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OPINION & ANALYSIS

Opinion: Why won’t Sweden help us find out what happened to Raoul Wallenberg?

We want to know why Swedish officials are not demanding answers from Russian authorities about Raoul Wallenberg's fate in Soviet imprisonment, write two of the Swedish diplomat's relatives.

Opinion: Why won't Sweden help us find out what happened to Raoul Wallenberg?
Raoul Wallenberg's diplomatic passport. Photo: Pressens bild

This past August 27th, in honour of Raoul Wallenberg Day, the Swedish government announced the release of 40,000 new documents that are contained in its official Raoul Wallenberg case file.

The announcement failed to mention that the release did not occur on the government's own initiative. Instead, the declassification came in response to a formal research request we, together with two experts, filed back in March 2018. The request is part of a new research project that aims to establish a more complete background of the Raoul Wallenberg case in Sweden and also in Russia.

The release of the additional documentation is certainly most welcome and hopefully will provide important new insights into the official handling of our uncle's disappearance in the Soviet Union in 1945.

However, in a public statement accompanying the release, the (recently resigned) Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström stopped short of saying that the Swedish government would continue to actively try to solve Raoul's disappearance. Instead, Ms Wallström merely indicated that the Swedish government would “continue to support efforts to try clarify Raoul Wallenberg's fate”.

In this careful choice of words lies the problem: The fact is that, with few exceptions, for twenty years the Swedish authorities have done very little to help advance the efforts of those who truly wish to clarify what exactly happened to Raoul Wallenberg after the spring of 1947, when his trail breaks off in the Internal (Lubyanka) Prison in Moscow.


A picture of Jews in Budapest, taken by Raoul Wallenberg himself. Photo: Raoul Wallenberg/TT

In 2001, Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson formally apologized to Raoul's immediate family for the shameful official Swedish handling of Raoul's disappearance and promised that Swedish authorities would continue to try to establish the full circumstances of his fate.

However, that same year, after the end of the official, ten-year long investigation conducted by the bilateral Swedish-Russian Working Group, the Swedish government decided that the question of Raoul Wallenberg's fate was now a 'historical matter' and quietly transferred the task of solving the case back to private citizens – that is, to Raoul Wallenberg's immediate family and to researchers.

Swedish officials continue to insist on this approach even when it is very evident that without determined official support it constitutes a nearly impossible task.

As a result, we find ourselves at a serious impasse: It is clear that Russia possesses highly relevant information in the Wallenberg case, yet the Swedish government will not push Russian authorities to provide the access needed to conduct an independent review of the documentation.

We have provided Swedish officials with a growing list of essential materials. In many cases, we can pinpoint the exact archival collection or even the precise file and document that should be examined. Instead we are left to try to obtain the access we need in other ways. Meanwhile, the Swedish government publicly declares that it supports our current efforts in Russia. In reality, it does not.

When in November 2009, information emerged from the archives of the Russian State Security Service (FSB) that an unidentified Prisoner no 7 was held in Lubyanka Prison in July 1947, there was real hope that this could prove to be the first step towards a full resolution of the case. Based on strong circumstantial evidence, the FSB archivists at the time concluded that the prisoner was, with great likelihood, the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. If so, it means Raoul was alive six days after his official date of death of July 17th, 1947.

Swedish officials did little to pursue the new leads. In November 2009,and again in early 2010 – just a few weeks after Swedish authorities officially learned of Prisoner no 7 – Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt met with Russian President Medvedev and the then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. However, they failed to take up the new findings in their formal discussions. They simply chose to remind their Russian counterparts to ensure that experts be granted adequate access to key archival collections.


A woman lighting candles at Raoul Wallenberg Square in Stockholm on the 70th anniversary of his disappearance. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

The centenary (100th anniversary) of Raoul Wallenberg's birth in 2012 offered another golden opportunity to focus international attention on the urgent need to press Russian authorities to provide clarity about Prisoner no 7 and related issues.

In January 2012, in response to repeated appeals from researchers and our family, Swedish Foreign Minister Bildt appointed the former Chairman of the Swedish Working Group, Ambassador Hans Magnusson, to conduct a new formal review of the Raoul Wallenberg case. Even though Mr. Magnusson acted as an appointee of the Swedish government, the FSB archivists refused to permit him to review documentation concerning Prisoner no 7. Again, the Swedish government did nothing to protest this serious snub by Russian officials.

The failure of Swedish diplomats to help us effectively pursue one of the most important leads to emerge in the Wallenberg case since 1957 is truly disappointing. There exists broad consensus among researchers and other experts that even if Prisoner no 7 was not Raoul Wallenberg, obtaining all available information about this individual would be of fundamental interest for the Wallenberg investigation.

