“I think for any ambassador arriving to a new posting, it is important to try to learn as much as possible about the country," Swedish Ambassador Niclas Trouvé has said in a recent interview for the Swedish country focus of Diplomacy & Trade.
"Last fall, when I came here, three main goals came to my mind: To deepen and broaden the political ties between our two countries, to get to know the many Swedish companies here in order to assist in further increasing our investments in Hungary, and to achieve a genuine and respectful dialogue on common values between our two countries,” Ambassador Trouvé says.
“Sweden and Hungary have had an excellent and long-standing relationship for many years, but I think there is ample scope for even more of contacts, co-operation and dialogue. In my first months here, it is the word ‘values’ that comes to my mind: how to achieve a dialogue on our common values and those that we sometimes define as more specific Swedish or Nordic values – not only between the governments, but also with the companies, with civil society, with the media and with the Hungarian people in different walks of life,” the Ambassador, who presented his credentials to the Hungarian President in October, 2014 points out.
Sweden and Hungary belong to the same family, that of the European Union. “This is the defining feature of our relationship, we share the same values; we share the same home market, an internal market that has free movement of people, capital, goods and services. Also, the two countries are about the same size as far as the population is concerned,” he says. [see chart on page 9]
Inside the EU, Sweden co-operates particularly closely with the Nordic-Baltic group of eight countries (six of them EU members) often coordinating and integrating their policies and actions. “Within the EU, Hungary has a special relationship with a different formation, the Visegrád Group (V4). Together, these two groups comprise a very large part of the European Union. We have much to learn from each other and we have good opportunities to make a difference and influence the course of Europe. However, we should not aim at making a cemented bloc but at forming a close dialogue and co-operation that could serve our interests and those of Europe as a whole,” he adds.
“One of the first things that I was happy and proud to do when I arrived here was to prepare an event in January this year to commemorate the disappearance – or more precisely, the abduction – of the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg exactly 70 years ago here in Budapest. We are especially proud that he was part of this very Embassy, so, he was actually a colleague of ours. That gives an extra importance to his remembrance here at the Embassy and we try to keep alive the spirit that he represented. Remember, he was not a career diplomat, he came to the Hungarian capital with a very specific mission: to save the Hungarian Jews from deportation. As we know, he managed to do exactly that – but unfortunately, far from all of them could be saved. I am happy to note that his name is very much in the mindset of most people here in Hungary. You see streets, schools named after Wallenberg, monuments in his memory and there are still people who personally remember him. I have met people – or the children of those – who were saved by Wallenberg,” the Ambassador stresses.
However, he says, even more important than remembrance is focus on the future as he highlighted at one of the commemorative events recently, “let’s focus our attention on the new generations and on the values that Wallenberg represented. We should never forget what happened seven decades ago, but it is even more important to make sure that the history is not repeated. There are signs in Europe today that I’m extremely worried about, such as increasing anti-Semitism, increasing islamophobia – with different roots, but all part of a broader xenophobia, of not being tolerant to other human beings, being afraid of people who are different or who come from other places in the world. That is why we should always remember what Wallenberg stood for: humanity, dignity and tolerance. Again: A dialogue on these values is very important.”
Cross-roads in history
At the Ambassador’s residence, there is a picture on the wall depicting Swedes and Hungarians fighting together in 1710 in the battle of Romhány in the Hungarian war of independence against Austrian Habsburg rule. Some 500 Swedish soldiers fought there and about 40 of them died in the last major battle of the ‘Rákóczi War of Independence’ (1703-11). They are buried there in Romhány (north of Budapest).
According to Ambassador Trouvé, “we have had relations for such a long time and our roads crossed on several occasions like during this battle, or through the activities of Wallenberg (and that of the Embassy staff as well as the International Red Cross and many others) in 1944-45. Then, again, in 1956: the Hungarian struggle for independence and sovereignty was acknowledged and followed with keen interest and sympathy in Sweden at the time. To many Swedes, it was the defining moment when they learnt a lot about the struggle and the courage of the Hungarian people – and of the tragic suffering that followed. Some 8,000 Hungarians came to Sweden as refugees. They were followed by thousands more in the coming decades. According to estimates, there are at least 30,000 Swedish citizens of direct Hungarian origin nowadays – and many more with a more distant ancestry.”
The next important phase, he adds, was 1989 when the Iron Curtain was finally lifted and “it was possible for us again to see Hungary as a reborn free nation – something that was met with extreme joy in Sweden. Today, our two countries are members of the European Union, completing a long process during which my country has tried to extend political, economic and humanitarian support for Hungary.”
Learning from the past
At his visit to Debrecen, Niclas Trouvé suggested that we all learn from history. “The first lesson we should learn from history is exactly that: we should learn from history, but we should not try to re-write it – and definitely not re-live it! There are sometimes tendencies in our societies to sort of look backwards and try to change what happened in the past. That will, of course, never work! History is history. The importance for us is to look forward and to learn from the mistakes so that we don’t repeat them. For example, a crucial lesson is that democracy and independence cannot be taken for granted – we have to defend our freedom and sovereignty all the time. Central to that is to protect the values of democracy, humanity and tolerance. Otherwise, history could come back and haunt us. In neighboring Ukraine, for instance, we see how freedom and sovereignty are being threatened. To the south of Europe, millions are fleeing from terror, violence, oppression and poverty. It is our duty as human beings to reach out and help when people suffer”, the Ambassador emphasizes.
