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Rasren i välfärden

april 15, 2009

Rasren i välfärden. De första två av dessa artiklar finns också på på engelska (nedan)

(Dagens Nyheter 20 augusti 1997)

År 1946 slog Sverige världsrekord. I inget annat land steriliserades så många ”undermåliga människor”: ”rasblandade”, ensamstående mödrar med många barn, avvikare, ”tattare”. Men i skolböckerna finns inga spår av denna verksamhet.

År 1953 hette statsministern Tage Erlander och socialminister var Gunnar Sträng. Det året beslutade Medicinalsstyrelsen att sextonårige Nils skulle steriliseras mot sin vilja. Som skäl framfördes att Nils var en “sexuellt brådmogen blandtyp“. Med det senare avsågs att pojken inte var rasren svensk.

Hur rasrena svenskar skulle skiljas från andra framgick bland annat av de skallmått som sedan 1922 levererats från Statens Institut för Rasbiologi Uppsala.

Institutet har inget uppslagsord i Nationalencyklopedin. Bara om man vet att dess förste chef hette Herman Lundborg, eller slår upp under “eugenik“  kan man hitta ett omnämnande i en mening. Något egendomligt, kan man tycka, eftersom institutet, rikt omtalat i den internationella litteraturen, var det första i världen i sitt slag, tillika förebild för Kaiser Wilhelm Institut für Rassenhygiene i Berlin. (En kritisk granskning av den svenska rasbiologins historia höll på att komma med i NE genom professor Gunnar Borbergs artikel om biologi, men refuserades av förlaget.)

Ett omnämnande under “eugenik“ är likväl ett stort framsteg, eftersom institutet i Bonniers stora lexikon från 1966 nämns endast i notisen under Herman Lundborg medan i Focus från 1974 är alla spår efter svensk rasbiologi borta. Där finns varken Herman Lundborg eller ens Nils von Hofsten, på fyrtiotalet rektor för Uppsala Universitet men framförallt styrelseordförande i Statens Institut för Rasbiologi 1945-53, han som 1946 förkunnade att man i Sverige steriliserade flera “undermåliga människor“ än i något annat land i världen. Egendomligt nog omtalas denna prestation inte heller i “Socialdemokratins Samhälle 1889-1989“, (resultatet av ett forskningsprojekt lett av bland andra Sven Lindqvist och Rudolf Meidner). Jag noterar också att både NE:s och Bonniers redaktörer valt att i notiserna om Nils von Hofsten inte nämna hans rasbiologiska ordförandeskap. Men vi får veta att han presiderat för Linnésällskapet.

Sedan slutet av 80-talet började emellertid en rad fristående forskare och media granska den nordiska rashygienens historia. Trots det kan man inte ens i de senast utgivna skolböcker få veta hur och på vilka grunder som Nils och 60 000 andra svenskar mellan 1935 och 1976 berövats fortplantningsförmågan. Verksamheten omnämns inte med ett ord.  Hur skall man förstå denna samlade tystnad?

En plausibel förklaring träder fram ur senaste årens forskning: I första hand stockholmshistorikern Maija Runcis kommande avhandling (våren 98);  vidare en jämförande studie under redaktion av Gunnar Broberg och Nils Roll Hansen, “Eugenics and the Welfare State: Sterilization Policy in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland“ , de något äldre “Oönskade i folkhemmet“ av Gunnar Broberg och Mattias Tydén, Bosse Lindqvist “Förädlade svenskar“ samt Mattias Tydéns uppsats “Rasbiologi och andra rasismer“ i Folkets historia  nr 3-4/96.

När svensk rashygien kommer under debatt handlar det mer om idéerna än den omfattande praktiken. Oftast brukar det heta att Sverige bara följde med 30-talets tidsanda. Brobergs och Roll-Hansens bok kullkastar denna myt. Statlig utsovring av “undermåliga människor“ diskuterades förvisso på många håll men förverkligades endast i ett fåtal europeiska stater och bland dem hörde Sverige till pjonjärerna. De övriga var Danmark, Nazityskland, Norge, Finland, Estland och en ensam schweizisk kanton. Det mest uppseendeväckande är emellertid det ideologiska mönstret. I Tyskland är det nazisterna, i Norden är det välfärdspartierna som visar störst iver att rensa befolkningen från “rasmässigt“ eller “arvsmässigt undermåliga element“.

Samtliga initiativ i den riktningen, från 20- och långt in på 40-talet, kommer i Norden från socialdemokratin. När liknande förslag framförs i Storbrittanien är det däremot Labour som ser till att de hamnar i papperskorgen.

Man kan också uttrycka det brutalare: I Sverige var det endast under socialdemokratiskt styre och i Tyskland endast under nazismen som en medborgare kunde berövas fortplantningsförmågan på grund av sin härstamning eller sitt handikapp. Bilden blir inte behagligare men mera tankeväckande efter tillägget att de svenska steriliseringslagarna som gällde mellan 1935 och 1975 antogs av eniga riksdagar, i demokratisk ordning, och nära nog med statskyrkans välsignelse. Snarlika  omständigheter gällde i övriga Norden.

Det finns många skäl att granska denna undangömda dimension av välfärdsstatens historia. När allt fler drömmer sig tillbaka till folkhemmets värdegemenskap kan det vara bra att veta vilka överraskningar som gemenskapen kan ha i beredskap. Men den intressantaste frågan gäller det egendomliga sambandet. Vad fanns det för förbindelser mellan den nordiska socialdemokratins och den tidiga nazismens tankegods? Eller rör det sig bara om ett genant sammanträffande?

Statliga ingrepp i syfte att förbättra befolkningens kvalité är ursprungligen en amerikansk uppfinning. Med en blandning av öppet rasistiska, ekonomiska och medicinska argument infördes i flera delstater (först, symboliskt nog, i Indiana 1907) en lagstiftning som medgav tvångssterilisering av förståndshandikappade, vissa kriminella samt personer som av andra skäl ansågs olämpliga att fortplanta sig. Inte oväntat visade sig en oproportionell andel av “de olämpliga“ tillhöra etniska minoriteter. Vid flera tillfällen upphävdes också delstatslagarna av Högsta domstolen: de befanns oförenliga med allas likhet inför lagen.

