May 22, 2004

Paying tribute to victims


A ceremony (hosted by the Chilean Embassy and organized by the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation) to pay tribute to diplomatic and international agency personnel who fell in the line

Unfortunately, the four candles represent the number of speakers rather than the number of victims – the list totals 24 names headed by Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, UN special representative in Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello and papal nuncio in Burundi Archbishop Michael Courtney. Of the other 21 names, nine were Iraqi and most died with Vieira de Mello in a suicide terrorist attack in Baghdad last August 19.

Referring to the date of the ceremony (May 13, traditionally an unlucky date), Ströje-Wilkens called September 11 the new unlucky day after the Twin Towers attack of 2001 and Lindh’s assassination last year – she also mentioned September as an unlucky month for the night’s host, Chile, where she was serving as a young diplomat at the time of the 1973 coup. Centring on personal reminiscences of her ”unique” late boss, her numerological speech managed to include most famous Swedes meeting violent ends in the last century such as Count Folke Bernadotte (1948), UN Secretary Dag Hammaskjöld (1961) and Prime Minister Olof Palme (1986).

Valdés described seeing Vieira de Mello last May on the eve of his fatal mission to Iraq – as serious, intelligent and dapper as ever. The host envoy stressed the variety of victims to terrorism with the ”exceptional” Lindh and Archbishop Courtney (who died at the end of the year) giving the church a new martyr in the thirdmillenium of its existence.

García Hamilton said that the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation’s work involved remembering death but also life – two Budapest ghetto survivors saved by Wallenberg during the Second World War were in the audience. Reminding his audience that Argentina had also seen horror, the historian pointed out that the 24 deaths showed that diplomats were not always decorative or ”good people sent abroad to lie for their countries” in Samuel Johnson’s definition.

Sotelo made the briefest speech because he preferred the tributes to the victims from his organization to come from elsewhere.

Apart from the many people present, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and United States Congressman Tom Lantos (another Budapest ghetto survivor) among others sent messages endorsing the event from abroad while local greetings came from first lady Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Supreme Court Justice Eugenio Raúl Zaffaroni and Defence Minister José Pampuro, among others.