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Sweden’s slave trade

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King Gustav III of Sweden
King Gustav III of Sweden
This year it’s two hundred years since Great Britain abolished the Slave trade. But there are countries which instead of following suit, took advantage and expanded their transatlantic slave-trading, and it might come as a surprise for many that among them was Sweden. It didn’t abandon the practice until nearly 40 years later…but how much do Swedes today know about their country’s shameful past? Tom McAlinden finds out…

And if you want to what happened to the small number of African slaves brought to Sweden and how the British eventually scared the Swedish Parliament into abolishing slavery you can listen to the full interview with Professor Dick Harrison on our website, radiosweden.org.

England, Portugal, France, Spain, Holland….European countries that are well-known for being involved in the trading slaves from Africa in and around the Atlantic up until the 19th century. But like its southern neighbour Denmark, historians say Sweden too profited from slavery and according to Professor Dick Harrison from Lund University, in the 17th century Sweden even paved the way for what was to come…as most of the other countries involved in slave trading hadn’t yet begun to develop big slave ship fleets.

But it didn’t stop there. After that first wave, Sweden’s involvement in the slave trade was relatively small, but a new phase began in the late 18th century when the Swedish King Gustav III bought the West Indian island, Saint Barthelémy, from the French. He soon decided to turn it into a Swedish slave colony.

Dick Harrison says neither of the two waves were important for the economy on a national scale,but trafficking slaves across the atlantic was a matter of national pride Sweden. And even the church had no problem with it.

dick harrison
Dick harrison
It might have been about keeping up appearances then, but there’s been plenty of denial ever since. Today, It’s hard to find many Swedes who know their country was a slave-trading nation as late as the 19th century, and it’s probably not surprising as you won’t find it in many history books.

Musician Amahdu Jah performing at a seminar in Stockholm on Sweden’s role in translatlantic slave-trading.

One of the speakers was Victoria Kawesa from the Centre Against Racism in Stockholm, who thinks Sweden needs to recognise its role in slavery to help in the fight against racism today…

And Kitimbwa Sabuni from the African-Swedish National Association and agrees Sweden needs to start facing up to its past….

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