Av skäl som tycks kräva vidare forskning, men som Broberg m.fl. försiktigt förknipar med kombinationen av protestantism och agrar samhällsstruktur, omfamnades vid sekelskiftet den biologiska människosynen särskilt entusiastisk i norra Europa. Till synes utan motstånd överfördes tidens senaste rön från växtodling och djuravel på mänskliga samhällen. “Degenerationsfaran“ blev i Norden till en av tidens dominerande hotbilder. Det mesta ansågs ärftligt: kriminalitet, våldtäktsbenägenhet, förståndshandikapp förstås, men även bristande sparsamhet, fallenhet för skörlevnad, masturbation eller vagabondism.

Sverige blev först i världen med att skänka denna pseudovetenskap ett officiellt erkännande. År 1921 inrättade riksdagen (på socialdemokratiskt initiativ men i stor enighet, både Hjalmar Branting och högerns Arvid Lindman stod under motionen) världens första statliga rasbiologiska institut. Arthur Engberg, sedermera socialdemokratisk kyrko- och utbildningsminister, får illustrera böjningsmönstret: “Vi hava ju lyckan att äga en ras, som ännu är ganska oförstörd, en ras som är bärare av mycket höga och mycket goda egenskaper.“

Grunden var förvisso väl förberedd. Redan 1910 utgjorde svenska forskare den största utländska gruppen i det tyska Internationale Gesellschaft  für Rassenhygiene. Två år tidigare föreslog liberalen och godtemplaren Edward Wavrinsky (som strax därefter konverterade till socialdemokratin) ett förbud för “ärftligt belastade“ att ingå äktenskap. Men då var opinionen ännu inte mogen. Det är värt att notera lagutskottets refus: otillåtet ingrepp i den personliga sfären.

Alva och Gunnar Myrdal, som emellanåt framställs som den folkhemska rashygienens egentliga tillskyndare, läste ännu på högskolan när socialdemokratin 1922 föreslog sterilisering av förståndshandikappade under hänvisning till “de rashygieniska vådorna av att sinnesslöa fortplantar sig“. Motionen var undertecknad av Alfred Petrén och Ernst Wigforss i sällskap med en grupp liberaler och bondepartister.

Det hävdas ibland att det var först med Förintelsens facit i hand som världen blev varse det moraliska sambandet mellan tvångssterilisering av sjuka och folkmord på hela folkgrupper. Men åtminstone en bland svenska riksdagsmän förstod det redan 1922. Socialdemokraten Carl Lindhagen förmådde inte att ensam rösta emot förslaget. Men han protesterade till protokollet. Ni vill lösa ett socialt missförhållande med våld, sade han. Ni kommer inte att stanna här, ni kommer att gå vidare och sterilisera även andra sjuklingar. Och sedan? Vad skall hindra er från att till slut döda dem? (första kammaren 1 juni 1922).

Lindhagens profetia blev kommenterad av läkaren och partikamraten Alfréd Petrén, samme man som åren innan motionerat om rasbiologiska institutet. Petrén höll med om att lagförslaget introducerade någonting radikalt nytt i politiken. Därför var det viktigt att skynda långsamt, så att opinionen hann vänja sig. Några principiella stötesten såg han inte. Istället vädjade han till Lindhagens ekonomiska sinne: det är dyrt för samhället att försörja de “sinnesslöas“ avkomma. Det får tjäna som en antydan om riksdagens sinnelag att ingen sade ifrån när Petrén utvecklade sin tankegång. Han hade nämligen övervägt möjligheten att avliva förståndshandikappade barn, men funnit ett praktiskt hinder. Dessa “hjälplösa individer“ hade dock föräldrar som tyckte om dem. Vad som kunde gälla för föräldrarlösa upplyste inte Petrén om.

Fem år senare hade riksdagen att ta ställning till ett färdigt förslag. Men det föll – det var för liberalt, medgav bara frivillig sterilisering av rättskapabla personer och på medicinska grunder blott. Socialstyrelsen med flera ville gå längre och sterilisera sociala avvikare: “det finnes fall där individens vandel så uppenbart gör honom oduglig och ovärdig att fylla faderskapets eller moderskapets plikter, att samhället inte kan i passsivitet tolerera, att han prokreerar sig“. Värt att notera att de få principiella motståndarna till denna idé bestod nästan uteslutande av jurister. Sterilisering på andra grunder än medicinska utgjorde en svår kroppsskada och var därför straffbar såsom grov misshandel enligt 14 kap.10 par. strafflagen, antydde till exempel Gustav Lindstedt och Johan Thyrén. Och emedan svensk grundlag inte medgav att staten misshandlade sina medborgare kunde förslaget inte genomföras. Invändningen avfärdades av  bland andra socialdemokraten och hovrättspresidenten Karl Schlyter såsom uttryck för konservatism och bristande lyhördhet för opinionens krav.

1932 blir emellertid Schlyter justitieminister, Gustav Möller socialminister och då blir det fart. Ny motion av Alfred Petrén leder till snabbutredning: Ur justitieministerns direktiv: “ Omvårdnaden av de svaga och hjälplösa i samhälle hade alltmera utvecklats och fördjupats. Från denna omvårdnad vore steget inte långt till åtgärder i syfte att förebygga födelsen av individer, vilka, enligt vad med säkerhet kunde förutses, måste bliva till en börda för sig själv och andra“. Hitler har just tagit makten i Tyskland och genom dekret (26 maj 1933) beordrat tvångssterilisering av utvecklingsstörda.  Med det hindrar inte den  Karl Schlyter att anmoda sin utredare (Ragnar Bergendal hette han) att i Hamburg inhämta det senaste från steriliseringsfronten. Den svenska lagen träder i kraft 1935. Den kommer att skärpas väsentligt 1941.

Ungefär på samma sätt går det till i Danmark och Norge. När den unge K.K.Steincke (sedermera dansk minister för hälsa och välfärd) 1920 gav ut Fremtidens Forsølgelsevœsen, den danska välfärdsstatens första programskrift, handlade en stor del av boken om rasförbättring, som Steincke såg  som en oskiljaktig del av socialpolitiken. Visst skulle man hjälpa de svaga, men det vore dåraktigt och oekonomiskt att låta deras undermåliga arvsmassa gå vidare. Men det var viktigt, inskärpte Steincke, att föra rasförbättringsdiskursen diskret, kyligt och i vetenskapliga termer. Fritt debatterad i offentligheten riskerade frågan att brutalisera opinionen. Som medlem av den den första socialdemokratiska regeringen drev han redan 1926 fram ett lagförslag om sterilisering av förståndshandikappade och kastrering av våldtäktsmän. Emellertid förlorade socialdemokratin makten till högern och frågan blev liggande (fram till 1929). Steincke klagade högljutt från oppositionsbänken över bondepartiets ointresse, som han, om någon, ansåg borde förstått vikten av rationell människoavel. “Om något danskt parti kunde uppfattas som tillskyndare av rashygien så var det socialdemokratin“, skriver Bent Sigurd Hansen.

Också i Norge introducerades rashygienen i politiken av en prominent vänsterman. År 1911 skrev Johan Scharffenberg i Socialdemokraten att socialister måste inse att det inte bara gällde att förbättra människans villkor utan också “att rensa hennes själva arvsmassa genom en rationell människoavel.“. För Scharffenberg var det emellertid  mindre en  fråga om rasens renhet än om befolkningens allmäna kvalité. Således tog han upprepede gånger avstånd från Norges andre store steriliseringspropagandist, Jon Mjöen och dennes speciella vurm för den nordiska rasen. Denna motsättning blir, som vi skall se, typisk för den nordiska befolkningspolitiken. De konsekventa rasisterna (Mjöen bekände sig småningom till nazismen) drömde om ett Norden befolkat av linhåriga Carl Larssonfigurer. Scharffenberg och socialdemokratin brydde sig mera om ekonomin, men var i gengäld beredda att bruka större våld. Enligt det norska förslaget 1932 skulle man inte ens behöva tillfråga föräldern eller förmyndaren till det tilltänkta offret. Scharffennberg har för övrigt studerat den nazistiska steriliseringslagen och funnit den otillräcklig då den endast  medgav sterilisering om åkomman var ärftlig. Själv ville han gå längre och tillåta ingreppet också på sociala grunder. Alkoholism var inte nödvändigtvis ärftlig, argumenterade han, och en “sinnesslö“ kunde få friska barn.

Med de skulle likväl ligga samhället till last.

Den danska lagen trädde i kraft 1929, den norska 1934, den svenska 1935. I motsats till Sverige fanns det i Danmark och Norge en smula principiellt motstånd. Det kom undantagslöst från högern: sex röster från Det Unge Danmark respektive en från representanten för Samfundspartiet som i Folketinget talade om kränkning av individens rättigheter och “ett av de farligaste lagförslag någonsin“. Han blev tillrättavisad av socialdemokraten Carl Bonnevie: “individens rättigheter måste vägas mot samhällets intressen.“ Mellan 1934 och 1976 steriliserades över 40 000 norrmän, 6000 danskar och 60 000 svenskar. De allra flesta, över 90 procent, var kvinnor.

Det är bara i detaljer som de nordiska steriliseringslagarna skiljde sig från de nazityska 1933. Det hette visserligen i Norden att sterilisering av rättskapabla var frivilligt och att den berörde själv måste ansöka om ingreppet. (“Sinnesslöa“ behövde man inte fråga.) Gunnar Broberg, Maija Runcis m.fl har emellertid visat att denna frivillighet var helt illusorisk. Antingen förklarades vederbörande lida av “rubbad själsverksamhet“ – vilket var lätt gjort – eller utsattes offret för oemotståndliga påtryckningar. Skriv på eller tar vi barnen, skriv på annars blir det inget bidrag, lägenhet, permission, utskrivning från institution, osv. Längst i öppen utpressning gick man i Sverige där Medicinalstyrelsen vägrade tillstånd till abort av skadade foster om inte kvinnan gick med på att “frivilligt“ låta sterilisera sig. I Danmark, där de flesta ingreppen företogs på intagna, kunde det bli kravaller i arbetarkvarteren när polisen skulle hämta ostyriga ungdomar till anstalt.

I “Socialdemokratins samhälle“ heter det att “befolkningspolitiska argument“ (vanlig eufemism för rashygienen) ibland tillgreps av socialdemokratin som en taktisk väg att få med också de borgerliga partierna på angelägna sociala reformer“. Gunnar Brobergs och Nils Roll Hansens antologi belägger vad man redan anar av riksdagsprotokollen: att denna historieskrivning är osann. Rashygien och utrensning av ”mindervärdiga“ var i första hand ett socialdemokratiskt projekt. Inte heller rörde det sig om någon tillfällig förvillelse eller en eftergift åt tidens anda. I Sverige ingick steriliseringskirurgin i själva fundamentet för folkhemsbygget. Om detta handlar nästa artikel.

MACIEJ ZAREMBA

Fotnot. Nils hette i verkligheten något annat.

Dagens Nyheter August 20, 1997
Racial purity in the welfare state
The hidden legacy of the Swedish folkhem.

In 1946, Sweden set a world record. No other country had sterilized so many ‘inferior’ people — ‘mixed-race individuals’, single mothers with many children, deviants, Gypsies and other ‘vagabonds’. But in school textbooks, no mention is made of this activity.

By Maciej Zaremba

In 1953, Sweden’s prime minister was Tage Erlander and the minister for social affairs Gunnar Sträng. In that year, the State Medical Board decided to let doctors sterilize 16-year-old Nils against his will, on the grounds that he was a ‘sexually precocious individual of mixed race’. The latter reference was to show that he was not a racially pure Swede.
How racially pure Swedes were to be distinguished from others was defined in various documents and on illustrated wall charts supplied by the State Institute for Racial Biology in Uppsala.
The Institute (which did not become part of Uppsala University until 1958), does not command a reference of its own in the recently-published Swedish National Encyclopædia (NE). Only if you happen to know that its first director was called Herman Lundborg, or if you check under ‘eugenics’, can you find a mention of it in a text. A bit peculiar, you might think, bearing in mind that the Institute, often mentioned in the literature on this topic, was the first of its kind in the world and was also the model for the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Race Hygiene in Berlin. (A critical study of the history of Swedish racial biology almost got into the NE along with Prof. Gunnar Broberg’s article about biology in general, but was rejected by the publishers.)

