This past week I had my departure ceremony with the Swedish King Carl Gustaf, signaling that I and my family will leave Sweden shortly. We have had three and a half very full years in Sweden. As my assignment comes to a close, I am so proud of our performance and accomplishments. When I undertook this Post, I did not want to just “be” an Ambassador. I wanted to DO SOMETHING as an Ambassador. I wanted to demonstrate what an ambassador can do by using this platform.
The amazingly close, shared values between US and Sweden, emphasizing human dignity and equality, sustainability and the environment, gender equality and innovation, is such a natural context in which to do this. For me, it has been as “natural as the sunrise” to interpret and convey these shared values, because they overlay so perfectly with the values of President Barack Obama, whose personal representative I have been in Sweden and whose campaign for US President I joined in the very beginning in 2007.
Modern diplomacy is about reaching out, not remaining shut in behind Embassy walls. Natalia and I have tried to execute a form of modern diplomacy by connecting with as many people never before touched by the US Embassy here in Sweden, in as many new ways and with as many new partnerships. We have striven to bring in to the Embassy people who have never been to an Embassy, or who have never been part of a US Embassy program. We wanted to touch people’s lives while here. Our networking and outreach has been the overall theme that is the red thread of all of our engagements.
As I look back over the last three and a half years, here are the top ten things I am most proud of:
1) The Historic Visit of President Barack Obama to Sweden. I was astonished when I was preparing to come to Sweden that no sitting American President had been to Sweden’s capital of Stockholm – ever! It was an unspeakable honor for Natalia and I to welcome President Barack Obama to Sweden in September 2013. In the course of his two day visit, the President met with the five Nordic leaders to discuss sensitive foreign policy issues, he celebrated the legacy of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, and he bore witness to Swedish innovation and creativity at KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology. As the joint statement issued during President Obama’s historic visit notes: “Sweden and the United States are very special friends.”
2) A Preclearance Facility at Stockholm’s Arlanda International Airport! The planned preclearance facility at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport, where US immigration and customs inspectors will do the inspection in Sweden rather than upon arrival in America, will be transformational. It improve the overall travel experience for customers and boost security. It’s a win-win situation for the US and Sweden, it will facilitate travel and business. See the interview here.
3) Bicycling Across Sweden, from the water’s edge of the West Coast to the water’s edge of the East Coast. It is so important for diplomats to get out from behind Embassy walls and out of the capital to see the heartland of the country. In July 2013, I bicycled literally across Sweden, more than 600 miles (800 kilometers) from the water’s edge in Gothenberg to the water’s edge in Stockholm. I visited small towns like Kumla, Alingsos, Falkoping, Chovde, among others, and did more than thirty public speeches and engagements promoting TTIP, the proposed US-EU free trade agreement. Other than by walking across Sweden, I could not have given Sweden a warmer embrace than by seeing every centimeter from coast to coast by bike.
4) Hosting Not One, But Two, US Secretaries of State and amplifying the fight against climate change. In June 2012, I was thrilled to welcome to Sweden Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who came to Sweden to advance the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), a global initiative to focus international efforts to reduce black carbon and methane. In May 2013, I took Secretary of State John Kerry to Sweden’s Arctic area, to the city of Kiruna to participate in the Arctic Council Ministerial, which Sweden hosted. The Secretary was able to participate in the brokering of a Search and Rescue agreement, and an Oil Spill Preparedness agreement, historic firsts for the Arctic Council.
5) With Swedish Comedian Felix Herngren, Filming Videos on the Future of the Arctic. I was honored that the great Swedish actor Felix Herngren agreed to film in Sweden’s High North several short videos with me, available on the YouTube platform at #OursharedArctic. We travelled together to Sweden’s Arctic area, to Rabot’s Glacier, and to the Abisko Scientific Research Station, to bear witness to the devastation being caused by climate change, to meet the Sami people, and to use these films to communicate how the Arctic, while remote, is directly connected to the quality of our lives and the future of our planet.
6) Celebrating the Legacy of Raoul Wallenberg. Soon after I began as Ambassador in Sweden in late 2011, the 100th anniversary was celebrated of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who chose not to be indifferent and saved hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives from the Holocaust. Because Wallenberg operated in part with American support, I wanted to make this a central narrative to the American-Swedish relationship. I was delighted to work with then-Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on a joint article they published in the New York Times on the legacy and lessons of Raoul Wallenberg’s heroism. Here is the article. In April 2012, President Barack Obama did a YouTube video message to the people of Sweden on how Wallenberg is one of his personal heroes and a source of lessons for his life. The video is available here. In May 2012, I planted just outside the US Ambassador’s residence a Horse Chestnut Tree, a type of tree famous from the Diary of Anne Frank (she looked out over the square in Amsterdam at a Horse Chestnut Tree). Here are videos from this high visibility ceremony that involved Raoul Wallenberg’s still living sister Nina Lagergren, and our Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns. In September 2012, the largest US Senate delegation to visit Sweden in modern memory came to Stockholm bearing legislation signed by President Obama conveying the US Congressional Gold Medal in honor of Wallenberg. At a high visibility ceremony at the Swedish Parliament, US Senator Johnny Isakson conveyed the legislation to Raoul Wallenberg’s still living sister, Nina Lagergren. In September 2013, President Barack Obama came to Stockholm, and on the eve of Rosh Hoshana, celebrated the life and legacy of Raoul Wallenberg at Stockholm’s Great Synagogue, along with members of Wallenberg’s family and those whom Wallenberg rescued.
7) Hosting a Major Regional Conference on TTIP, and Advancing Business to Business Relations. In December 2014, U.S. Embassy Sweden was proud to join the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv) to host a workshop on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP). We welcomed participants from Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The event captured the potential of collaboration between these countries of Northern Europe when it comes to advancing T-TIP. The goal of the workshop was to bring together stakeholders to identify positive and negative narratives about T-TIP, and to develop plans on how to communicate the advantages of T-TIP in each country. More generally, the commercial relationship between Sweden and the US is really strong. Sweden is the 11th largest investor in the US, and with a population of nine million people, that makes Sweden the number one per capita investor in the US of all the countries in the world. With that in mind, I set up a “Businessperson Statesperson lunch series.” The formulation “Businessperson Statesperson” refers to businesspeople who advance the public interest by constructively engaging in the market place of ideas and operating as a good corporate leader. This Embassy series has featured as speakers Jeff Immelt, the CEO of GE, who spoke on TTIP; Muhtar Kent, the CEO of Coca Cola, who spoke on the Millenial Generation; Steve Rattner, the former US Auto Czar, who spoke on the American economy, and Inge Thulin, CEO of 3M, who spoke about innovation, among other top level US CEO’s.
8) Advancing the Relationship Between USAID and SIDA. A value that America and Sweden share is a deep care for that part of humanity that lives in abject poverty. Sweden’s overseas development agency, SIDA, has become the top partner of the US government’s development agency, USAID, both in terms of pooling resources and developing strategies. The numbers speak for themselves and reflect a relationship that is at an unprecedented level: Sweden has agreed to catalyze $1 billion for President Obama’s Power Africa Initiative; Sweden has committed $1.2 billion for Afghanistan Development Assistance 2015-2024; Sweden has committed a $100 million dollar loan to support Ukraine. The challenges we face in Afghanistan, Africa and Ukraine are not just American challenges. These are international challenges and it is terrific the Swedes have joined us. In addition, we have been able to advance unique public private partnerships with Sweden. USAID has joined Sweden and Volvo Trucks, a Swedish company, to advance jobs training in ten countries in sub-Saharan Africa, a wonderful example of how private sector innovation and resources can be brought in to these common causes.
9) Supporting LGBT Rights and Youth and Diversity Engagement. I was the first US Ambassador in Sweden to hoist a rainbow flag on the Embassy flag pole. I also proposed to US Attorney General Eric Holder that he do a Major Speech on LGBT Rights at the Swedish Parliament during his important visit to Sweden. Speaking before the Swedish parliament February 4, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke eloquently as he hailed Sweden as a “champion of human rights” and called on the country to continue working with the United States for such freedoms around the world. I was also honored to host the parents of Matthew Shepard, the young man murdered in Wyoming because he was gay, who spoke touchingly and beautifully about their unspeakable loss and what their son’s legacy should mean in the fight for LGBT rights. Holder’s speech is available here.
As an Embassy, we have especially worked hard to engage the next generation on issues of our day, and to create a forum to discuss issues of diversity in Sweden. The Embassy created a series called “Diversity Dialogues”, to put stakeholders around one table to discuss questions of diversity. For example, when Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton came to Sweden on a trade mission, I asked him to meet with Sweden’s Somali community. Minnesota is the US state with the highest number of Somali Americans, and I asked the Governor to share “lessons learned” from Minnesota pertaining to Somali integration and success and which may be relevant to Swedish conditions. The Embassy also originated the idea of a special Fulbright Scholarship devoted to the future of the Arctic. The Scholarship has been funded and is now being implemented, bringing in scholars from the eight Arctic Council states. The Embassy signed an MOU with the University of Chicago Institute of Politics to create a summer internship program to bring young Americans to work at the US Embassy. And the Embassy created a Youth Council, to advance dialogue between the Embassy and the next generation on the challenges and opportunities of today and tomorrow.
10) Using Media and “Digital Tools,” especially Social Media, for Outreach, Messaging, Connecting. An Ambassador’s job is to connect. It is to meet people and interpret what the US and the US President stand for. I was so proud to do the extremely popular reality TV cooking show “Halv Åtta Hos Mig” which brought all of Sweden in to the US Ambassador’s residence for a night of cooking, but also for a conversation about what America stands for. It was incredibly fun engaging on that with wonderful Swedish co-contestants. Here is a link to the show. And I am extremely proud of what we have done with social media. US Embassy Stockholm’s Facebook friends totaled about 3000 people when I started. We now have over 43,000 Facebook friends (please friend us! Here is the link to our Facebook site. My wife and I have done a joint blog together on the US Embassy website, called the “Brzezinski blog” to share our experiences and reflections on our lives in Sweden. We have fully exploited the Youtube platform to share messages far and wide about TTIP, the Arctic and many other shared challenges. We have striven to utilize all forms of communication to reach multiple audiences.
Brzezinski Blog: blogs.usembassy.gov/sweden/
US Embassy Sweden website: sweden.usembassy.gov
I am profoundly grateful for the honor to have served as US Ambassador in Sweden. My wife and I have made many friends, and we look forward to building on those relationships well into the future. It has been a fantastic experience, for which my wife and daughter and I will be eternally grateful for the warmth of the embrace Sweden has given us over the last three and a half years.