The stroller parked outside the entrance to the home of the US ambassador is perhaps the first sign that new residents have arrived.
While they’ve only been in Sweden a matter of weeks, newly installed US ambassador Mark Brzezinski, his wife Natalia, and their two-and-half-year-old daughter have jumped into life in Stockholm feet first.
In addition to dining with royalty, entertaining Nobel laureates, and traveling north of the Arctic Circle, the ambassador and his wife – a former competitive figure skater – have also taken to the ice in Kungsträdgården in central Stockholm.
Swedish lessons from a toddler
And after enrolling their daughter in a Swedish-language preschool, the Brzezinskis find themselves with an unexpected Swedish teacher.
“She now singing itsy-bitsy spider in Swedish. I can’t even do that,” ambassador Brzezinski tells The Local.
To their knowledge, the Brzezinskis are also the first US ambassadorial couple to co-write a blog, as well as the first in Europe to produce a welcome video.
In addition to soaking up life in Stockholm, the new US ambassador, who takes over following the departure of Matthew Barzun in May 2011, is eager to engage in the nitty-gritty of managing US-Swedish relations.
Served under Clinton
The son of Zbigniew Brzezinski – a foreign policy heavyweight who served as President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, ambassador Brzezinski has had a front-row seat to American diplomacy for much of his life.
A lawyer by trade, ambassador Brzezinski also served in the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton where he managed Russian/Eurasian affairs, and then later Southeast European affairs and served as a foreign policy advisor to President Barack Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign.
Speaking with The Local during a recent interview, he reflected on Sweden’s relationship with the United States as well as on what he hopes to accomplish during his time in Stockholm.
TL: What was your exposure to Sweden before arriving as US ambassador?
MB: My first introduction to a Swedish soldier was actually at the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea in 1988 when I was visiting with a delegation from the United States.
And my first time in Sweden was when I came as a guest for a wedding of my best friend from college who married a Swedish woman in 2009.
I think such anecdotes are metaphors for a much larger demographic of Americans and Swedes who meet and fall in love or develop friendships that has brought a lot of Americans to Sweden.
Last year we processed the citizenship of about 300 new Americans in the form of newborn babies which is, to me, the best testimonial to American-Swedish relations producing something good!
TL: When you think of Sweden, what comes to mind?
MB: When I think of Sweden, I think in terms of the strategic role that a country of only 9 million people – roughly the population of the state of Virginia – has in a lot of different areas.
It’s a country with tremendous moral authority, which it leverages for good around the world, not just in Europe.
Sweden also carries a lot of legitimacy in terms of expanding opportunity, promoting democracy; in terms of global engagement commercially; in terms of being good corporate stewards and good corporate citizens.
TL: How would you characterize US-Swedish relations?
MB: Sweden is an important strategic partner for America in terms of advancing our foreign policy goals.
We salute what the Swedes are doing in terms of promoting the (European Union’s) Eastern Partnership, in terms of promoting energy diversity in the Baltics; rule of law in Ukraine, and human rights in Belarus.
Sweden is not a member of NATO, but the country is still an incredibly important partner because of what they are doing in Afghanistan, with more than 500 troops and leading a Provisional Reconstruction Team (PRT) and successfully transitioning to an Afghan leader through that PRT.
Further, what they did in Libya was emblematic of what a partner can do, which can be also be seen in what they’re doing in Kosovo and their efforts toward European integration.
The fact is that Sweden’s priorities in many ways join with ours, which is why we look to Sweden as an important partner.
Whether its on security issues, like Afghanistan and Libya, or whether its expanding opportunity, in terms of commercial diplomacy – and even in terms of the people to people dimension – there are great historic ties between America and Sweden because of the people.
The question is how we continue that and expand those ties in the 21st century when people are connecting in so many new ways using the internet and social media.
TL: You’ve spent much of your career battling corruption. What are your thoughts about Sweden’s approach to fighting corruption?
MB: Not only does Sweden have a good reputation in this area, all scientific indicators rank Sweden very highly, so I see being here as a great opportunity to listen and learn about what the Swedes have been doing to promote capacity (to fight corruption) elsewhere in the world.
Thinking about the Middle East and North Africa and the Arab Spring, while the transitions across the region were all very different, one common denominator among the young people spearheading change across, beyond unemployment and poverty, is outrage at corruption.
The United States pursuing corruption and bribery alone around the world is not as strong as when we join with others, and if we can join with the Swedes to build capacity in terms of promoting governance in parts of the world we’re concerned about so much the better.
I am extremely interested in exploring with the Swedes whether there is any way for us to partner to promote anti-bribery and to promote anti-corruption in parts of the world where the leadership is concerned about it themselves.
It’s still early in terms of talking this through, but that is something I would hope to promote while I’m here.
I want to know more about what the Swedes are doing to use the tools of modern technology to promote transparency.
And it’s not just us learning from the Swedes, it’s also us sharing with the Swedes some of our new theories and approaches and some of the new tactics that we’re taking in the United States.
TL: What are your goals and ambitions as the US ambassador to Sweden?
MB: As we’ve only been here for eight weeks, my goal right now as the new ambassador is really to get out and about and introduce ourselves, but also to listen and learn in terms of how we can leverage a small country that has a larger capacity than its population would suggest to engage globally, and for us to join together to advance common objectives.
As ambassador, there are four leading priorities defining my mission.
To begin with, security; we already have great security collaboration, but what are ways we can make it better?
Secondly, expanding democracy and opportunity; Belarus, Ukraine, the Baltic states, the horn of Africa are all places that we can take creative and nuanced approaches to advance the Swedish and American interests in those parts of the world.
Also there is commercial diplomacy; our Secretary of State (Hilary Clinton) has been very eloquent about what she calls “economic statecraft” by which she means the overlay of the business context and the strategic context. And how we advance American values and American interests through business-to-business collaboration
And then finally, the environment; something that’s close to my heart as a passionate environmentalist. Sweden now chairs the Arctic Council, the United States is a member of the Council, and we look forward to working with the Swedes on what we share as priorities: biodiversty, protecting indigenous communities, and economic cooperation and development.
Falling in love with Stockholm
Despite the demands of conducting foreign policy, not to mention the dark and chilly Swedish winter, the Brzezinskis have nevertheless been captivated by their time in the Swedish capital so far.
“Perhaps it is the weather that forces one to begin to slow down as the day diminishes. Whatever it is, I can say one thing categorically: I am falling in love with Stockholm!” Natalia wrote in a recent blog post.
And ambassador Brzezinski echoed his wife’s sentiments in another post.
“Whether it was peeping into toy shops in Gamla Stan (Stockholm’s Old Town) or pushing my daughter down the wide avenues on Strandvägen, this weekend Stockholm really began to feel like home,” he wrote.