FOR MEMBERS:

Ten years after the information first emerged, the issue of Prisoner no 7 remains unsolved. The lack of official Swedish support to break through the Russian stonewalling led to our reluctant decision to sue the FSB in 2017. The litigation is currently pending.

There exists now growing evidence of a disturbing pattern of wilful obstruction, including strong indication that Russian officials have engaged in an intentional campaign of disinformation during the 1990s and 2000s to influence the Wallenberg investigation.

We are travelling to Stockholm again this week, to present the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a list of precise questions and research requests concerning specific documentation we seek in Russian archives. We also intend to discuss a set of carefully selected questions concerning the background of the Wallenberg case in Sweden.

Additionally we will continue to seek answers from other archives, including those of the Swedish Security Police and the Wallenberg business family which has not provided a meaningful reply to our questions in close to eighteen months.

We, Raoul's family, will not rest until we know what happened to him. The Swedish authorities who regularly invoke his name, who praise his courage and hold up his selfless actions in support of his fellow human beings 75 years ago as an example for the next generation to emulate, owe Raoul Wallenberg more than words. They owe him to stand up and do what is necessary to end the nightmare that has engulfed him and his whole family for far too long.

Written by Marie von Dardel-Dupuy and Louise von Dardel, the daughters of Professor Guy von Dardel, Raoul Wallenberg's brother. A Swedish version of this opinion piece was first published by Svenska Dagbladet.

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

Swedish clichés: Is the alcohol monopoly really a sign of an all-controlling state?

In this new series, The Local's reader Alexander de Nerée seeks to challenge some of the clichés about Sweden.

Swedish clichés: Is the alcohol monopoly really a sign of an all-controlling state?

There are some undeniable truths about Sweden (lots of Volvos, lots of trees) but when asked, most people don’t get far past the usual clichés. And nor did I. 

A well-organized country full of high tax paying, IKEA flatpack-loving, slightly distant Fika fanatics, all happily queuing to buy some much-needed state-controlled booze to get through the never-ending cold and dark winters.

In this series, I give my take on some of the more commonly heard assumptions about life in Sweden and how I experience them.

When you are visiting family back home after your move to Sweden, you will note that nothing seems to get a tipsy uncle quite as riled up as your story about the state-controlled alcohol market. It’s also something that comes up surprisingly often when you tell people you live in Sweden. The mere mention of having to go to a special shop to purchase alcohol seems to set people off in a certain way.

That the shops are called Systembolaget, like some Soviet-era holdover obviously does little to calm your uncle down.

To start with the concept itself. Having grown up in The Netherlands, I was not bowled over with indignation at the idea of having to go to a separate shop to purchase my poison. Although supermarkets in the Netherlands do sell alcohol, it is pretty common to buy your wine, as well as any stronger stuff, at what Australians call a ‘bottle shop’  (which rather misses the point of what’s actually for sale).

READ ALSO: Like having sex in a church: Sweden’s uptight attitude to alcohol

Apart from having a larger assortment than supermarkets, these shops also have specialized staff that can recommend wines with your food. 

But with plenty of well-stocked and reasonably priced Systembolagets around and one right outside my local supermarket, I don’t think the airtime this topic gets when people talk about life in Sweden is actually justified.

For the now properly drunk uncle at your family dinner, the Systembolaget is of course a sign of a bigger problem with Sweden: the all-controlling state. The outrageous combination of high taxes, free healthcare and schooling and state-controlled alcohol must mean that the government has a finger in every aspect of life.

It turns out your uncle is engaging in a long-standing tradition that has been dubbed ‘Sweden bashing’. It started with Eisenhower, but in more recent years lesser statesmen dabbled in it as well. Although there is no clear definition, it seems to involve cherry-picking facts about Sweden – or alternatively just making them up – in order to ridicule the Swedish model. It’s a model that, according to the ideology of the bashers, should fail miserably but somehow stubbornly refuses to do so.

Despite the long-standing tradition of Sweden bashing, I think anyone who lives here will agree that in everyday life there is nothing particularly invasive about enjoying free education and healthcare in exchange for higher taxes. Come to think of it, that is pretty much the model applied in the Netherlands and they never got stuck with a reputation for an overbearing government. On the other hand, Holland does get bashed for easy access to drugs and euthanasia, so I guess you have to be careful what you wish for.

Considering it now really only functions as a lightning rod for politicians, it may not be a bad idea to let go of the state monopoly on alcohol sales.

As for the bashing itself, I think the current Swedish response to it works just fine: a light shrug of the shoulders and let the system speak for itself.

Alexander de Nerée moved to Stockholm with his husband in October 2020. He is Dutch, but moved from Zürich, Switzerland, after having lived in Hong Kong for 10 years. Not having been to Sweden before the move, Alexander had some broad assumptions about what life in Sweden would be like. In this series, he revisits these assumptions and gives his take.  Alexander wrote for series for The Local before about his “firsts” in Sweden.

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