• Sweden edition

Analysis: Why Freivalds had to go

Published: 21 Mar 2006 12:16 GMT+01:00
Updated: 21 Mar 2006 12:16 GMT+01:00

Politicians rarely resign in Sweden. The most high-profile in recent times was when Mona Sahlin quit as deputy prime minister in 1995 after buying a Toblerone on her government credit card. Many ministers since then have managed to ride out tough and prolonged questioning – including Freivalds' temporary successor, Bosse Ringholm, who whilst finance minister was also chairman of a football club accused of tax dodging.

But if resignations are so rare, why has Freivalds gone now?

A reluctant foreign minister, Freivalds, 63, was appointed in 2003 to replace her murdered predecessor, Anna Lindh. This marked a return to high office after a number of years in the political wilderness – she had been forced to resign as minister of justice in 2000 amid controversy over plans to convert her rental apartment block into a condominium, contrary to the official party line.

Her rehabilitation was destined to be short-lived. Freivalds bore the brunt of public anger at the government’s failure to realise how serious the South Asian tsunami was for Swedes.

In last December’s official report into how the Swedish government handled the catastrophe both Persson and Freivalds were held personally responsible for the fact that there was no mechanism in place for dealing with a major crisis.

But it was Freivalds who suffered most from the political fallout. If there was one event that symbolised her mishandling of the event, it was her trip to the theatre on the evening following the tsunami.

This was later interpreted as displaying a lack of sensitivity to the Swedish victims and a dereliction of duty when thousands of Swedish tourists were dead, injured and destitute on the other side of the world.

Yet this was also evidence of Freivalds’ haplessness and lack of political judgment. Göran Persson was no quicker to realise the significance of the tsunami for Sweden, yet his career was much less badly dented. Freivalds’ awkward handling of the press and lack of political nous has much to do with the comparatively rough political ride she endured.

Her role as fall-guy for the government was cemented after December’s Catastrophe Commission report. While calls for Persson’s resignation were few and far between, even the government’s allies in the Green Party were calling for her to go. Opposition parties mulled over the possibility of a vote of no-confidence in the embattled minister.

Persson allowed her to remain at the Foreign Ministry, saying, "I don't believe firing anyone would soothe the suffering of a single individual.”

But the apparent forced closure of the Sweden Democrats' website on February 9th, after pictures of the prophet Muhammad had been published on it, renewed the pressure. It proved to be the final blow to Freivalds’ credibility.

Freivalds initially denied having authorised a foreign ministry official to contact the Sweden Democrats’ hosting company, Levonline.

Amid allegations of state censorship, prime minister Göran Persson publicly slammed the civil servant behind the move.

"However strong his personal reasons may be, with a political position as adviser in the foreign ministry he should refrain from this sort of activity," Persson said at the time.

When one of her own civil servants, Carl Henrik Ehrenkrona, said in testimony to the Chancellor of Justice that Freivalds had indeed known in advance of the contact with Levonline, her already precarious position was weakened further.

Swedish government bodies are banned in the constitution from getting involved in what newspapers, including web-based newspapers, write.

Speaking on Swedish Radio on Monday morning Freivalds said that she had been 'surprised' by questions from journalists. She said she believed that they had asked if it was the foreign ministry which had shut the site down.

This explanation was not bought by opposition politicians, and the media pressure failed to abate.

More damagingly, fellow members of the left-wing governing coalition were also piling on the pressure. Green Party spokesman Peter Eriksson, having already called for Freivalds to resign over the tsunami, asked whether she had lied over the cartoons issue. A question to which many argued the answer was yes.

Some, not least Eriksson, have been surprised that Freivalds lasted so long. Persson allowed her to remain despite her tendency to attract negative publicity.

But while in the tsunami crisis Freivalds protected Persson by providing a useful conduit for criticism that might otherwise have been directed at him, in the latest controversy Freivalds only served to bring embarrassment to the government as a whole.

So while the timing may be unfortunate for the Social Democrats – six months almost to the day before the general election – there was little hope of saving Freivalds' career.

