THE WORLD FROM ...Stockholm

Sweden, champion of third world, drops its historic `splendid isolation' in favor of a more European tilt

ON April 19, the day of Chris Hani's funeral in Johannesburg, a small group of African National Congress members and their Swedish supporters held a memorial for the slain South African leader on a chilly plaza in Stockholm.

While the ANC representatives collected coins in cans and remarks in a book of condolences to be sent to Hani's South African Communist Party, the fair-haired Swedes earnestly waved the ANC's green, yellow, and black flag.

It was all very reminiscent of Sweden's glory days at the vanguard of a "third way" in international affairs that snubbed the alliances of the world's two superpowers in favor of neutrality and the cause of the struggling third world. Yet most of the passing shoppers, students, and business people seemed to barely notice the commotion.

With the collapse of the Soviet empire, Sweden has been left bereft of a meaningful foreign policy, its traditional neutrality gutted of its meaning. The country has consistently been part of United Nations peacekeeping efforts - first in Korea and the Congo, then in Lebanon, and now in Bosnia - but most people here say the changed world order requires something new.

The Swedish government is now negotiating to enter the European Community from a position that accepts the principles of the still-unratified Maastricht Treaty, which envisions the EC's evolution toward a common foreign and security policy. Most observers here conclude that Sweden, proudly neutral in the European arena since 1815, is dropping its "splendid isolation" for a more active continental role.

"Sweden is becoming truly European again, and not just some exotic UN nation floating around like a self-proclaimed moral power," says Ingemar Dorfer, a security policy adviser at the Foreign Ministry. "Swedes used to smugly say, `We agree to disagree [with the rest of the world],' but now we agree, which is a position I prefer."

Skeptics worry that Sweden will lose its special place as an advocate of the world's poor and powerless. "What's missing in our [foreign policy] debate now is the third world. It just isn't there," says Agneta Stark, a prominent economist. "Sweden voted [in the UN] with the third-world countries for a long time, and it meant something that another country saw problems their way," she adds. "Once we have three large blocs [North America, Japan, and Europe], what happens to the countries in between?"

Even some proponents of EC membership criticize the conservative government for squandering the esteem and influence built up over decades, notably among the world's nonaligned nations.

"This government says it wants to stress our `European identity' in foreign policy," says Pierre Schori, a Social Democratic member of parliament and former secretary of state, "but that is code for merely following where the rest of Western Europe leads," says the EC proponent. "We are letting our involvement with the rest of the world slide, and to that extent I think the world doesn't recognize Sweden any more."

But Sweden still gives out nearly 1 percent of GNP in foreign aid - high among wealthy countries - and the number of foreign affairs bookstores, Latin American discussion groups, and the country's free-trade policy with the Baltic countries suggest that Swedes maintain an interest in the broader world.

"What has changed is that we now have a part of the third world next door to us," says Rutger Lindhal, director of the Institute for International Affairs here, referring to the former Soviet bloc countries. "We may shift a bit in our emphasis, but that will still leave us room to practice a third-world policy."

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