for Hellenic studies in Sweden: www.greekculturacentre.org
Swedish-Greek e-bulletin: www.sweden.gr
Swedish-Greek chamber of commerce: www.hellenic-swedishcc.gr
Swedish Institute in Athens: www.sia.gr
1) www.greek.swedishportal.net (Web site containing information on the first known Greek woman establishing presence in Sweden)
2) www.megarevma.net/Fanaryiotes.htm (Web site in Greek portraying he Great Greek families in Constantinople during the Ottoman era-1453-1821-.)
3) www.dartmouth.edu/~izapa/E-25.pdf (A paper on the history of Swedish railways containing the role of Von Rosen on it)
A list of all the official Greek Communities in Sweden (Contains material for all the Greek Communities across the world)
Information on the Greek community in Sweden by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
United Nations conference on Immigration in Turin 20/06/2006.
Tourism related information by the Greek Board of tourism.
Commentary of a Greek news agency on the “Expressen” article.
Press release on the joint construction of the Swedish system by a Greek company.