Sweden, Russia Should Find Truth on Wallenberg
- By Vadim Birstein
- May. 07 2013 00:00
- Last edited 17:42
In the early morning of Mayá9, 1945, after the radio announcement of the German capitulation,ájoyous celebrations eruptedáall overáMoscow and throughout the Soviet Union,ámarking theáend of the most horrific conflict the world had ever seen.
For the hundreds of inmatesáinside Moscow'sáLubyankaáprisonáwhoámost likelyáheard the sounds of the fireworks and explosions — 1,000 cannons shot 1,000 times — this momentáno doubt stirredáa wide range ofáemotions.áLubyanka housed many top generals and officials of the defeated Nazi regime,ásome sharingácellsáwith former resistance fighters, including a 32-year-old Swedish diplomat named Raoul Wallenberg.
Upon learning the news,áthe young Swedeámust have felt hopeful that for himáthe end of the war also signaledááthe end of his ordeal. Afteráhaving savedáthousands of Jews from certain death in wartime Budapest, Wallenberg was arrested by the Soviet military counterintelligence in January 1945. Yet manyádetails of his imprisonment and final fateáhave never been revealed.
Sweden declared 2012, the 100th anniversary of his birth,áas theáofficial Wallenberg year, dedicated toácelebrating his creativity, stamina and courage in saving Hungarian Jews. But in terms ofáestablishing the full circumstances of Wallenberg'sádisappearanceáin the Soviet Union, the 2012 commemorationáwasáaáresounding disappointment.
For a variety of reasons, the Swedisháorganizersádecided to focus attentionáentirely onáhighlighting Wallenberg's legacy, excluding almost completely the question of his fate. As a result,ámanyáobserversáfeel that Sweden once again missed a golden opportunity to press theáRussian authorities for answers. The approacháwas also troubling because it signaled that Sweden no longer considers solving the Wallenberg mystery important.
Just as perplexing is that Swedish officialsácontinue to emphasize all theáobstaclesáthatá stand in the way ofáclarifying Wallenberg's fate instead of energetically pursuing the many optionsáthatáareáavailable toáinvestigators. Unfortunately, this position plays directly into the hands of PresidentáVladimir Putin, who stilláshowsáonly a limited willingness to properly reckon witháthe Soviet past.
Asáhistorian Nikita Petrováargued in an April 12 áarticle in Novaya Gazeta, the Kremlin'sá restrictive approach toáreviewing the crimes of Stalin's regime is deeply troubling since it appears closely linked to Putin'sábroader political aim of strengthening the state's power.
According to Petrov, the fact that Russia still refuses to presentácomplete informationáabout sensitive issues, like the Katyn massacre in which thousands of Polish officers were slaughteredáin 1940 on Josef Stalin's orders, raises serious concerns about Russia's political maturity and its political future.á
The official attitude to the Katyn question and similarlyácomplex historical issues, such as the Wallenberg case, serves as an important indicator of the health of Russian civil society overall.
It will be interesting to see if Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt presses his Russian counterparts on the ruling issued recently by the Russian Constitutional Courtáin another sensitiveácase, namely to allowáPetrováto review collections of the Soviet intelligence operations in post-war Germany from 1948-53.
The Constitutional Court agreed with Petrov's argument that the term of secrecy for these records has expired. This decision sets an important precedent for similar requests, including those currently pending in the Wallenberg case.
Swedish diplomatsásay they remain interested in thoroughly investigating all aspects of the Wallenberg question, includingáreasons for his arrest, but so far theyáhave not lobbiedáfor access toáthe archives of Soviet security áand intelligence agencies that could shed light on the matter.
They have not firmly protested the fact that Russian archivists have withheld key documentation in the Wallenberg case, such as records from Lubyanka prison from late July 1947 that could verify if Wallenberg was held there as "Prisoner No. 7."á Similarly, Swedish officialsáhave ignored several false claims made by representatives of the Federal Security Service archives, including the spurious statement that no investigative file was ever created for Wallenberg, which is patently untrue.
Discoveringáthe fullá truth about Wallenberg's disappearanceárequires bold,ácarefully targeted action, just like the rescue of the Jews of Budapest. But Sweden can't seem to muster the same level of courage and determination regarding the Wallenberg file. Unfortunately, both Swedenáand Russia consider the current status quo in the Wallenberg investigation acceptable and perhaps even preferable because of theámanyáproblematic revelationsáa complete resolutioná of the caseácould produce. á
For instance,á what exactly did Wallenberg's diplomatic colleagues tell Soviet officials about him in the spring of 1945, when they believed that Wallenberg had died in Budapest? Why were they allowed to return home while Wallenberg was not?
Key questions also remain about Wallenberg's prominent relatives, the Wallenberg bankers, especially their business relations with Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union during World War II and beyond. These ties appear to be connected with the mystery of Wallenberg's disappearance
The Swedish government and its international partners should find the courage to use theá Wallenberg case as an importantátest case for democratic values in Russia. The West needs to draw a line in the sand, just as a youngá Swede once did in Nazi-controlled Hungary. Such a step would commemorate Wallenberg's legacy better than any monument or celebration and could lead to an important affirmation of democratic principles foráall Russians fighting forácivil liberties and human rights in their country today.