Within 24 hours of the catastrophe in SE Asia, Israeli aid was on its way. This has been reported and praised throughout the world – but the story has scarcely made it into the mainstream Swedish media.
Lottie Knutson, spokeswoman for Swedish travel agency Fritidsresor, has done a fantastic job in the media, providing constant information and reassurance from just a few hours after the disaster struck.
Her reward: according to media reports she was warned by Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds just seconds before going on air on national TV to “Watch out! Watch your step very carefully indeed!”
All the Swedish telecom companies cancelled phone call charges to and from the stricken area, including otherwise expensive mobile phone charges, so people could get in touch with family and friends.
The Swedish Foreign Office asked all Swedish survivors to sign a contract whereby they agreed to repay the full cost of a loan for their repatriation back to Sweden. Plus ten percent interest on the loan. This after the survivors had lost all their belongings, and in many cases family members, in the disaster.
Yes, you read the above right.
After a huge public outcry, the Foreign Office withdrew its demand for interest, and for the loan itself.
With Sweden having the largest number of tourists in the stricken area, it was always going to be difficult if not impossible for the country to handle its needs single-handedly. The US and Australia both had resources in the area, but Sweden declined to request their help. One wonders how many more Swedes suffered additionally because of this steadfast refusal to request US and Australian assistance. Is there perhaps something in the suggestion that Sweden, virulently opposed to the war against Saddam, was prepared to go to any lengths rather than request the assistance of two countries that were part of the coalition against Saddam? Following a public outcry, Sweden requested US and Australian help.
All the Swedish insurance companies immediately joined forces and announced they would bring everyone back home without any need to worry about insurance policies – every company would also take care of policyholders with other companies; the only concern was to bring everyone back home as soon as possible, including those without any travel insurance. This was their highly appreciated contribution to the relief effort.
Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds, on the other hand, went to the theatre and didn’t turn up at her office until 31 hours after the disaster struck.
Private Swedish companies Volvo and Ericsson placed their corporate jet at the disposal of the Swedish aid effort, packing the aircraft with medical staff and medical supplies and dispatching it to the area within hours of the catastrophe.
The Swedish government, which sent its own government plane to fetch a Swedish cabinet minister from a football match in Portugal last year, now kept this craft firmly on the tarmac as the disaster unfolded. The Swedish authorities also declined to send their Hercules aircraft to SE Asia because they aren’t considered comfortable or fast enough for such a long flight. They were the only aircraft available at a time when every survivor removed from the area freed additional space and resources for other more needy survivors.
At one of the aid centres in Thailand where the Thais had done fantastic work in grouping survivors of the various nations together and giving them every assistance possible, surviving Swedes asked if there were no Swedish authorities available to help them, as there were representatives of Finnish, Italian, Israeli, British, German and other victims. The answer was that there indeed were Swedish representatives on site, they were waiting in an air-conditioned building at the edge of the site; it was rather too warm for them outside. When some of the survivors finally made it there later that afternoon, after first seeing to the needs of their injured friends and family members, they found they had arrived a little too late – it was after 5 pm and thus the end of the work-day for the Swedish staff. This according to the survivors themselves.
The Swedish authorities are the only authorities in the world withholding the identities of those presumed missing. The reason? To protect their homes and property back home in Sweden. However, if they did announce the names of all those missing, as all the other countries have done, this would immensely speed up the identification process. Sweden’s private security companies have all said they will guard such properties free of charge until the homeowners return from SE Asia. But the Swedish government is unmoved.
One wonders just how much longer such a government can last. Because it certainly isn’t functioning on behalf of its citizens.