A few weeks ago, Russia’s Constitutional Court ruled that the 30 year secrecy rule governing the classification of important historical records had expired in most cases and that researchers should be granted access to these collections. While the ruling allows for numerous exceptions, it nevertheless established an important precedent, with important implications also for the Raoul Wallenberg case. Are Swedish officials poised to take advantage of the opening? If last year’s Wallenberg centennial celebration is any indication, such hopes are dim.
The last celebrations of the 100th anniversary of Raoul Wallenberg’s birth are now concluded and it is perhaps time to reflect on one aspect that was curiously missing from the twelve months long commemoration: Any measurable progress on the question of Wallenberg’s still unresolved fate.
We know that Raoul Wallenberg never returned from Soviet captivity after his arrest by Soviet forces in Budapest in January 1945, so it can be assumed that he met his demise at some point shortly after July 17, 1947, when his trail in Moscow prisons grows cold.
Or did he? Even high-ranking Russian archivists from the Russian Federal Security Services (FSB) emphasize that important questions remain. As head of the FSB Directorate of the Registration and Archival Collections, Lt-Gen. Vasily S. Khristoforov wrote in the introduction to a recent book about Wallenberg’s cellmate, the German diplomat Willy Rödel, the “when and how Raoul Wallenberg died” remains to be determined.
Swedish officials have hailed this statement as a sign of progress in the search for Raoul Wallenberg. They are overlooking that the Russian side has made similar statements before, both in the Russian Working Group Report released in 2001 and in Mr. Khristoforov’s interesting article about Raoul Wallenberg published in the Russian newspaper “Vremya Novostei” in 2009. Each time these pronouncements were followed by very little meaningful action and continued Russian stonewalling on the question of archival access.
Regarding Swedish efforts in the Wallenberg question, they too have not always run on all cylinders. Instead, the general impression has prevailed for decades that Sweden has never truly mobilized all forces on Raoul Wallenberg’s behalf. Unfortunately, the just concluded Wallenberg year has done little to disperse that notion.
On the positive side, in January 2012, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt asked Ambassador Hans Magnusson to conduct a formal review of the Wallenberg case, to see if any new information was available and, if so, what steps could be taken to follow it up. The appointment was more than welcome, coming after months of requests from researchers for the Swedish government to take a more active role in helping them gain access to Russian archival collections, especially those of the Russian intelligence services.
As former Chairman of the Swedish side of a joint Swedish-Russian Working Group that had conducted a lengthy official investigation of the Wallenberg case from 1991-2001, Ambassador Magnusson possesses a deep expertise in the Wallenberg question. Unfortunately, far from issuing a determined call to action, both he and Carl Bildt voiced pessimism from the start that the new review would yield any significant progress. This, if anything, surely signaled Moscow not to expect much beyond the already familiar.
Not surprisingly, the stated pessimism proved correct. Ambassador Magnusson’s report, released in December 2012, in effect offers researchers nothing new or truly helpful.
The Russians will still not allow direct access to key archival collections, such as the investigative materials of Willy Rödel and other prisoners who had direct contact with Raoul Wallenberg in Soviet captivity. They will still not allow access to the file of the former NKGB agent in Budapest in 1944/45 M. P. Kutuzov-Tolstoy, and other important foreign intelligence documents that could provide information about Stalin’s reasons to order Raoul Wallenberg’s arrest in January 1945 and the failure to release him. And they still will not provide any documentation about an as yet unidentified “Prisoner No. 7” from Lubyanka’s interrogation registers (who may have been Raoul Wallenberg).
Russian officials did finally release previously classified diplomatic cables from 1945-1947 in the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Unfortunately, this release remained the one positive exception in an otherwise vast sea of denials.
Ambassador Magnusson’s report does not seriously protest these restrictions. He fails to mention, for example, that researchers are still waiting to receive any formal confirmation that a “Prisoner No. 7” was indeed interrogated on July 23, 1947 in Lubyanka. In fact, even Hans Magnusson himself, in his formal role as an official Swedish representative charged with investigating the Raoul Wallenberg case, was not allowed to verify the information and was denied access to the registers on his recent visits to Moscow. (This although he had been allowed to see the lists in 1991. At the time he apparently did not notice any entry for a “Prisoner No. 7) All we therefore currently have is FSB’s statement from November 2009 that such an interrogation occurred and that the prisoner was “with great likelihood” Raoul Wallenberg. That is both an astounding and sorry state of affairs three years after the information was first released by the FSB Central Archive. Even more disturbing is the fact that Swedish officials seem resigned to accept this failure without significant protest.
