A prominent person in Swedish foreign policy and a renaissance character has left us. Sverker Astrom incorporated the best in Swedish diplomacy and was a rich and manysided cultural personality. He was also a warm, faithful and listening friend.
To be in his company was a joyous adventure. Some summers ago some of us could hear his lively desciptions of the cabinet ministers he had given advice throughout the years. His tea receptions were like a market of ideas from the worlds of culture and politics.
The importance of Sverker Astrom for Swedish foreign policy can not be exaggerated. He became the foremost interpreter of the neutrality policy and a razorsharp spokesman for international law. He conducted our negociations with the EEC in the beginning of the seventies. He made a groundbreaking work of placing the environment problems on the agenda.
The Stockholm conference in 1972 was his idea.
Sverker Astrom held central posts in the foreign ministry – head of the political department, ambassador to the UN and State Secretary for Foreign Affairs – which he fulfilled with elegance, precision and dedication.
Many of us remember penetrating discussions which ended by Sverker´s taking a pen and formulating Sweden ´s position in a crystal clear way.
Yes, Sverker had his own convictions and he was passionately committed to his beliefs. At the same time he was the diplomat who loyally served different governments. Many speeches and declarations were made in cooperation between politicians and the diplomats of the foreign ministry. To sit in when these declarations were brought into their final language was a privilege and an education for many younger diplomats.
Sverker loved his profession and his Ministry for Foreign Affairs. He shared his knowledge generously but also listened to the opinion of others. He sharpened our thinking and made us understand that we should take on the relay and make the next run.
Sverker was until the end of his life engaged in foreign policy and diplomacy. He asked for clear positions in questions on the right of nations and the UN Charter. He propagated professionalism at all levels at the diplomatic profession. His contributions were a salt in the debate in Sweden and his lectures were to many a celebration.
But Sverker Astrom was much more than the super diplomat. He was a cultural personality and an esthete. His collection of the best works of Swedish silversmiths in Saint Petersburg is unique. Some of it he has already donated to the residence of the Prime Minister of Sweden. Very late in life Sverker studied Italian after becoming fascinated by love poems by Michelangelo. His own translation of these is a literary feat.
After his retirement Sverker had thirty years of free creation where his creativity and, sometimes, flamboyance flourished. He participated in debates in the most various subjects. He visited people far and near.
He would come happily waving a coloured cap and with his luggage in bags of cloth. He would arrive on a bicycle to gala diners in white tie in Stockholm. His socks of different colours were some of his many characteristics.
The last five years of his life were painful. His mental capacity was there as before. But he suffered as he could not walk or move freely – he who had played squash before turning 90. I am suffering by an incurable disease – old age, he used to pronounce in his loud voice. His humour was drastic. When the time for a visit should be set he would
say: I am free every day until I die.
When friends met him just before his death he showed us a subtle translation of the La Fontaine fable about death. Then he showed us a letter to the editor of the satirical paper Gronkoping´s Weekly.
There are many of us, in Sweden and around the world, who owe Sverker so much. He has given us knowledge, joy and a sense of togetherness. A togetherness with a person who at the same time represents Swedish modern history and deep cultural and human knowledge.
Deputy General Secretary, UN
State Secretary for Foreign Affairs
Ambassador, Former Minister of Trade
Ambassador, member of the Board of Sverker Astrom Foundation
Ulf Hjertonsson, Ambassador
Bo Kjellen, Ambassador