The interview was held by Tor sellström in Stockholm, 9 October 1996.
Tor Sellström: As a scholar, conservative politician and member of parliament, you have had a long involvement in international affairs. In your view, how could the broad and active Swedish opinion on Southern Africa be explained?
Birger Hagård: There are, of course, many different background factors. I think that one explanation is that the Cold War was intensified in the 1950s. Also, it may be that the Swedes had a bad conscience, in some way. Sweden was rather prosperous and many people thought that we should try to help other parts of the world that were not so well off. It has also been said—maybe with some truth—by Gustav Sundbärg, one of the Swedish authorities at the beginning of this century, that the further away a country is situated, the more interesting it becomes in Sweden. If a country is very distant from Sweden, people may be interested, because they do not know anything at all about it. Of course, there was also an irritation—well, more than an irritation, a frustration—when you saw the developments in the region, especially in the Union of South Africa and the hardening of the apartheid system. That was very strange to a Swede or to a European, particularly after what we had experienced during the Second World War and the Nazi persecutions.
Tor Sellström: The former South African Minister of Foreign Affairs, ‘Pik’ Botha, served at the South African legation in Stockholm from 1956 to 1960. In an interview, he said that he found the climate in Sweden very hostile towards his country and that the main opinion makers against South Africa were liberals, such as Ivar Harrie and Herbert Tingsten, but also the churches.
Birger Hagård: Yes, that is true.
Tor Sellström: How did your own involvement with Southern Africa begin? Was it with the Congo crisis in 1960 or with your tenure as chairman of the Swedish Conservative Youth League (HUF) from 1963 to 1965?
Birger Hagård: I think that it was during the Congo crisis. Maybe I should stress that I have always been a very firm anti-Communist. I was very much engaged when the Russians occupied the Baltic countries. From my childhood and my youth, I remember the Baltic refugees coming to Sweden. I had a lot of friends among them and, of course, they could never forgive the Russians for the occupation. I became a very firm anti-Communist and I have been a very firm anti-Communist all my life. At the time of the Congo crisis, I was the vice-chairman of the Baltic Committee. Professor Birger Nerman, who had had a chair in Dorpat, Estonia, was the chairman. His brother, Ture Nerman, was also very strongly engaged in our work. When the United Nations’ troops—including the Swedes—attacked Moise Tshombe in Katanga, there was formed a Katanga Committee in Sweden, with Gillis Hammar, Birger and Ture Nerman and many others. People who were not in the same political camp as I was. They were more liberal. Anyway, we found that we had much in common and we considered this attack on Tshombe very unfair.
I was also very much influenced by a book by Torsten Gihl, who was a Swedish expert in international law. At that time he was a professor in Uppsala. He wrote a book in which he really accused the United Nations because of their behaviour and I must admit that it had a lot of influence on me and my thoughts. Another basic thing was that being a firm anti-Communist, I have always been Western oriented and in this case that meant that we together criticized what the UN and, of course, the Swedish government did. That, I think, was my first interest in Southern Africa.
Tor Sellström: On 1 March 1963, when you were in the HUF leadership, the National Council of Swedish Youth (SUL) launched a consumer boycott against South African goods. The conservative youth also participated in this campaign.
Birger Hagård: Yes, we participated, but I do not think that we were very active.
Tor Sellström: And in 1974, the conservative Moderate Youth League (MUF) launched a project under the heading “support the struggle against racism in Southern Africa”, where it asked for financial contributions in favour of “the organizations that strive for freedom and democracy”. How was this viewed by the mother party, the Moderate Party?
Birger Hagård: Well, to be quite frank, I do not know. After my chairmanship of the young conservatives between 1963 and 1965, I went back to university and was working there as a lecturer at the same time as I was preparing my dissertation. In 1967, I was appointed universitylecturer in Linköping and moved to Östergötland. I settled in Vadstena and very soon—in 1970–1971—I became involved in local politics. Thus, between 1965–1966 and 1982 I did not have so much to do with national politics. Especially not in the inner circles.
Tor Sellström: In 1969, the Swedish parliament paved the way for direct official Swedish support to national liberation movements in Southern Africa. These movements professed a socialist ideology, waged armed struggle and were assisted by the Soviet Union and/or China. Against the background of traditional Swedish policies of neutrality and peaceful solution of conflicts, how would you explain the stand taken by the Swedish parliament and the Social Democratic government?
Birger Hagård: Well, there was the general radicalisation and the 1968 events. You also had people like Olof Palme, Pierre Schori and others involved in the socialist camp here in Sweden. It is not a secret that we in the opposite camp did not like them very much, precisely because of their socialist—or Communist—sympathies. I think that the general radicalisation might be one explanation.
Tor Sellström: The Swedish government had set up an advisory committee on refugee—later, humanitarian—assistance, chaired by the Director General of SIDA. It did not have a par liamentary composition, although the ambition was to have different political opinions represented there. How did you look upon the committee?
Birger Hagård: I wonder if there were many that knew about it. It was only later that I became aware that the committee existed. Of course, I very much dislike and disapprove of the fact that there was such a committee, without any parliamentary control.
Tor Sellström: It was an important body when it comes to official Swedish support to the Southern African liberation movements?
Birger Hagård: Yes, in the way that all the millions went to ANC, for instance.
Tor Sellström: After a long reign of Social Democratic rule, in 1976 the Moderate Party entered a coalition government with the Centre Party and the Liberal Party. Not only did this non-socialist government maintain official Swedish assistance to the liberation movements in Southern Africa, but it increased the assistance and—furthermore—introduced the first Swedish boycott legislation against South Africa and Namibia in 1979. How would you explain this?
