On April 1, 2010, the Swedish magazine FOKUS presented new information obtained from the archives of the Russian Security Services (FSB), regarding the fate of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. Wallenberg who helped save thousands of Hungarian Jews from Nazi persecution during World War II, was arrested by Soviet forces in January 1945 and disappeared. For decades Soviet and later Russian authorities have claimed that Wallenberg died in Lubyanka prison in Moscow on July 17, 1947. In a written reply to researchers Susanne Berger and Vadim Birstein this past November, FSB archivists stated that they now believe that a Prisoner No. 7 who was interrogated on July 23, 1947, “with great likehood” was Raoul Wallenberg. If true, it would mark the first time Russian officials have publicly admitted that all previous statements about Wallenberg’s fate were incorrect.
Any expectations that the Swedish government would react decisively to this new information and demand full answers from the Russian side were quickly dashed. Researchers were told instead that any follow-up would be up to them: “The position of the Swedish government is that new leads on Wallenberg should be followed up by independent researchers …The point we make in our political contacts with the Russians is that Russian archives should facilitate the work of researchers. “[Letter from the Swedish Foreign Office, April 15, 2010]
The muted response once again raises serious questions about how committed the Swedish government really is to solving the Wallenberg case. Rather than choosing to act with vigor and determination, it appears instead that Swedish diplomats’ reflexive response is to minimize rather than to maximize efforts. To be fair, the Swedish Foreign Ministry’s lack of enthusiasm may be explained in part by severe budget cuts and staff shortages that have gutted its administrative structure. However, while Swedish officials steadfastly maintain that solving the question of
Wallenberg’s fate remains a cherished priority, both researchers and the public can be forgiven for failing to receive that message.
It is certainly important to act with circumspection and due caution. But it is far from normal to respond to the first official sign in five decades that a resolution of the Wallenberg case may be possible with nothing more than a single request for clarification from Sweden’s Ambassador in Moscow. That very welcome request – made by Ambassador Tomas Bertelman on December 9, 2009 – has now remained unanswered for seven months. The failure to demand full disclosure from the Kremlin appears all the more glaring when one recalls that two top level meetings between Russian President Vladimir Medvedev and Swedish government leaders have taken place since the new information came to light. The Swedish side apparently presented no specific demands in either one of these meetings which occurred on November 18, 2009 and March 9, 2010 respectively.
Since 2001, when the Swedish-Russian Working Group that had investigated the Wallenberg case for a decade presented its findings, Swedish officials have essentially stopped raising the Wallenberg question in formal discussions with the Russian side. They instead mention it only in general terms, such as asking the Russians to ensure proper access to archives.
Not surprisingly, FSB’s new information about Prisoner No.7 comes not from newly discovered material, but from older documentation that was available already 20 year ago, albeit only in heavily censored form. There are many other such partially censored documents that await closer scrutiny. Researchers have repeatedly asked the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt to ensure that they get access to precisely such key records which remain inaccessible due to Russian secrecy claims. Bildt routinely refuses to take up any specific requests with the argument that he “cannot become active on behalf of individual research projects”.
This leaves researchers with a serious dilemma: They can produce the most tantalizing new facts, but in the end, the decision about granting access to key documents is made by the highest representatives of the Russian governmen. It took nine years to obtain this latest information from FSB. We cannot afford to wait another nine for the next piece of the puzzle to fall into place. Some hints of a changed Russian attitude to unresolved historical issues have come in recent months, beginning with a more open approach to the problem of Katyn – the murder of thousands of Polish officers on the direct orders of Stalin in 1940 – that has weighed heavily on bilateral relations with Poland for 70 years. An official request by Swedish political leaders to their Russian counterparts to present the full circumstances of Wallenberg’s disappearance, is not only the right thing to do, but is currently overdue. We know with certainty that Russia possesses important additional information and Sweden must demand that the Russian leadership finally puts all available facts on the table.
August 4, 2010
Ove Bring, Professor of International Law, Stockholm