According to the latest statistics, the volume of Swedish exports to Hungary in 2013 amounted to some HUF 150 billion (close to EUR half a bn), while Swedish imports from Hungary were around HUF 220 billion (some EUR 700 mn). For the first three quarters of 2014, the Swedish exports were up by 12% and the imports from Hungary by 8.4%. But the Ambassador wants to broaden the picture: “we know today that most Swedish companies have established production facilities, retail outlets or research centers in Hungary, rather than shipping goods here from Sweden. Also, a large part of the companies are multinationals that trade globally, rather than bilaterally. The total value of our bilateral economic ties is, therefore, much more complex and broader than the traditional trade figures show. In addition, we are now part of the same European market without borders. Let us also not forget about the services – it is not all about products.”
The number of Swedish companies in Hungary can be as high as 150-200, “many of which are household names in Hungary and have been here for many-many years. However, I believe we can do even more on the economic side, especially in the field of investments. Swedish companies have invested very substantially here in production facilities (like Electrolux) and some have established large research and development centers (like Ericsson) – both for the global market.” In fact, the Swedish economic presence here could be said to represent basically all areas. The daily life of a Hungarian family can be covered by Swedish products and services (many of them originating from Hungary), he says jokingly.
“They could live and work in buildings built by Skanska; these homes could be furnished by IKEA and the offices by Kinnarps; Electrolux could provide the kitchenware and other household appliances; Ericsson could make them connected to the world with wireless solutions; clothes for the family could come from H&M; hygiene and paper products for the kitchen and bathroom could be provided by SCA; the bottles containing milk or fruit juice for breakfast could come from Tetra Pak and the car in the garage should, of course, be a Volvo or a Saab. If we accomplish this, then, I can leave Hungary with particular pride one day,” the Ambassador smiles.
The Ambassador is of the view that the reason for Swedish investors being in Hungary is that “this country has an educated, hard-working and loyal workforce. Another advantage business leaders tell me about is Hungary’s geographical location in the center of Europe, close to bigger markets, having excellent infrastructure and communication. However, they also mention the importance of stability and predictability. Too many changes of the conditions (like that of the legal and tax environment) are never good for business. On these issues of business conditions, we are working together with the Hungarian government in a close and fruitful dialogue. The Government is doing a lot to incentivize, to further create jobs in this country. The prospective employers are the large foreign companies – like those of Sweden – so, we need to continue to our cooperation as it takes two to tango.”
Another very important part of Sweden’s relations with Hungary is, of course, the strategic and very technologically advanced defense co-operation. The SAAB Gripen fighter aircrafts serving the Hungarian air force have paved the way for an excellent day-to-day co-operation with an even larger future potential. Also, there is a sizeable Swedish military contingent living and working in Hungary as part of the Heavy Airlift Wing in Pápa.
As Ambassador, he always hopes that more Hungarians would visit his country but finds it even more interesting that so many Swedes have discovered Budapest and Hungary. “This was not the case 10-15 years ago. There are many-many of my countrymen coming to Hungary, especially young people. I often hear groups speaking Swedish on the streets of Budapest. The main attractions are the historical and cultural treasures, combined with spas for recreation and health tourism, as well as gastronomy including fine wines – and, of course, a lot of shopping. Links will be further facilitated this spring by the launch of direct flights five times a week by the Swedish flag carrier SAS between Stockholm and Budapest.”
Crime stories and music
Within the field of cultural relations, the Ambassador believes that “we have a lot to learn from Hungary. You have an ancient and rich culture including a fantastic range of individuals with important cultural and scientific breakthroughs. We are encouraged that Hungarians show interest in some recent Swedish phenomena like our successes in writing crime stories – incidentally, many of the bestseller authors are women. The key could be that people find different (and not only the positive) aspects of Swedish society interesting. We’ll have two young female authors coming to the Budapest Book Festival later this spring, while Hungary will be the focus country in the large Göteborg International Book Fair this fall.”
He adds that Swedish movies always create interest in Hungary and Swedish music is popular here. “After the U.S. and the U.K., Sweden is the largest music producer in the world – and it is not only ABBA and Roxette (that is coming to Hungary this May). We also have an interesting jazz scene as well as hip-hop and house music – and every kid knows the name Avicii. We believe that the new, trendy music scene presents a new face of Sweden, so we try to bring more and more bands to Hungary, too. Of course, it is also possible to listen to the music through the Swedish invention Spotify if you can’t make it to the concerts… ”
Rewarded with Budapest
Looking at his postings and responsibilities in the past decade (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan), this position in Hungary may seem like a reward for Niclas Trouvé for his work on much more difficult terrain.
“After eight years of war, it is probably time to do something else… It is not good for anyone to live under such circumstances for too long. Coming to Hungary as ambassador is a reward in itself. Every day that I’m here, it is more and more interesting – even apart from the fact that this city, as well as the country, is very likable. Life as a diplomat is very good here, the country can profit from its location, culture, food and wine, etc. Also, the challenges that we meet here are interesting, be it economic, political, consular or cultural promotion activities. So, I very much look forward to the rest of my term here in Budapest –and to seeing all parts of this beautiful country,” he concludes.