A MENTION under ‘eugenics’ is nevertheless progress of a kind, as in a second major encyclopædia, Bonniers stora lexikon, from 1966, the Institute is only mentioned under Herman Lundborg, while in a third, Focus, from 1974, there is no trace of Swedish racial biology whatsoever. Nor is there any mention of Herman Lundborg, or even Nils von Hofsten, the dean of Uppsala University in the 1940s but, more interestingly, board chairman of the Swedish State Institute for Racial Biology in 1945-53 and the man who in 1946 declared that more ‘inferior’ people had been sterilized in Sweden than in any other country in the world. Oddly enough, this achievement is not mentioned in ‘Social Democratic Society 1889-1989’, either. (This was the report of a research project led, among others, by author Sven Lindqvist and economist Rudolf Meidner.) I also note that in describing the exploits of Nils von Hofsten, the editors of both the NE and the Bonniers volume chose not to touch upon his achievements in the field of racial biology.
Since the late 1980s, however, a number of independent researchers and journalists have begun looking into the history of race hygiene. Despite this, even in the most recently-published school textbooks you cannot discover how and on what grounds young Nils and 60,000 other Swedes were deprived of their reproductive capacity. There is not a single word about these activities, which ceased in 1976 as quietly as they had begun in 1935. How is one to interpret this compact silence?

A PLAUSIBLE EXPLANATION emerges from the research conducted in recent years, especially a forthcoming doctor’s thesis by Stockholm historian Maija Runcis (due next spring) but also from a comparative study edited by Gunnar Broberg and Nils Roll-Hansen, ‘Eugenics and the Welfare State: Sterilization Policy in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland’, the rather more dated ‘Oönskade i folkhemmet’ (Undesirables in the Swedish Welfare State), Bosse Lindqvist’s ‘Förädlade svenskar’ (Biologically Improved Swedes) and Mattias Tydén’s essay ‘Rasbiologi och andra rasismer’ (Racial Biology And Other Racisms), printed in the magazine Folkets historia nos. 3-4/96.
When the subject of Swedish race hygiene is discussed, the focus tends to be on ideas and theory rather than on its extensive practice here. Often, people claim that Sweden simply acted in the spirit of the times in the 1930s. Broberg’s and Roll-Hansen’s book shatters this myth. State screening of ‘inferior invidividuals’ may have been discussed in many quarters but it was only put into practice in a few European states, and Sweden was one of the pioneers. The other countries were Denmark, Nazi Germany, Norway, Finland and Estonia. Plus a lone Swiss canton. The most remarkable part of the whole affair, however, is the ideological pattern — in Germany it was the Nazis whereas in the Nordic countries it was the welfare-state parties who were most eager to cleanse the population of ‘racially’ or ‘genetically inferior elements’. In the Nordic area, all initiatives along these lines, from the 1920s and far into the 1940s, came from the Social Democrats. When similar proposals were put forward in Britain, however, it was the Labour Party that ensured they ended up in the wastepaper basket.

YOU COULD ALSO express the matter more brutally: in Sweden, it was only under Social Democratic rule and in Germany only under Nazism that citizens could be deprived of their reproductive functions as a result of their origins or their disabilities. The picture does not improve, rather the opposite, when one also learns that the Swedish sterilization laws were passed by unanimous parliaments, in true democratic order, and more or less with the blessing of the Swedish Church. The circumstances were fairly similar in the other Nordic countries as well.
There are many reasons for studying this hidden dimension in the history of the Swedish welfare state. At a time when a growing number of people are talking longingly about the communal values of the folkhem era, it is worth recalling what surprises that community could spring on some of its citizens. But the most interesting question concerns the strange ideological link involved — what was the connection between the Nordic Social Democrats and the thinking of the National Socialists in Germany?

STATE INTERVENTION for the purpose of improving the quality of a population was originally a US invention. With a mixture of openly racist, economic and medical arguments, several states (beginning, symbolically enough, in Indiana 1907) introduced legislation allowing the forced sterilization of the mentally disabled, certain types of criminals and persons who for other reasons were considered unfit to reproduce. Not surprisingly, a disproportionately large number of these ‘unfit persons’ turned out to belong to ethnic minorities. On several occasions, such state laws were rescinded by the Supreme Court on the grounds that they were incompatible with the idea of everyone’s equality before the law.
For reasons that would seem to require further research, but which Broberg and others associate with the combination of Protestantism and agrarian social structures, the biological view of man was embraced with particular enthusiasm at the turn of the century in northern Europe. Apparently without a murmur, the latest scientific findings from farm cultivation and animal breeding were transplanted to human societies. In the Nordic countries, the ‘danger of degeneracy’ became one of the greatest threats of the day. Most things could be blamed on heredity — criminality, rapist tendencies and mental disabilities of course, but also a lack of caution in financial matters, a dissipated lifestyle, masturbation or vagabondism.

SWEDEN BECAME the first country in the world to bestow official recognition on this pseudo-science. In 1921, Parliament ordered the founding of the Institute for Racial Biology, at the initiative of the Social Democrats. MPs backed the initiative unanimously, and the motion was signed by both Social Democratic leader Hjalmar Branting and the leader of the Right, Arvid Lindman. Arthur Engberg, who was later to become minister of education and ecclesiastics, set the tone of the day: ‘We are fortunate to have a race that is as yet largely untainted, a race that possesses very high and very fine qualities.’
The groundwork had already been done. As early as 1910, Swedish researchers made up the largest foreign group in the German International Society for Racial Hygiene. Two years before that, the Swedish liberal and Good Templar Edvard Wavrinsky (who soon afterwards converted to Social Democracy) had proposed banning marriages involving people with ‘hereditary taints’. But public opinion was not yet ready for this. The Standing Committee on Civil-Law Legislation turned the proposal down — on the grounds that it would constitute illegal interference in the personal sphere.

ALVA AND GUNNAR Myrdal, who from time to time are portrayed as the true advocates of race hygiene in the folkhem era, were still studying at university when the Social Democrats in 1922 proposed sterilizing the mentally disabled because of  ‘the race hygienic perils of allowing the feeble-minded to reproduce’. The motion was signed by Social Democrats Alfred Petrén and Ernst Wigforss (soon to become finance minister) along with a group of Liberals and Agrarians.
It is sometimes argued that it was not until after the Holocaust that the world became aware of the moral connection between the forced sterilization of the sick and the genocidal murder of entire ethnic groups. But at least one Swedish MP understood this as early as 1922. Social Democrat Carl Lindhagen did not feel capable of standing alone against the proposal at the voting-box, but he did put a protest on record. You wish to solve a social problem with violence, he said. You will not stop there, you will press ahead and sterilize other sick people as well. And then? What is to stop you from finally killing them? (Upper Chamber, 1 June 1922.)

