Carl Bildt returned from
Bosnia with the aura of
a peacemaker, and has
even been likened to his
Olof Palme. That is
rather like comparing
minks to doves, but
it can serve certain
ONE WOULD ASSUME that a politician who built his career on a furious chase after foreign submarines that eventually turned out to be genuine Swedish minks, and who also bears primary responsibility for the worst economic catastrophe in his country's history, would be forced to content himself thereafter with an appropriately modest role.
But not Carl Bildt. The leader of the Conservative ("Moderat") Party has never enjoyed broader support. Just now, he is surfing on a wave of popularity as a result of his energetic efforts as peace co-ordinator in former Yugoslavia-- an assignment he received due in larger measure to the enlightened foreign policy which he, himself, has always opposed and continues to dismiss even today.
"By a modest estimate, the annual drop in production [as a result of the Bildt government's economic policy] will amount to fifty billion kronor, or 350 billion during the seven years, 1993-1999. It is a waste without precedent in Sweden's economic history. The Bildt government's legacy to the future is one of absurdly high real interest rates, mass unemployment, and the biggest budget deficit in modern Swedish history."
Krisen, by Dag Rolander
and Carl Hamilton, 1993
|It is certainly a remarkable turn of events, and one may well ask how such a political career can be possible. The answer undoubtedly has a great deal to do with Carl Bildt's powerful supporters at home and abroad. Among them can be reckoned the economic elite and its compliant news media, weighty politicians in the European Union, and the United States' security establishment-- all of which seem to nurse the expectation that Bildt will leave his mark on Sweden with the same kind of deep impression that Olof Palme once made.
Just this-- the linking of Bildt to Palme-- is the weirdest aspect of the former's current popularity. There seems to be a general perception that Bildt's two years in Bosnia can somehow be equated with Palme's life-long efforts on behalf of peace and social justice. It also appears that Bildt's political standing is to be strengthened with a little nostalgic nudge from the murdered man whose politics he still cannot refrain from criticising.
Further, the Swedish people and the world at large are apparently to be lulled into the notion that Carl Bildt represents continuity in the Swedish foreign policy of peace and solidarity that has long been admired by so many around the world. But considering everything that the Conservative Party leader has said and done in the past, that is a proposition which bears inspection, to put it mildly. There is much at stake, including Sweden's place on earth during the 21st century.
"It was more natural for Swedish prime ministers to give speeches at meetings in Mozambique, or before the revolutionary masses in Managua. . . . Europe was a fleck on the map of Swedish foreign policy and public debate. Southeast Asia was situated just south of Stockholm, South Africa south of Malmö, and one ran into Central America just a bit west of Göteborg. . . . Helmut Kohl almost got the impression that I commuted to Bonn."
his memoirs, 1991
|The Swedish peace model
It hardly came as a surprise, except perhaps in Sweden, that a Swede should be appointed as peace co-ordinator in war-ravaged Bosnia. For much of the 20th century, a long succession of Swedes-- including Hjalmar Branting, Dag Hammarskjöld, Alva Myrdal, and in particular Olof Palme-- have played leading roles in international peace efforts.
At least as significant as those prominent figures have been the contributions by tens of thousands of Swedish diplomats, foreign aid workers, solidarity activists, U.N. peace-keeping forces, etc. As U.N. General-Secretary Perez de Cuellar noted at Palme's funeral: "Throughout the world today, the name of Sweden is synonymous with peaceful stability and human compassion."
But that Carl Bildt, of all people, should be chosen to become peace co-ordinator in Bosnia-- that was definitely a joke on history. For, no one has more consistently opposed the peaceful tradition represented by Olof Palme. Time after time and in every possible context, he and his party comrades have depicted Palme's foreign policy as hopelessly naive, misdirected, injurious to Sweden's real interests and, in some respects, bordering on treason (see "Worlds Apart", below). Bildt has demonstrated a much greater interest in war and its instruments than in peace-related issues-- and solidarity has been regarded by him and the Conservative Party as an expression of distasteful and/or ludicrous socialist hypocrisy.
|"It is extremely unlikely that Palme would have quietly stood by and observed the disaster in Bosnia without intervening."||More to the point, Bildt failed to demonstrate any particular interest in Bosnia and former Yugoslavia during his term as prime minister (1991-94), when the civil war was raging at its worst. He chose, instead, to function as an appendage to Germany's Helmut Kohl, whose meddling in Yugoslavia's affairs is now regarded by many-- including Carl Bildt-- as one of the principal contributing factors to that unfortunate country's violent dissolution.
The contrast with Palme was striking for, among others, Pär Fagerström, a former Palme associate and currently a newspaper executive in southern Sweden: "What did Sweden do to put an end to the war? Essentially nothing. It is extremely unlikely that Palme would have quietly stood by and observed the disaster without intervening." (To some extent, the same criticism can be applied to the Social Democratic government of Ingvar Carlsson; but that is another story, which is briefly touched upon below.)
"Even as one who has been dealing with these questions for some time, I can sometimes be personally filled with an inner rage over the impudence behind these repeated territorial violations."
-- Carl Bildt, 1983, on alleged intrusions of Soviet u-boats
|Our man in Bosnia
The reason that Carl Bildt was selected as peace co-ordinator in Bosnia, despite all this, is that the five powerful nations responsible for the appointment wanted him in that post; Tory-England's John Major is reported to have been especially insistent. The nature of the case has been explained by Alistair Millar, a research analyst with the British-American Security Information Council in Washington, D.C.:
"When Bildt was elected Prime Minister, he was seen by George Bush, John Major and others as a kindred spirit whose intent was to radically alter the direction of Sweden's socio-economic and foreign policies. Among other things, it was felt that, given the chance, Bildt would lead his country into NATO, and was to be supported and promoted in every way possible. It was therefore hardly surprising that Bildt was chosen by EU/NATO decision-makers for the assignment in Bosnia-- especially given the peace-making reputation that Sweden had previously built up under the leadership of people like Olof Palme."
Carl Bildt has said that he was not at all inclined to accept the difficult challenge, but felt that he was forced to do so, "as my duty to Europe". Perhaps. But in a purely political perspective, the offer could not have come at a better time. In the spring of 1995, Bildt's expectations were not especially great: His "only way" to economic success had led Sweden into its worst economic crisis within living memory; and fear of foreign submarines, in which Bildt had heedlessly invested for thirteen unhappy years, turned out in the end to be as poorly substantiated as Olof Palme had warned (see "The Great Submarine Chase").
In short, the Conservative Party leader has led the charge for the two greatest fiascos in Sweden's recent history-- the one in domestic and the other in foreign policy. In both cases, the economic and human costs have been enormous.
guise of a mink.
|Object of ridicule
It is, of course, possible that there one day will emerge some confirmation that foreign submarines have in fact sneaked into Swedish waters, and that some or all of them originated in the Soviet Union/Russia. But the fact remains that thirteen years' of intensive hunting have failed to yield an ounce of evidence.
The comical aspects of all this have not gone unnoticed. In response to Carl Bildt's entreaties not to doubt the existence of the presumptively Russian u-boats-- because, "We do the nation a disservice if we act dumber than we are"-- Commodore Karl Andersson observed: "Alas, that disservice is already a fact. Internationally, we have made ourselves an object of ridicule."
The commodore might well have had in mind the televised reactions of an experienced Russian-submarine hunter in the Norwegian Navy who, chuckling in astonishment, listened to a tape recording of the mink-generated noises which Bildt and his allies have eagerly accepted as proof of large enemy warships prowling the waters of the Stockholm archipelago.
|"There is a tiny clique of persons who can never get the Soviet u-boat violations to conform with their world-view or political ideas."
-- Carl Bildt, 1985
"I felt that it was necessary to raise my own voice a little, in order to disarm the most hysterical loudmouths."
