Humanitarian Great Power? The Local Reception of Refugees in Sweden, 1700–1730
When do we take responsibility to protect others? As 20–30.000 Swedish subjects fled Russian troops, advancing in Finland and Sweden’s Baltic provinces during the Great Northern War (1700–1721), the Swedish royal power decreed that these refugees should cross the Baltic sea and come to Sweden. Based on this decision, scholars have assumed their hospitable reception. But while refugee reception policies were formulated centrally, their implementation and the actual, practical responsibility to protect was local. This project analyzes how local communities and refugees negotiated the refugees’ need for protection with the local communitites’ demands for security.
Purpose and aims
When do we take responsibility to protect others? As 20–30.000 Swedish subjects fled Russian troops, advancing in Finland and Sweden’s Baltic provinces during the Great Northern War (1700–1721), the Swedish royal power decreed that these refugees should cross the Baltic sea and come to Sweden. Based on this decision, scholars have assumed their hospitable reception. But while refugee reception policies were formulated centrally, their implementation and the actual, practical responsibility to protect was local. Local decisions to receive – or reject – refugees were influenced by other priorities, such as local authorities’ responsibility to provide security for themselves and their community. In the Swedish composite state, which included several regions with different cultures and languages, the question of local reception of internal refugees was even more intricate; the ruler’s responsibility towards his or her various subjects was not easily transferable to specific localities. How did local communities balance central orders to protect refugees against the need to provide safety for themselves during an ongoing war?
This project aims to analyse how local communities and refugees negotiated the responsibility to protect refugees with the need to provide security for locals. Whereas research on early modern refugees tend to take a one-sided approach, focusing on central and local authorities’ strategies in refugee situations, our project draws from a unique Swedish source material – refugee supplications to various authorities – to include refugees’ agency in the analysis. It identifies the situation as an interaction between recipient communities and refugees that took place in local arenas: in organized meetings with commissions and diocese and city councils, and in unorganized encounters in streets and workplaces. The project examines how refugees responded to local protection and security measures, and how these responses triggered further actions from the local communities. By triangulating sources emanating from the central royal power, local authorities and communities, and refugees, it will allow a detailed analysis of how early modern notions of protection and reception of refugees were enacted in everyday encounters. We focus on the following research questions:
- How did local authorities and communities respectively weigh central demands for protecting internal refugees with demands for local security? Under which circumstances did they identify internal refugees as potential security threats, and under which circumstances did they offer them protection?
- Which aspects – religion, economic status, gender, language, ability, local networks – did authorities and local communities emphasize when deciding whether to receive or reject refugees? How did refugees (re-)present themselves to authorities and local recipient communities to incite protection?
- Which responses did local security and protection measures provoke among refugees? How did these responses, in turn, affect reception and rejection practices?
Four case studies (Härnösand, Stockholm, Uppsala, Linköping) have been selected based on their central position in the refugee reception. In comparing these cases, the project provides crucial knowledge of the degree to which early modern communities accepted, articulated, and/or delegated the responsibility to protect refugees and how refugee responses to protection and security measures influenced the process.
Theory and method
The project draws from studies of present-day refugee situations, as it analyses early modern refugee reception by focusing on the hospitality dilemmas that local communities and refugees encountered as they tried to solve protection and security issues. Following Derrida, we postulate that all acts of hospitality are entwined with acts of restraint, deciding when, how, and where a guest is welcomed. These decisions define the conditions of hospitality, which take spatial and temporal forms: hospitality is offered in some places, not in others, and only for a short period – we expect the guest to leave at some point. After the Great Northern War, the king and council expected and ordered the refugees to return home. Before that, during their stay, authorities and local communities offered them hospitality but imposed several restrictions in the form of security measures to ensure that they did not pose a threat to the population. The investigation will show how far-reaching these security measures were and to which degree they differed depending on location. We draw from research on securitization to trace how and why authorities and local communities identified refugees as a potential threat and how this identification affected their actions toward this group.
Restrictions risk creating hostility between host and guest. In fact, scholars have shown that conditions placed on local hospitality measures may effectively efface hospitality altogether in autoimmune responses, as security measures threaten the safety of the guests or even hosts. The pilot studies indicate that certain conditions, such as when the commission restricted access to its support, led to mistrust and ultimately violence between authorities, local communities, and refugees, suggesting an autoimmune response. Nevertheless, several supplications also speak of unorganized acts of hospitality, from “gentle, Christian people [kristmilda människor],” that seem to have counteracted these autoimmune responses. Research on current refugee dilemmas has shown how grassroots hospitalities have managed to escape the ‘end of hospitality’ by focusing on simple acts of kindness and accepting contingency. Several scholars, therefore, stress the need to step away from state-centred analyses and instead examine informal and local responses to hospitality dilemmas. We search for grassroots hospitalities in the various localities and analyse their significance to the refugee situation. In this way, the investigation moves beyond sovereign decisions to the micro-practices of everyday encounters.
In terms of method, we will investigate how local actors framed their actions, e.g. in religious, humanitarian, and identity-based terms, and what responses they elicited. An intersectional analysis of the (self-) representation of refugees will lay the basis for determining which factors different actors stressed in deciding between reception and rejection. Previous research has focused on state policies and the commission’s work, and refugees more likely to encounter these authorities are over-represented in the statistics of flight and arrival. This applies to members of society’s upper strata, which received considerable support from the commission, and men, who represented their families towards authorities. Nauman’s pilot studies show that peasants and women were a more significant part of this migration than previously acknowledged, and status and gender are of utmost importance in our analysis. Ability, emotional aspects, local and social network, deportment, and more are also included.
The project focuses on contingency: how local communities and refugees continuously interacted and responded to each other’s actions. It moves beyond the initial encounter to investigate local and practical hospitality measures in a long-term perspective, covering thirty years. The starting point – 1700 – marks the beginning of the Great Northern War. The endpoint – currently set to 1730, but may be pushed further depending on refugee presence in the source material – ensures that the project encompasses both the period of refugee arrival and the full period for de-escalation, as refugees were order to return home in 1722. Despite the forced return, there is evidence suggesting that some refugees stayed, which begs the question how their decision in this matter affected local protection and security measures. During the proposed period, local communities went through considerable changes, including periods of pestilence, food-shortage, citywide fires, the presence of war prisoners, not to mention a change of individual actors. These contextual changes may have carried particular weight to individual decisions regarding hospitality dilemmas and are specifically addressed through a comparative approach.