LINDHAGEN’S PROPHECY drew a comment from his party colleague Alfred Petrén, a doctor, who the previous year had personally tabled the motion calling for an institute for racial biology. Petrén agreed that the proposal introduced a radically new element into politics. It was important, therefore, to take things step by step, so that public opinion had time to get used to the idea. As far as he could see, there were in principle no stumbling-blocks. Instead, he appealed to Lindhagen’s financial commonsense — supporting the offspring of the ‘feeble-minded’ was a heavy burden on the public purse. The fact that no-one in the chamber lodged any objections when Petrén outlined his ideas says a lot about Parliament’s state of mind in those days. He had, he explained, considered the possibility of having the children of the mentally disabled put to death, but had been deterred by an afterthought — these ‘helpless individuals’ did at least have parents who liked them. He did not tell his audience what he had in mind for orphans.
Five years later, Parliament had a fully-fledged proposal to consider. But this was sent back for revision — as being too liberal. It permitted only voluntary sterilization of those who were legally competent, and only on medical grounds. The Board of Health and others wanted to go further and sterilize social misfits: ‘there are people whose conduct so clearly renders them incapable and unworthy of fulfilling the duties of a father or mother that society cannot passively stand by and allow them to procreate.’ The few who objected to this idea on principle were almost all lawyers. Two of them, Gustaf Lindstedt and Johan Thyrén, suggested that sterilization on other than medical grounds amounted to severe bodily harm and was therefore punishable as first-degree assault. And as the Swedish constitution did not permit the state to assault its citizens, the proposal could not be put into practice. This objection was dismissed by several of those present, including Social Democrat and appeals court judge Karl Schlyter, as expressing conservatism and being insufficiently sensitive to the demands of the general public.

IN 1932, however, Schlyter became minister of justice, Gustav Möller took over the social affairs portfolio and things began to speed up. A new motion by Alfred Petrén led to the rapid appointment of a commission to study the issue and make recommendations. Excerpt from the government directives to the commission: ‘Care of the weak and helpless in society has become steadily more developed and deep-rooted. From this kind of care it would be but a short step to measures aimed at preventing the birth of individuals who, as far as could be ascertained, would inevitably be a burden unto themselves and others’. Hitler had just assumed power in Germany and issued a decree (26 May 1933) ordering the forced sterilization of the mentally retarded. But this did not prevent Karl Schlyter from urging the expert heading his commission (one Ragnar Bergendahl) to go to Hamburg to discover the latest developments on the sterilization front. The Swedish law was passed by acclamation and came into force in 1935. No serious objections from legal quarters were heard. The law was to be tightened up considerably in 1941.

ROUGHLY the same kind of thing happened in Denmark and Norway. When the young politician K K Steincke (later to become Danish minister of health and welfare) published ‘Care Services in the Future’, the first policy manifesto of the Danish welfare state, large sections of the book were about racial improvement, which Steincke saw as an inseparable part of social welfare policy. Of course the weak should be helped, but it would be foolish and financially unsound to let their inferior genes be passed on. However, Steincke emphasized, it was important to pursue the discussion of racial improvement discreetly, coolly and in scientific terms. If the matter were to be freely and openly debated, there was a risk that public opinion might be ‘brutalized’. As early as 1926, as a member of the first Social Democratic government, he was the driving force behind a bill to legalize sterilization of the mentally retarded and the castration of rapists. The Social Democrats, however, lost power to the Right and the matter was shelved (until 1929). From the opposition benches, Steincke complained loudly about the Agrarian Party’s lack of interest in the issue — they if anyone, he said, ought to appreciate the benefits of rational breeding practices. ‘If any Danish party can be said to have championed race hygiene,’ writes Bent Sigurd Hansen, ‘it was the Social Democrats.’

IN NORWAY, too, the concept of race hygiene was introduced into politics by a prominent left-winger. In 1911, Johan Scharffenberg wrote in Social-demokraten that socialists must realize it was not just a question of improving the human condition but of ‘cleansing the very gene pool by means of rational human breeding’. For Scharffenberg, however, it was less a matter of purifying the race than of improving the general quality of the population. As a result, he repeatedly dissociated himself from Norway’s other leading sterilization propagandist, Jon Mjøen, a passionate champion of the Nordic race. As we shall see, this discord became a typical feature of Nordic population policies. The conservative racists (Mjøen eventually aligned himself with Nazism) dreamed of a Nordic region populated by flaxen-haired figures straight out of Carl Larsson paintings. Schaffenberg and the Social Democrats cared more about the economy, but on the other hand were prepared to use more coercion. Under the Norwegian proposal of 1932, it would not even be necessary to seek the consent of the presumptive victim’s parents or guardian. Scharffenberg had, incidentally, studied the Nazi sterilization law and found it wanting as it only permitted sterilization in the case of hereditary disorders. He himself wanted to go further and allow operations on social grounds as well. Alcoholism was not necessarily hereditary, he argued, and a ‘feeble-minded’ person could have healthy children. But they would nevertheless be a burden on society.

THE DANISH LAW came into force in 1929, the Norwegian one in 1934 and the Swedish one in 1935. In contrast to the situation in Sweden, there was at least a slight trace of principled resistance to sterilization. It came exclusively from the Right — six votes from the Young Denmark party and one from the Norwegian Community Party, whose representative spoke in terms of a violation of human rights and ‘one of the most dangerous bills ever presented’. He was ticked off by Social Democrat Carl Bonnevie with the words: ‘the rights of the individual must be weighed against the communal good’. Between 1934 and 1976, over 40,000 Norwegians, 6,000 Danes and 60,000 Swedes were sterilized. The great majority of them, over 90 per cent, were women.
Only in certain details did the Nordic sterilization laws differ from those of Nazi Germany in 1933. It is true that on paper the sterilization of legally competent people in Sweden was voluntary and that the person concerned had to apply for the operation. (The ‘feeble-minded’ did not have to be asked.) But Gunnar Broberg, Maija Runcis and others have shown that this freedom of choice was in fact totally illusory. The person concerned was either declared ‘of unsound mind’ — a simple procedure — or was subjected to irresistible pressure. Sign this or we’ll take the children, sign this or there’ll be no social benefit, no flat, no leave, no discharge from the institution, and so on. Sweden went furthest in the way of legalized blackmail. The State Medical Board refused to permit the abortion of a damaged fetus unless the woman ‘voluntarily’ allowed herself to be sterilized. In Denmark, where most of the operations were performed on the inmates of institutions, rioting sometimes broke out when police arrived in working-class areas to fetch rebellious youths and take them to a place of correction.