-- Olof Palme, 1985
|Other aspects of the u-boat hysteria are, of course, less humorous-- including the considerable sums of money that have been invested in direct hunting expenses. To what good? According to Commodore Andersson, "After thirteen years' intensive hunting, the results are nil. Not one u-boat has been sunk or forced to the surface. No material of any kind has been found that can be linked to submarine activity. . . . During four-and-one-half years of World War II, 2002 u-boats were sunk, including 46 in the Baltic Sea." Etc., etc.
There have also been a number of indirect costs that can be attributed to u-boat hysteria, including that portion of Sweden's defense budget which would not otherwise have been approved. When all that is added to the constantly accumulating billions which the Bildt government's "only way" has cost the country, the question inevitably arises: Can Sweden afford Carl Bildt?
|"Palme's international contacts are an orgy in poor judgement.
His eagerness to build a bridge between east and west can result in his becoming a Neville Chamberlain, and Sweden a nation under attack."
Certain other costs are difficult to set a price on, but they have been no less destructive. For over a decade, u-boat hysteria poisoned the Swedish foreign policy debate. Large quantities of time, energy and other resources had to be allocated to the submarine-chasers' repeated demands and accusations, blown out of proportion in customary fashion by various news media.
The u-boat hysteria was at its most intense during a critical phase of the Cold War, and it was zealously employed as the heaviest weapon in a general attack on Palme's peace and disarmament policy. His failure to share Bildt's "inner rage over the impudent violations" was loudly interpreted as a frightening indifference toward a serious threat.
|"The prominent Conser-vative, Staffan Burenstam Linder, other Conservative politicians, and representatives of the Swedish business community encouraged the United States in the spring of 1973 to refrain from sending a new ambassador to Stockholm, as that might help Olof Palme and the Social Democrats to an election victory the following autumn."
Leif Leifland, 1997
|Over and over again, Bildt and his allies implied that Palme was doing the Soviets' bidding. "The government's peace policy is a series of unjustifiable and increasingly unreserved embraces of basic Soviet thinking," is how it sounded in one of numerous similar formulations. Essentially everything that Palme and his associates did to promote disarmament and mediate the end of the Cold War was called into suspicion in similar terms.
The consequences for the principal target were easy for anyone to work out: With his repeated intimations of treason, Bildt backed viewpoints that do not appear to have been supported by anyone outside the intimate circle of Palmephobics, whose hatred reached such violent intensity that in certain circles it has even survived Palme's death.
It was, in short, a protracted demonstration of the Cold War's evil spirit and demagogic arts, as one might well expect of Carl Bildt and his party. For, even though they have until recently sworn their devotion to Sweden's long-standing policy of neutrality, they have in fact served as the U.S. empire's loyal supporters in Sweden for quite some time. In their eyes, anti-Americanism is among the worst sins that a Swedish politician can commit-- especially if it is soiled with "Third World romanticism", as global solidarity is called in Conservative-speak.
Uncle George: The
daughter of Carl Bildt
and her father on a 1994
visit to the White House
of former CIA Director
|Reporting to Washington
Carl Bildt's ties to the western superpower came to the surface in 1983, in connection with the first u-boat commission. Even before its findings were made public, he took the liberty of travelling to Washington-- without troubling to consult either the government or his commission colleagues-- in order to discuss Sweden's national security with U.S. intelligence and defense officials. That certainly gave the Soviet Union something to think about, particularly with regard to Sweden's capacity for independent analysis.
Clearly, Bildt was at that time already eager to assume responsibility for the nation's security, but was less inclined to wait until the voters should entrust him with that task. There are no historical precedents. But as a thought experiment, one might speculate how Bildt would have reacted if, for example, Gudrun Schyman (leader of Sweden's Left, formerly Communist, Party) had intruded herself into Bosnia's various conflicts in the midst of Bildt's efforts to resolve them.
|"An international Vietnam Day has recently afflicted the world. (1967) . . . It is difficult to evaluate the extent of the damage already done to Sweden by the image of Palme together with the North Vietnamese ambassador. When asked about it, a Swede is unable to defend it. There is no defense.(1968) . . . The war in Vietnam was, in point of fact, a great war of conquest on the part of North Vietnam. (1981)"
-- Svensk Tidning,
It so happened that the first Swedish prime minister ever to visit Vietnam was Carl Bildt. During his official visit in 1994, he took the opportunity to instruct his hosts in democracy and human rights, indicate his displeasure with the alleged waste of Swedish foreign aid and, on behalf of the United States, take up the issue of the "remaining U.S. prisoners of war" who seem to be as difficult to locate as the elusive foreign submarines in the Stockholm archipelago.
