Background on Sweden and Extradition

by W.F. Price on August 17, 2012

Some columnists are claiming Assange must be guilty, because nobody would ever have a reason to fear extradition from Sweden, the Swedes wouldn’t allow it, they always look after human rights, etc.

Here’s an example from the Guardian:

The press chief of the Swedish foreign ministry said on Thursday that the fear of Ecuador’s foreign minister that Assange would be sent on to the US by the Swedes, and even be executed, are utterly groundless…

Actually, there’s historical precedent for Sweden doing just that. After WWII, a number of Baltic prisoners of war who had escaped to Sweden in the final days of the war were turned over to the USSR to face death or the gulag.

The Baltic states had been seized and occupied by the USSR first in 1939 due to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, and then briefly occupied until the German invasion of the USSR in 1941. Because the Soviet occupation of Baltic states was particularly brutal, featuring mass deportations, a number of Balts took up arms with the Wehrmacht, hoping to rid their country of Communism and then assert their independence after the war. This is similar to the strategy Finland adopted with some success prior to full-scale war on the Eastern Front. Unfortunately for the Balts (and everyone else who lived in the area), WWII devolved into total war, and the Red Army’s triumph crushed their dreams of freedom from Soviet occupation.

Of those who managed to escape from the final, brutal battles of the Courland Pocket, which resulted in over a half-million casualties, a few made their way to Sweden. Some others, who escaped duty in Courland, were fortunate enough to surrender to Western powers, where they were often assigned guard duty in occupied Germany, generally working for the US Army.

Only about 150 made it to Sweden, but they hoped they would be spared the Soviet reprisals that followed the surrender of Army Group Courland. The Baltic soldiers had good reason to fear the Soviets; because the Baltic countries were annexed and declared part of the USSR, all who had taken up arms against the USSR were considered traitors and faced summary execution. The surrendering German soldiers, while not facing particularly pleasant prospects, were at least treated as prisoners of war with the right to return home after some period of forced labor.

So, Sweden had these Baltic soldiers in its hands after the war, and Stalin was putting a lot of pressure on the Swedes to turn them over. The Western powers had already refused to hand over Baltic soldiers they had captured, despite Soviet demands, but it didn’t take Sweden long to cave in and hand theirs over to Stalin. Although not all were put to death, many were, and plenty of others died in Siberia. Perhaps the one thing that saved them from being slaughtered wholesale was the fact that this particular incident garnered a fair amount of attention in the Western press.

Some 50 years later, when the Baltic states finally regained independence, Sweden finally apologized for its moral failure. However, if I were Julian Assange, I wouldn’t count on the Swedes never doing the same thing again.

And anyway, the US doesn’t need Assange in its own territory. If he ends up in a Swedish prison, there will be plenty of time to work on him behind closed doors.

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