THE BOOK ‘Social Democratic Society’ (page 179) states that the Social Democrats sometimes resorted to ‘population policy arguments’ (a commonly-used euphemism for race hygiene) as a tactical means of persuading the non-socialist parties to accept pressing social reforms. Gunnar Broberg’s and Nils Roll-Hansen’s anthology confirms what is already suggested by the parliamentary records — that this historical account is untrue. Race hygiene and the weeding out of ‘the inferior’ was first and foremost a Social Democratic project. Nor was it a case of a momentary aberration or a concession to the spirit of the times. In Sweden, surgical sterilization was an integral part of the construction of the welfare society, the folkhem. Our next article will address this point.

Dagens Nyheter August 21, 1997
The unproductive were cut away.
The welfare society used forced sterilization to minimize the number of citizens on social handouts, writes Maciej Zaremba.

”It smacks strongly of Nazism”, wrote Gunnar Myrdal in 1938 in a private letter to a party colleague, Disa Wästberg. A startling comment, as it referred to a pet concern of the Social Democrats, one that in fact represented a practical application of Myrdal’s own line of thinking. The 1938 report of the Population Commission, which was what the writer had found so distasteful, had drawn some logical conclusions from Gunnar and Alva Myrdal’s book, ‘Crisis in the Population Question’, published three years earlier. In it, the Mydrals prescribed ‘a pretty ruthless sterilization process’, involving the use of violence when necessary, with the aim of ‘screening out highly degenerate individuals’, and they expressed the hope that in the years ahead, with the aid of racial biology, it would be possible to breed individuals ‘with particularly desirable qualities’. What had happened? Was it Gunnar Myrdal and the Social Democrats who had changed tone or was it Nazism? (At the time, this question could not be discussed. Myrdal’s assessment did not come to light until after his death.)
According to the prevalent historical account, however, the answer is that neither had changed tone. To the extent that the race hygienic actions of the Social Democrats are even mentioned in the history books, the authors would have it that it was largely a question of ‘reform eugenics’, in other words an expressly non-racist ‘population policy’ aimed simply at reducing the incidence of hereditary disease. Thus, it was argued, Nordic race hygiene was completely different from that of Nazi Germany. As we shall see, this interpretation is false. All the same, Gunnar Myrdal had reason to feel a little out of sorts. His ideas on decontaminating ‘the human material’ became somewhat browner in colour when it was time for them to be implemented by Government and Parliament.
Up until the outbreak of World War II, there were few objections in official Sweden to German race hygiene. Nazis were invited to lecture at the Institute of Racial Biology in Uppsala or were consulted as experts when a new director was to be appointed there. As late as 1938, the Swedish State Population Commission still felt unable to dissociate itself from the Nuremberg Laws. It did feel that the Germans had gone too far but contented itself with a reference to the fact that the laws had generated ‘widespread disapproval…in the international community’. Gunnar Broberg and Mattias Tydén conclude: ‘When pluses and minuses were added up, the balance seems actually to have been in Germany’s favour.’
On 2 June 1942, the first report of the Holocaust reached the world via the BBC. In occupied Norway, Vidkun Quisling broadened the scope of the sterilization law (which was similar to the Swedish one) with a section about ‘preserving the race’. In the same year, an undersecretary of state in Stockholm ordered the Board of Health and Welfare to ‘make an inventory of the tattare and Gypsies present in the realm’. (Tattare was, and is, a catch-all Swedish word for wandering vagrants, vagabonds, Gypsies, etc, often used derogatorily — translator’s note.)  The decision was brought before the Cabinet on 25 September, signed by social affairs minister Gustav Möller as well as by the young undersecretary, and a copy was sent to the Institute for Racial Biology. The undersecretary’s name was Tage Erlander, future prime minister of Sweden.
What is the purpose of preparing such a list? The cabinet decision does not make this clear. I have taken the trouble to do some research into the material on which Tage Erlander based the decision. In a file labelled ‘The Tattare Question’ there is an analysis of the problem by the Board of Health and Welfare, dated 28 June 1937:
Here, we are presented with a specific racial problem, in which an ethnic element of a disposition and inclination, and a way of life deriving therefrom, alien to our own, cannot profitably be assimilated into our race. (…) The Board is…not convinced that public measures leading to closer assimilation of such alien racial elements would be to the general good in the long term. There is a risk that the alien constitutive characteristics (of these individuals) would live on in forthcoming, superficially assimilated generations and give rise to lifestyles deviating from those of our society. (…) The question should be asked whether, to protect ourselves, it might not be better to use stronger measures, naturally only  insofar as these remain compatible with the tenets of humanity. With this in mind, it would seem possible to consider sterilization measures in cases where the persons concerned are incapable of fulfilling even the most elementary duties of a parent, as understood from a Swedish point of view.
The government swung into action. As a first step, racial biologists were dispatched to measure skulls. But this took time, and in 1943, Professor Nils von Hofsten, racial biologist, dean of Uppsala University and a member of the State Medical Board’s committee of forensic psychiatry (which ruled on sterilization cases) became impatient. He sought approval for coercive measures, informing Parliament by letter that ‘to a comparatively large extent the so-called tattare show signs of mental inferiority and thus come under the sterilization laws, which means they may be sterilized without their consent’.

