Mar 15, 2015

A fearless voice. Once again.

Once there was a Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme.  No one was indifferent to Olof Palme. He was admired, disliked, maybe even hated. Loved? I don’t know. People were intimidated by him for sure, annoyed. He was perceived as arrogant. Born an aristocrat, practicing social democracy as a politician. I think it was hard to figure him out. He was assassinated on his way to the movies February 28 1986. His case is still not closed.

Sometimes I watch Olof Palme’s old speeches. Or read them. I am always taken by them. Some would say he was courageous. Other that he was undiplomatic. Whatever the opinion, he was outspoken. And he stood by his ideology. In Swedish politics as well as foreign affairs. Listening to him I have often been thinking: oh how I wish there was a politician as Olof Palme in this time and age! What would Sweden have been like if Olof Palme hadn’t been murdered? Also thinking those times must have been different in some sense, and we would never hear that kind of fearless voice again.

But this week the Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström stood up for democracy and human rights. By doing so the Saudi ambassador to Sweden was recalled back home. Margot Wallström was blocked by the Saudis from speaking about democracy and women's rights at a gathering of the Arab League in Cairo. As the next move, the Swedish government decided to scrap an arms deal with Saudi Arabia, bringing to an end a decade-old defense agreement with the kingdom. Yes, it’s been an interesting week.

Interesting too was the reson for the Saudis to block Margot Wallström from speaking at the gathering where she was invited. The Swedish foreign ministry had published the Minister’s planned remarks in Cairo, which made no specific reference to Saudi Arabia, but did urge reform on issues of women's rights.

The Saudi foreign ministry deemed her comments about being barred from speaking "offensive" and "blatant interference in its internal affairs.” In an interview with Swedish media, Margot Wallström had described the punishment for a dissident blogger who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes as “medieval.”
And how did Sweden react to it’s Foreign Minister acting like no Swedish politician has done since the eighties? Well 30 some out of Sweden’s most prominent business leaders acted as one man condemning Margot Wallström’s behavior and the Social Democrat/Green minority government’s decision, meaning it would ruin all business with Saudi and it’s ilk. And the Right followed.
For Swedish politics, has the last weeks political business been a smart move for a weak minority government? I have no idea. Internationally? Well, I am absolutely positive Margot Wallström (who by the way is born and raised two hours north of Umeå, served 10 years within the European Union and was then appointed Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Sexual Violence in Conflict by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon) is not thinking smart or not smart. She is acting out of knowledge, experience, belief and conviction. And I find her courageous.
To me, it’s outrages that Sweden is exporting arms to any country. To me it’s outrages that Sweden is even producing arms and air force. An on the paper neutral peace loving country which hasn’t been at war since 1809. There might be some good reason for it, but just the thought of it makes me sick.

I feel encouraged by Margot Wallström. Sweden is a tiny country, and we might just be a little terrier barking. But I feel like there is a backbone in Sweden rising from a faint-hearted posture we have been in for much too long. I hear the voice and breath of Olof Palme, and it gives me hope.

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