Interestingly, Russian archivists are quite able to identify an earlier “Prisoner No. 7” held in Luybanka prison in 1945 as “a Russian national.” The identification apparently was made with the help of as yet unspecified “correspondence records.” Direct requests from researchers to Ambassador Magnusson to demand the precise identification of these records from Russian archivists, to see if the methodology could be applied to also identify “Prisoner No. 7” from 1947, have yielded no result.
Both Russian and Swedish officials have blamed Russian secrecy laws for the failure to provide adequate access for researchers. But so far, Swedish officials have not forcefully pressed the issue. As Ambassador Magnusson remarks in his report, a review of Mikhail P. Kutuzov-Tolstoy’s file , for example, would most likely not yield anything “sensational” and would provide information “only up to January 1945.” A most curious opinion, after stressing at the beginning of his report that learning the reasons for Raoul Wallenberg’s arrest remains a “central priority of the Wallenberg investigation.”
Needless to say, it is not enough for Swedish officials to speculate about the content of files they have not seen. The rules of scholarly research clearly require that researchers are allowed to make proper assessments for themselves, especially for such a vital file. To his credit, Ambassador Magnusson does stress elsewhere in his report that in order to “eliminate any lingering doubts it would be best to give increased access to independent researchers”.
And so it continues – the FSB Central Archive recently published a book containing the investigative material of Wallenberg’s cellmate Willy Rödel that they had claimed for decades did not exist. So far, FSB archivists have refused access to the documentation itself and also have not provided further information to researchers about the file in which the papers were discovered. Again, there has been no measurable protest from Swedish officials and no progress on the request for direct review of the documents by researchers.
A suggestion to form a small new international research group that in close cooperation with Russian experts would target the core questions remaining in the Raoul Wallenberg case and that should be given special authority to review essential files in Russian archives was not pursued further.
Instead, one of Ambassador Magnusson’s recommendations is to encourage more Russian researchers in the search for answers. This may hearten Russian officials, yet Russian researchers undoubtedly will quickly hit the same walls and restrictions international researchers have met (not to mention the difficulties they face in light of new Russia legislation that brands any Russian national cooperating with foreigners as “a foreign agent”) In spite of his stated wish to involve more Russian experts to clarify the unsolved questions of the Wallenberg case, Mr. Magnusson omitted from his report the call by the Co-Director of the Russian human rights organization ‘Memorial’, Dr. Nikita Petrov, for the launch of a formal criminal investigation of Wallenberg’s disappearance and death in Russia.
Another official Swedish recommendation is for intensifying historical, archival research — yes, precisely what researchers have asked for years. How can this occur, however, when the most important collections remain off limits?
To check off this point on the list Carl Bildt in December 2012 addressed a formal letter to his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, asking for Russian cooperation in the area of archival access. Lavrov’s answer came back before the ink on Bildt’s letter was even dry: Russia certainly supports the search for answers, he wrote, but of course only in compliance with “applicable Russian secrecy laws.” And with that, the by now familiar circle of routine Swedish requests and standard Russian replies closed once more for 2012. The result is that researchers find themselves exactly where they were before, on the outside looking in, and once again restricted to a tedious question and answer format in their exchange with Russian archivists.
It will be interesting to see if Mr. Bildt will press Mr. Lavrov on the ruling issud just last month by Russia’s Constitutional Court to allow Nikita Petrov to review collections of the Soviet Security Service’s operations in post war Germany from 1948-1953. The Court agreed with Petrov’s argument that the normal term of secrecy governing these record had expired. While the opening granted by the court is decidedly small – it also upheld many exceptions to the 30 year declassifcation rule – the decision sets an important precedent for similar requests, including those currently pending in the Raoul Wallenberg case.
Sweden currently does not seem inclined to take advantage of this opening. Ambassador Magnusson’s effort is laudable, but this past year has brought no change of the established Swedish approach to the question of Wallenberg’s fate. This approach has remained strikingly narrow, especially when it comes to the many pressing background questions in the Wallenberg case. In fact, both Russian and Swedish officials have shown a noticeable reluctance to delve too deeply into this important area. In that sense, neither side has been willing to maximize the search for the truth. Swedish officials instead appear content to move in circles and to accept the Russian position that few meaningful options exist to make progress in the issue.
And so the momentary ripples on the deep, wide pond that is the Raoul Wallenberg case are dissipating and the many unsolved questions surrounding Wallenberg’s fate loom as large as ever.