Included on the agenda was a visit to a war museum with photos of the horrors endured by the Vietnamese during a quarter-century of French-American democracy. "These pictures are familiar," observed the prime minister from Sweden, "although it seems a bit odd to see only one side presented after so much time has passed."
It was, in its own way, an interesting proposal for appropriate balance in war exhibitions which Bildt has apparently not yet proposed to his U.S. friends. It would mean, for example, that the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington-- so often movingly portrayed by western mass media, with its 58,000 plus names engraved in a 180-meter wall-- ought properly to be complemented with another wall of an estimated 13 kilometres' length in order to accommodate all the no-longer-current Vietnamese names on a proportional basis.
allies and other countries
were derelict with their
silence. Sweden was the
one honourable exception."
-- Daniel Ellsberg,
the former U.S. official
who disclosed the
"We were wrong, so
-- Robert MacNamara,
U.S. Secretary of Defense
during Vietnam War
|But not even that would serve to reflect the actual relationship between victim and aggressor. Another wall of indeterminate length would be required for the names of all those who "after so much time has passed" continue to be killed and maimed by residual war materiel. And yet a third, for the hundreds of thousands of miscarriages and birth defects caused by the lingering effects of the United States' chemical warfare, plus a great deal of other unpleasantness that the U.S. population has never been exposed to. An estimated thirteen percent of Vietnam's population is invalidised today as a direct result of the war. That amounts to about 8.5 million people, roughly the size of Sweden's total population.
These facts are well-known to everyone familiar with Vietnam's recent history, no doubt including Carl Bildt. That he nonetheless feels compelled to pretend that there exists some kind of equality between the U.S. and Vietnam in matters of suffering and responsibility is an index of how much violence must be done to known facts, and how much indifference to other peoples' suffering is required, in order to justify the Conservatives' foreign policy.
The extensive crimes of
the United States against
international law and
humanity have been
documented by historians
and a number of former
C.I.A. officers. See, for
example, the website
of William Blum.
|Tragic indifference to the facts
It is much the same with a long list of other tragedies, such as the one that befell Chile in 1973. On that subject, Carl Bildt wrote in 1983: "Left-wing propaganda has often accused the U.S.A., Nixon and Kissinger of organizing the coup against Allende in 1973. That there exists no support for such an accusation has not prevented it from being constantly repeated."
In point of fact, there are few CIA operations that have been more exhaustively documented than that against the democratically-elected government of Chile. The details have been thoroughly exposed by, among others, former CIA agents and numerous witnesses at a comprehensive hearing in the mid-1970s under the leadership of congressmen Pike and Church. It was then that Henry Kissinger explained that, "The issues in Chile are too important to be left to the voters." All this, several years before Carl Bildt's solemn defense of his allies in the United States.
Swedish Conservatives' support for the United States has even extended to environmental issues. Among those who criticised Bildt's complicity in the Bush government's obstructionist tactics at the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development was his own Minister of the Environment, Centre Party leader Olof Johansson.
continued to spread the
empire's propaganda long
after it has lost all credi-
bility even in the U.S.
|In some cases, Bildt & Co. have continued to spread the empire's propaganda long after it has lost all credibility even in the U.S. The purpose has evidently been to mislead the Swedish people for political advantage.
The same sort of accusation used to be aimed at Palme, of course. The difference is that Palme turned out to be right on just about every foreign policy issue he addressed. As a U.S. vice-president acknowledged seven years after the end of the Vietnam War, "You were right, and we were wrong."