James Savage (james.savage@thelocal.se)

Don't miss...X
Left Right
Today's headlines
Grounded flights strand Swedes in Tel Aviv
Photo: Matt Rourke/TT

Grounded flights strand Swedes in Tel Aviv

UPDATE: About 270 passengers planning to fly to Stockholm are still stranded in Tel Aviv, and airlines have stated that flights will likely be grounded on Thursday as well. READ  

The Local List
Top ten: Swedish taboos
The butter knife is for butter. Photo: Mats Sandelin/TT

Top ten: Swedish taboos

From standing in line to taking your hols in the off-season, Sweden is a society with customs and faux pas, the Danes might say taboos. Here is a list of ten to watch out for. READ  

Fears mount for Swede kidnapped in Ukraine
A tank in Horlivka. Photo: Dmitry Lovetsky/TT

Fears mount for Swede kidnapped in Ukraine

A mediator who handles prisoner exchanges between Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels said on Wednesday that he feared for the life of a kidnapped Swede. READ  

Vattenfall cuts losses despite 'tough market'
Photo: TT

Vattenfall cuts losses despite 'tough market'

Swedish power group Vattenfall said on Wednesday that second quarter losses had been cut despite trying market conditions, forecasting that energy prices were unlikely to recover in the "foreseeable future". READ  

Swedes 'most beautiful' in the Nordics
Swedish actors Peter Johansson, Anna Sahlin and Måns Zelmerlöw. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

Swedes 'most beautiful' in the Nordics

Who is the fairest of them all? Swedes are, according to the rest of the Nordic nations in a recent survey. READ  

My Swedish Career
American teams up with Swede to beat cancer
Matthew Volsky holding the Gynocoular colposcope which is used for screening cervical cancer. Photo: Gynocoular

American teams up with Swede to beat cancer

When Matthew Volsky first came to Sweden he didn't think he would stick around. Six years and a pioneering invention later he tells The Local about the medical device which is helping save lives around the world. READ  

Swedish organic sales enjoy 'amazing' growth
Arla organic milk. Photo: Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT

Swedish organic sales enjoy 'amazing' growth

Swedes are spending more and more of their food budget on organic foodstuffs, with major supermarkets reporting double digit increases, according to new statistics. READ  

Swedish police warn of rogue pregnant cow
The cow pictured is not the one in the story, and presumably not cranky. Photo: Mike Groll/TT

Swedish police warn of rogue pregnant cow

Police in southern Sweden have issued a public warning about a pregnant cow on the loose, after two people were sent to the hospital after a hustle with the heifer. READ  

Sweden demands EU clarity on Bitcoin tax
Photo: Mark Lennihan/TT

Sweden demands EU clarity on Bitcoin tax

With EU countries' treatment of Bitcoin varying vastly, Sweden has asked for clear EU rules stipulating whether or not the cryptocurrency should be taxed. READ  

Google in failed bid for Sweden's Spotify
Photo: Spotify

Google in failed bid for Sweden's Spotify

US Internet giant Google tried last year to buy Sweden-based streaming music service Spotify, but pulled out due to the beefed-up price tag, according to a media report on Tuesday. READ  

Business & Money
People-watching Båstad
Business & Money
Sweden falls to third in global innovation index
Swedish ornithologists keep webcam watch
Blog updates

22 July

Det (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! “Det” is a personal pronoun that can be used in many ways, and it might me confusing if you always translate “det” to English “it”. In this article I will do my best to guide you to how to use “det”. Det replacing a word, a phrase or a clause Let us begin with the less confusing..." READ »


22 July


"Today (22 July) my Prime Minister, David Cameron, and UNICEF, are hosting the world’s first #GirlSummit in London. The Summit’s aim is to mobilise domestic and international efforts to end the appalling practices of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Child Early Forced Marriage (CEFM). This is a high priority for the UK government and the Prime..." READ »

Photo: Andreas Nordström/Image Bank Sweden
Top ten Swedish beach hot spots
Swedish Wiki vet sets new content record
Photo: Fastighetsbyrån
In Pictures: The Local's Property of the Week
Photo: Finest.se
People-watching July 15-16
Photo: Ola Ericson/Image Bank Sweden
What's On in Sweden
Photo: Lisa Mikulski
Hope springs eternal for expat pet shop owner
Princess Estelle steals limelight at mum's birthday
Swedes risk infants' lives by covering up prams
Swede runs for office just using Bitcoin funds
People-watching July 11-13
Malmö mayor slams Danish beggar ban
Swedish anti-abortion midwife sues county
Swede's salary chopped for Facebook use
Northern Sweden warmest in 90 years
'Victoria Day': Crown Princess Victoria turns 37
Mona Sahlin to fight extremism in Sweden
EU tells Sweden to cover up snus flavours
Swede snags assassin role in Tom Cruise film
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Your finances in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Housing in Stockholm
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at: