Last week took me to Sweden. Not the whole week but the first part. At this time of the year the Ministry of Foreign Affairs normally organises a meeting for all Ambassadors in our region. Excellent opportunity to be updated not least about Swedish positions in EU-related decisionmaking: The financial crisis. Measures to strengthen the internal market. Free trade. Foreign policy. EU-budget. Climate change. Human rights. Democratic legitimacy.
The list could be quite long – and it was. But very informative to say the least. And as always great to get an opportunity to compare notes with colleagues working in other cuntries.
Back in Warsaw Thursday morning I almost immediately went to the sejm for a conference chaired by MP Anna Grodzka on the situation for transsexual people in Poland and Sweden also touching upon the broader issues of the rights of LGBT-people. The Swedish MP Barbro Westerholm had been invited by the Foundation TransFuzja to share Swedish experiences – and she did.
Barbro is certainly the right person to do this because of her amazing personal background in this area. She was Director General at the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare when the decision was taken as late as 1979 to repeal homosexuality as a disaease. Later on she was chairperson of the Governmental Committe that proposed the Swedish legislation about civil partnerships for homosexual and lesbian couples, the one that finally was approved 1994. This would not seem controversial in Sweden today but twenty years ago it was. Step by step attitudes have changed, not least thanks to the remarkable energy and engagement among people like Barbro.
The conference took place at the same time as the sejm debated the three different proposals on civil partnerships (finally rejected last Friday), so we saw several references to the experiences of Sweden in media. Gazeta Wyborcza last Saturday for instance.
My Friday programme kept me mostly in the Embassy but I got the opportunity to say goodbye to my excellent Norwegian colleague Enok Nygaard who is leaving Poland this week. I have been so happy to have an experienced Nordic friend like him around, and he has meant so much for the great Nordic cooperation we have in Warsaw. He will be greatly missed for sure.
The week ended in Auschwitz yesterday. My wife Karin and I took part in the commemoration of the liberation of the Nazi death camp there 68 years ago. We participated last year as well and we will continue to do so as long a we are here.
In his amazing speech my Israeli colleague, Zvi Rav-Ner, called Auschwitz the most horrifying place in the history of man. Standing outside at Auschwitz-Birkenau close to the gas chambers in the chilly winter it is easy to agree. I look at the pictures taken by SS – and still fail to understand. How 1,1 million human beings could be exterminated by the death machinery deliberately set up by other human beings. I catch myself with trying to roll back history in my mind to make change possible. And I look at the still huge numbers of survivors participating in the ceremony - so moving to see them there, hugging each other. And then I think of all the ones that were denied the right to become thesame kind of dignified elderly men and women just because somebody had decided that they lacked the right to exist.
Never again was the main message yesterday. As it should be every day.