IN SEEKING TO UNDERSTAND the special character of Social Democratic race hygiene, this is a key sentence. Certainly, the origins of these ‘tattare’ is a moot question. Some of these ‘travellers’, as they call themselves, claim that they are an ethnic group in their own right. Genealogist Adam Heymowski felt he could prove that they constituted a subculture of outcasts dating back to the 18th century similar to the ‘travellers’ of Ireland and the Netherlands. But the origins of these people were not what concerned Prof. Hofsten and the Board of Health and Welfare. They were worried about their ‘divergent way of life’. The ‘tattare’, whoever they were, deviated from the norm. Not necessarily by the shape of their skulls but because they lived the lives of vagabonds, with a fierce sense of family, their own customs and above all a disinclination to be absorbed into the living patterns of industrial society. They wanted neither to work in the warehouses, consult the child care clinics nor settle in the beautiful new satellite towns. Like the Gypsies, they rated their comparative autonomy more highly than most of the blessings of the welfare state. (Insofar of course as these social outcasts had any choice in the matter.)
It was this, more than their genes, that Nils von Hofsten along with the Board of Health and the Government found unacceptable and therefore abnormal. It is not difficult to see this racial rhetoric as an incantation: a person who so stubbornly rejects our scientifically-tested way of life must be different by nature, quite simply a different kind of person, mentally inferior and therefore ripe for Sonderbehandlung.
In other words, it was a sort of back-to-front Nazism — instead of ascribing specific qualities to a certain ethnic group (the Jews are this or that) you define socio-politically undesirable qualities as ethnically alien (vagabonds are probably a race). History appears to confirm this suspicion. When in 1945 the racial biologists had completed their measurements and inconveniently declared the ‘tattare’ to be ethnic Swedes, this made little impression on the government agencies concerned. The Board of Health refused to accept the news and well into the 1950s officials of the welfare state would continue to rave about ‘half-breeds’ and ‘tattare blood’ in their publications.
An excerpt from the records kept by a municipal child care committee (1945) on a 28-year-old married mother of four: Mixed-race type, black, typical tattare physiognomy. Healthy and strong. Straightforward and firm, seems to know what she wants. Even-tempered, somewhat short and abrupt in her ways. Seems v. unintelligent, interested in nothing except what affects herself and her family. AI (age of intelligence) 15 years. An emotionally unstable, untrustworthy, unintelligent psychopath. Grounds for authorizing sterilization: unmistakable tattare features, psychopathy, a wandering life. Anti-social lifestyle.
It was probably Unesco’s official denunciation of racialism in 1950 that put an end to this kind of talk. But not necessarily to the practice. The number of people sterilized in Sweden on the grounds of ‘genetic hygiene’ did indeed fall by 200 that year, but at the same time the number operated on for ‘medical reasons’ increased by the same amount.

IN 1945, THE NAZIS’ extermination camps were opened and the ultimate significance of the term ‘inferior races’ stood revealed in ashes. During that year, Sweden set a new sterilization record with 1,747 operations. And a new record of 1,847 the following year.  What is one to make of this?
To grasp what was going on, you have to return to the parliamentary debate on the issue in 1941. Per Albin Hansson and his ministers proposed broadening the sterilization law. To ‘hereditary taints’ they wanted to add the grounds of ‘anti-social way of life’. Justice minister K G Westman of the Agrarian Party, it is true, was still going on about ‘decontaminating the Swedish national stock’ but only one Social Democrat openly declared his support for race hygienic measures. The others tended to express themselves more in the spirit of Gunnar Myrdal, darkly referring to ‘an undesirable human material that is propagating uninhibitedly’. Otherwise, they referred mainly to money. The ‘undesirables’ were no longer recognizable by their erroneous genes but by the part they played in the national economy. They cost money.
The sterilization debate of 1941 took the discourse out of the realm of pre-war racism. It focused instead on the mounting obligations and commitments of the emerging welfare state. The number of people on social handouts had to be reduced. This was stated openly in Parliament, but it is made even clearer by the research carried out by Maija Runcis, who alone has had access to the secret archives of the State Medical Board. Diagnoses like ‘psychopath’, ‘debilitated’, ‘feeble-minded’ or ‘anti-social’ were mostly applied to completely healthy persons who were either single mothers or failed to live up to the expectations of ‘correct conduct’ in their community, or both. ‘She is dirty, unkempt, she has a lot of red on her nails but beneath the red they are exceedingly black. Her dress, too, is very singular’ — an excerpt from a 1965 sterilization application concerning a divorced mother of three. To be seen publicly with men or behave defiantly towards those in authority was also seen as a mark of low intelligence or even feeble-mindedness, qualifying the person for the surgeon’s knife.
The fear was that these social deviants would pass on their erroneous lifestyles to their children. It was often the local authority that initiated the sterilization process and the reasons were often financial ones. Male inmates of juvenile prisons, for instance, were frequently sterilized before the summer holidays so that they could work in the fields without the risk of unauthorized propagation. Over 95% of all persons sterilized, however, were women, and according to Runcis the medical journals reveal numerous examples of frightened and disgusted reactions to female sexuality. She even found that one of Sweden’s biggest housing companies, the cooperative HSB, was in the habit of tipping off the authorities about which tenants should not be allowed to procreate. (How should this be termed — mass-movement collaboration?) It was then up to the State Medical Board to clothe trivial grounds like economic necessity or public order in fine-sounding psychiatric diagnoses.
There is much evidence to support Runcis’s theses. During the parliamentary debate of 1941, Gustav Möller argued that if sterilization could help eliminate entire families who burdened the penal institutions generation after generation, ‘no real injustice has been done to any single individual — instead society has gained, perhaps not greatly, but nevertheless to a degree worth considering.’ It is also clear that the MPs championing sterilization had often served on municipal child care committees or workhouse committees dealing with the poor. Thus in 1941 a total of 33 Social Democrats, seven Agrarian Party members, a Liberal and a Conservative expressed their disapproval of the draft bill, which they found too lax. They demanded the forced sterilization of ‘anti-social’ citizens. The editor of Social Democratic Ny Tid, Johan Olsson, felt it was nothing to worry about if amidst all this activity one or two anti-social individuals ‘fit for breeding’ happened to end up on the operating table against their will. ‘I think it is better if one goes too far,’ he wrote, ‘than if one risks…having unsuitable and inferior offspring brought into the world.’ Four of his party colleagues called for police procedures for collecting those who balked. These additions to the bill were not adopted, however.
‘A Swedish law containing such a provision had not differed greatly from the Nazi German one,’ note Broberg and Tydén in ‘Undesirables in the Welfare State’. This is true, but there was, as we have seen, a difference in design that enabled people like Gunnar Myrdal or Nils von Hofsten to indignantly reject all comparisons with Nazism. In Hitler’s Germany, people were forcibly brought under the knife on the basis of little-substantiated theories of heredity or irrational dreams about the Aryan race. In Sweden, the motive for the same activity was the need for a sound, rational municipal budget. To the extent that race theory or arguments about ‘inferiority’ were used, the intention seems to have been to make the victim seem more alien. Originally a racist project, the forced sterilization programme became an economic instrument in the 1940s and was in fact regarded as a prerequisite for certain welfare reforms. In the debate on a general child benefit system (1944), which was to become one of the flagships of the welfare state, Gunnar Myrdal and Alf Johansson (in his capacity as member of the commission inquiring into social housing policy) expressed the fear that child benefits might encourage childbirth among ‘elements with inferior genes’. Indeed, several bodies whose views were officially sought on the matter called for the reform to be followed by an expansion of the sterilization programme’s scope. In the year prior to the introduction of child benefits (1948), 2,264 people were sterilized, or six a day — a new record. In other words, there is reason to suspect that if this progressive, egalitarian reform had not been enacted, the social surgeons would have had less to do.

