Nordstjernan Fall 2001

Description: On 9/11

There are events that are forever frozen in everyone’s memory. Americans and Swedes above a certain age almost always remember exactly where they were when the heard the news of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Almost all Swedes remember when Olof Palme was killed.

In the same way, we will always remember what we were doing on September 11, 2001.

In my case, I was at home at the official Swedish residence on Park Avenue. My wife Inger and I were waiting for a group of students from the Stockholm School of Art, Craft and Design who were coming to install some representative objects of new Swedish design at the residence. We were scheduled to have a press preview a few days later.

I dropped what I was doing and started to walk the twenty blocks to the Consulate General. The tall office buildings along the way were in the process of being evacuated, and I walked against a stream of people heading north.

At the office on the 45th floor and with what had once been the World Trade Center as a cloud of smoke over the southern tip of Manhattan, we began preparations for the tasks ahead. For the next seven days the Consulate General stayed open around the clock. All who called in – and they were many – were able to speak with a live person.

The Foreign Ministry in Stockholm received more than 11,000 phone calls from anxious relatives of Swedes in this country. Most questions could be dealt with easily, but in the case of a number of individuals we had to initiate serious inquiries. About 200 Swedes worked in the affected area and there was plenty of cause for worry.

Many young Swedes who were studying or living in the vicinity had witnessed unspeakable horrors. Their stories were mindboggling. One Swedish businessman had rented a show room in the first tower to demonstrate a computer program to potential customer from the financial markets. He had finished organizing the exhibit and was waiting for the first client to arrive. While waiting, he went down to the lobby for a cup of coffee. He heard a crash, and a few seconds later he saw flames shooting out of the elevators. He started running, leaving passport, money and papers behind. It took the Consulate fifteen minutes to issue a new passport.

After a few days, it turned out that many Swedes had had to abandon their hotel rooms and were looking for places to stay. SWEA sent out an appeal by e-mail to its members for spare guestrooms. A few hours later we had a list of twenty rooms. Everyone was eager to help – the response was fantastic!

Several people of Swedish descent were killed in The World Trade Center or in the airplanes. One Swedish citizen, 20-year old David Tengelin, originally from Gothenburg, was killed. David was in many ways typical of young Swedes in New York. He originally came to the States to attend college. He moved to New York, working with computers. He had just been promoted, and his friends told how proud he was to have been given an office on the 100th floor in the tallest building in New York. His friends were all Americans, and his outside interest was soccer. His American friends arranged a fantastic memorial service for him at Gustavus Adolphus Church. David’s parents also attended.

Most of the time, work at the Consulate General consists of promoting interest in Swedish business, culture, design and, not least, in Sweden as a leading IT nation. The week following the events of September 11 showed not only that we could be of help as Consulate General but that official Swedish representation is absolutely necessary.

Will things ever return to normal? Maybe. After September 11 we have had a seminar on wireless technology in order to bring together Swedish companies and venture capitalists. We have also had a big seminar on the Swedish music export industry. Sweden is third in the world when it comes to music export, and music is more important to the Swedish economy than ball bearings and many other mechanical products.

The music seminar took place the day before the Swedish happening of the year in New York – the premiere of the ABBA musical Mamma Mia!. Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson participated in the seminar, which attracted widespread attention.

We have also opened the exhibition of new design at the residence and hosted an exhibition of the art of one of Sweden’s foremost artists, Bo Larsson.

New York will retain its position as the largest city in the world’s largest economy. If we do not keep getting Sweden’s message across, it will be to the detriment of the Swedish economy.

Sweden has taken a clear and unambiguous stand on the war against terrorism. ”If democracy is not able to conquer terrorism, terrorism will conquer democracy”, Sweden’s Prime Minister Göran Persson said the day following the terrorist attack.

As far as I am concerned, the most moving Swedish response was the three minutes of silence that were observed in Sweden a few days after the attack. For three minutes all of Sweden stood still. In every school, at every place of work, in Parliament and at the Royal Palace all work stopped. People stopped in the rain on the streets, the cars stopped on the motorways, the trains came to a halt. All of Sweden came to a standstill to honor those killed at the World Trade Center.
At the Swedish Consulate General we are showing our solidarity with New York in the most important way. By continuing our work, by allowing life to go on.

Olle Wästberg
Consul General