29 May, Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Center in Moscow 30 May 2012
Speech at the opening of the exhibition about Raoul Wallenberg: "To me there's no other choice"
Ladies and gentlemen,
100 years ago this year a remarkable man was born.
Which is why we are gathered here today. To honour a man who, with outstanding bravery and conviction, went on to save tens of thousands of lives from the Holocaust.
The Swedish Government has decided to honour the memory of Raoul Wallenberg both in Sweden and abroad in 2012. Organisations, states and Jewish communities all over the world will honour Raoul Wallenberg and celebrate his actions.
"To me there is no other choice."
This is what Raoul Wallenberg said to his fellow diplomat, Per Anger.
"To me there is no other choice.
I have taken on this task and I could never return to Stockholm without being sure that I had done everything humanly possible to save as many Jews as possible."
It was in answer to being asked why he was still taking such incredible personal risks. It was the last time the 2 men saw each other.
The mission was organised by Sweden and The United States. The 31 year-old Swede was not an obvious -or even the first choice - for the assignment. He was an architect by training. Not a diplomat. His family were well off and living safely in a neutral country.
But Raoul Wallenberg volunteered. He had visited occupied Europe, and Hungary. He understood the nature of what was happening.
By the time he arrived in Budapest on the 9th of July 1944, Adolf Eichmann was deporting 12,000 Jews from the city every day. Some 400,000 Jews had already been deported, with nearly every man, woman, and child sent directly to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Raoul Wallenberg saw that something had to be done. He made a moral choice. He acted.
He risked his life, day in and day out, to save the lives of tens of thousands of people. To save people who were not from his country, people not of his religion, and people he did not even know.
Raoul Wallenberg was a true hero in the fullest sense of the word.
In a brutal world of violence, fear and indifference, he showed how much difference one person can make.
The origin of that inhumane world was intolerance. Intolerance of being different. Intolerance of thinking differently.
And today, anti-Semitism - and its cousin Islamophobia - are not just painful experiences from the past, but a living reality for too many people.
As Minister for Culture, I am convinced that a strong cultural life is fundamental in creating a just society: A society that can freely reflect, scrutinise, challenge and question with confidence.
The Nazis started their oppression in 1933 with burning books. And as Heinrich Heine had written over a 100 years before that: Where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people'.
Few acts are as symbolic as burning books, a trademark of intolerance.
Today free expression is still threatened; books are still burned. By regimes extremists, and fanatics.
But also through pressure from so-called guardians of morality, political correctness, and taste.
Pressures we must and will resist.
Through their potential to move and inspire, through the challenges of difference, cultures strengthen us as individuals, and how we act in society as a whole.
Raoul Wallenberg studied in the United States, and took every opportunity to get out and experience life and people there.
Hitchhiking was his preferred way to travel. He wrote to his grandfather: When you travel like this, everything's different& You're in close contact with new people every day. Hitchhiking gives you training in diplomacy and tact'.
So he did, in fact, have his training after all. And the experiences he had in other countries as diverse as South Africa, The Middle East and Hungary prepared him too.
I am convinced that international and intercultural exchange not only widens our views, but also contributes to a better world.
Russia is a country with a long and distinguished cultural heritage. The work of Russian artists have inspired readers, artists and audiences around the world for centuries.
Since 2009 the governments of Sweden and Russia have an agreement on cooperation in the cultural sphere. In this agreement, the importance of cultural diversity and fully respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms is central.
There is now a constant lively exchange between our countries in the cultural sphere, such as concerts, exhibitions and studies.
This contrasts sharply to the circumstances during the Second World War, and the difficult years that followed.
A legacy that still clouds the disappearance, imprisonment and end of Raoul Wallenberg's life under the former Soviet regime.
In the case of Raoul Wallenberg a lot of missteps have been taken. But time has passed and no-one on either side is left to blame. Raoul Wallenberg was imprisoned by the former Soviet regime.
Now the issue is less about blame, less about governments and regimes. It is more about his memory and his family. His sister Nina is 91 years old. She and the rest of his family have lived with the pain of uncertainty for too long.
For their sake, and for those who have already passed away, I do hope that this centennial year will bring us the final knowledge on what happened to Raoul Wallenberg.
For him there only was one choice, to do the right thing, no matter what the personal cost.
Few people encounter the challenges and risks Raoul Wallenberg faced. But far too many people turn away for far, far, smaller things, when someone is in distress or being threatened.
Far too many chose not to react to injustice, to what is simply wrong. Our own bravery is tested in the small things we do, in our everyday lives.
To paraphrase Edmund Burke; there is a choice :
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men and women to do nothing'.
But for Raoul Wallenberg it was simply:
"To me there is no other choice."
This is the challenge, and the inspiration, of his life to us all.
I hereby declare this exhibition open.