THE ECONOMIC DIMENSION explains the huge scope of the sterilization programme. Even if far from all who were sterilized were coerced to the operating table (the 60,000 cases included a number of purely medical ones as well as a large group of ‘worn-out mothers’), the Swedish welfare state retained its sombre second place in Europe behind Nazi Germany in the number of surgically sanitized ‘inferior’ citizens.
The most terrifying part of this whole affair is probably the consensus that existed, and the interminable silence that surrounded it. Not just the architects of the welfare society but also whole parliaments found it legitimate to rob tens of thousands of people of their most fundamental right — parenthood — for the alleged good of the community. No ethical misgivings were voiced.  I have only once come across the word  ‘ethics’ in relation to the sterilization programme and that was in the preface to the 1936 Population Commission report: ‘The question of whether sterilization is legally and ethically justified at all… is not one that we need discuss here.’ And so we are back with our original question: how did Social Democratic race hygiene and Nazi race hygiene differ and how were they similar?
I am inclined to agree with historian Mattias Tydén, who has made a systematic comparison in his essay ‘Racial Biology and Other Racisms’. He asks: ‘Is it possible to talk about a basic qualitative difference between Swedish and Nazi sterilization policies, or between sterilization policies and genocide? Or is it a question of only very minor differences between two occurrences both of which eliminated human rights and human dignity?’ Only  in two respects, says Tydén, did the Nazi sterilization programme differ from the Swedish one — in the degree of brutality employed and in the Nazis’ more consistently racist approach. (One might also add: anti-Semitism. Herman Lundborg, the head of the Institute for Racial Biology, was indeed aggressively anti-Semitic, but ‘for tactical reasons’ he refrained from commenting on ‘the Jewish question’, as he disclosed in a letter to Swedish Nazi leader Birger Furugård. Nor have I come across any trace of anti-Semitism in the Swedish sterilization programme.)
The other components were the same: the state’s self-imposed right to intervene in a person’s most private circumstances — the citizen was subordinate to the ‘race’ or the ‘national stock’ (the idea that all individuals should have the right to freely decide over their own bodies was considered ‘an extremely individualistic attitude’ by the Population Commission of the 1930s.) The two also had in common a biological view of mankind, which denies people their equal worth. Instead, your worth depends on your racial origin, your genes or, as in the Swedish folkhem, your usefulness to society. (Alva Myrdal, for instance, expressed regret at the passing of the skivvy system as this deprived lesser beings of ‘a chance to do work, albeit for little pay, that made their lives morally defensible’ (my italics).
Personally, I would like to add one further component that the two policies had in common — the impassive, unrelenting and bureaucratically unimpeachable way the sterilization programmes were conducted, with everyone from doctors and social workers to housing company officials doing their duty and not asking any unnecessary questions.

IT WOULD BE a healthy sign if the research findings of Runcis, Broberg, Tydén et al were to lead to a thorough examination of the myths surrounding the Swedish welfare state, the folkhem.  In 1928, at a time when Social Democratic leader Per Albin Hansson was promising Swedes the Good Society, in which there would be ‘no privileged nor disadvantaged, no favourites and no victims. Where none shall look down upon another…,’ his party colleagues were busy preparing a law for the purpose of weeding out the ‘biologically inferior’.
It is not just a question of historical decency or redress for the abused. At a time of fetal diagnostics, health moralism and care prioritizing it might be worthwhile finding out to what extent and in which respects this kind of thinking is embraced by the present-day heirs of the folkhem. The question is not unreasonable. To my knowledge, neither the Social Democrats nor the Medical Society have dissociated themselves from their achievements in the sphere of race hygiene.
It would be unfortunate, however, if the debate were to be confined to quibbling about the degree of open as opposed to hidden racism that characterized the folkhem pioneers. As can be seen from this account (as well as from Jesus Alcalá’s article in Dagens Nyheter 16/8 about the Nazi doctors), the impersonal goal of ‘the communal good’ can induce the same kind of deeds as aggressive racism.

MACIEJ ZAREMBA

PS On the day I completed this article, I came across a remarkable installation in an Italian restaurant in Stockholm. Books had been glued together to make a wall and sprayed a drab brown. I manage to prise open the first page of the uppermost volume. A motto: ‘You know the tree by the fruit. Citizens wishing to acquire a truly firm foundation on which to base their political decisions would be wise to take close note of the political parties’ actions.’ — Per Albin Hansson, 1932.

Bibliography:

Maria Runcis’s unfinished doctor’s thesis on the establishment of the sterilization laws (disputation in the spring of 1998)
Sterilization Policy in Demark, Sweden, Norway and Finland, edited by Gunnar Broberg and Nils Roll-Hansen. Michigan State University Press, 1996.
Oönskade i folkhemmet (Undesirables In The Swedish Welfare State). Gunnar Broberg and Mattias Tydén, Gidlunds 1991.
Rasbiologi och andra rasismer (Racial Biology And Other Racisms), Mattias Tydén, Folkets historia no. 3-4/96.
Förädlade svenskar (Biologically Improved Swedes), Bosse Lindqvist, Alfabeta 1991.
Statlig rasforskning (Racial Research By The State), a history of the Insitute of Racial Biology. Gunnar Broberg, Ugglan no. 4, Lund, 1995.
Bortom all ära och redlighet. Tattarnas spel med rättvisan (At The Back Of Beyond: The Tattare And Swedish Justice), Birgitta Svensson, Nordic Museum documents 114/1993.
Vägarnas folk. De resande och deras livsvärld. (On The Road: The Lives And World Of The Travellers), Gunborg A Lindholm, the Western Swedish Ethnological Society, 1995.
In the Name of Eugenics. Daniel J Kevles, Alfred A Knopf, New York, 1985
Socialdemokratins samhälle (Social Democratic Society), edited by Klaus Misgeld, Karl Molin and Klas Åmark,  1988.
Translation: Steven Croall

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