Accepted Paper:

Military heritage without war: peace-loving neutrality and the heritagisation of the Swedish "people's defence" of the twenties century  


Mattias Frihammar (Stockholm University)

Paper short abstract:

The Swedish national identity nurtures ideas of neutrality and peace. At the same time the 1900s’ meant a militarization of the Swedish landscape. The paper discusses how a neutral and peaceful Swedish self-image is negotiated at former military sites that have become museums the past ten years.

Paper long abstract:

An often repeated phrase is that Sweden has not been in war for 200 years and Swedish national identity has traditionally been built on neutrality and peace-building. Paradoxically, a large weapons industry as well as mandatory male conscription was deemed necessary during the twentieth century. The Swedish national rhetoric of peace and neutrality was thus paralleled with an extensive militarization of the landscape.

The Swedish discourse has changed recent years. Conscription was replaced with professional combat units designed for international missions, leaving a large number of military settings without use. After a government inquiry, the network SMHA (Swedish Military Heritage) was established in 2009, now involving twenty-eight post military sites now turned into government funded museums located all over the country.

In this paper I will discuss how a neutral, nonviolent and peace embracing Swedish national self-image is negotiated and expressed at former military sites (barracks, airports, bunkers, caverns), now part of this nationwide network of military museums. The paper problematizes how the sites are launched as "museums of experience" with children as a specific target group. How do the museums talk about war, violence and conflict in a national frame of peace, non-conflict and political harmony? What happens to the story of threat and cold war when adjusted to give children an educational and enjoyable experience? Which pasts are made visible, and for and by whom?

Panel Heri04
Contentious war cultural heritage