Birger Hagård: It is very difficult to believe that there was any enthusiasm about it in the conservative camp, but maybe it could be said that this, after all, was a minor question. There were difficulties in the co-operation between the non-socialist partners and this question had no priority within the Moderate Party, I think. If the Centre Party, which had the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under Karin Söder, was interested in doing something like that, I am quite sure that Gösta Bohman, the leader of the Moderate Party, said ‘OK, go ahead. We will not fight you on this point'.
Tor Sellström: Carl Bildt, the former conservative Prime Minister, was a member of the Association of Western European Parliamentarians Against Apartheid, AWEPAA, based in Holland. Were you also a member of AWEPAA?
Birger Hagård: No, I was not. I was not at all active in international politics at that time.
Tor Sellström: Did you know that Carl Bildt was a member of AWEPAA?
Birger Hagård: No, I did not even know what AWEPAA was. But I can understand it to some extent. As I said, there had never been any sympathy for apartheid as such. On the contrary.
Tor Sellström: Considerable amounts of Swedish funds were over the years channelled to the liberation movements in Southern Africa. Are you satisfied that SIDA exercised sufficient control over these funds and that they were used in accordance with agreements, that is, for humanitarian, non-military purposes?
Birger Hagård: No. As I said, I think that there should have been parliamentary control.
Tor Sellström: Your involvement in Southern Africa has primarily concerned Angola, where you at quite an early stage advocated humanitarian support for UNITA in Angola. How did you come into contact with UNITA? Did you meet Jonas Savimbi when he visited Sweden in 1967?
Birger Hagård: No, I did not meet Jonas Savimbi in 1967. Not at all. I think that my first contact with UNITA must have taken place in 1984 and, if I remember it correctly, my first parliamentary motion on this question was submitted in January 1985. The first contact was through Luís Antunes, the UNITA representative in Sweden. I do not remember who took the initiative. I think that it was Antunes. I had talked to a lot of friends about the situation in Angola and somebody who knew Antunes introduced him to me. And, of course, I became more and more interested in what was going on. Especially in 1984, when there was this massive support from Russia and all the Cubans were going there. Angola could be regarded as a Communist country, or at least a country in which the Russians and the Communists were very much interested. I got a lot of material from Antunes and I also started reading the French magazine Jeune Afrique. It all developed from there. I found that something had to be done and wrote my motion in January 1985.
Tor Sellström: So, from your point of view, what was important was the East-West dimension?
Birger Hagård: Yes, indeed it was.
Tor Sellström: UNITA had close contacts with RENAMO in Mozambique. Why did you not also advocate humanitarian support to RENAMO?
Birger Hagård: Well, the main reason was that we did not have enough information on what was going on in Mozambique. There were many different opinions. Was RENAMO a terrorist organization or was it not? I could not get the information that I wanted. That was the main reason for not writing about RENAMO. If you are not sure about something, do not write about it!
Tor Sellström: From January 1985, you wrote several parliamentary motions against Swedish as sistance to the People’s Republic of Angola. Your motions were never signed by the leadership of the Moderate Party, but would later enjoy the support of more than twenty conservative MPs. Would it be fair to say that your position on Angola was not fully endorsed by the party or that you were ‘the first mover’ of a broad party opinion?
Birger Hagård: Well, you may say that I was ‘the first mover’. I never asked the party leadership for any support at all. I just tried to introduce the question to the Swedish public. It was very interesting, because there was some kind of a conflict between me and Carl Bildt. He said that the motion was okey, but that I could not have so many co-signatories because it almost became a party motion. But I think that there was a majority for my position in the conservative parliamentary group. Many colleagues came to me and asked if they could have their names on the motion. I could not deny them that. That was the reason why there were so many names on a motion like this, which was very unique.
Tor Sellström: In September 1987, three Swedish aid workers were kidnapped by UNITA in Angola. One of them was shot dead and the other two were taken hostage. About one month before this incident, you and your fellow conservative MP Göran Allmér launched a campaign in support of UNITA, called Swedish Angola Help ( Svenska Angola-hjälpen). In several press interviews you continued to express support for UNITA, in spite of methods which some described as terrorist. In view of the attack on the Swedish aid workers, how would you explain your position?
Birger Hagård: Of course, it came as a shock to us when we heard what had happened. But what was truth and what was propaganda? That was very difficult to say. You could say that this was some kind of terrorist attack, but on the other hand it was the same kind of methods that the MPLA was using all the time. There was a civil war situation in Angola and the three Swedes must have been quite aware of the dangers. It happened, but that did not change our views.
Tor Sellström: In an interview with UNITA’s former Secretary General, N’Zau Puna, he said that it was a mistake to kidnap the Swedes, because at that time they were building up support for UNITA in Sweden. I guess that he was thinking of the Swedish Angola Help and your work in parliament. Do you agree with his assessment?
Birger Hagård: Of course, it was a mistake. The kidnapping did not support the cause at all. But I do not know if it meant that much, because so much was happening in Angola at the time. It is very difficult to judge. Anyway, it was not good.
Tor Sellström: Towards the end of the 1980s, a Swedish support group for UNITA was formed, called the Swedish Angola Groups (Svenska Angolagrupperna). It published the bulletin Angola-Rapport, and you were appointed Honorary President. What political parties or milieus supported the Angola Groups? Do they still exist?
Birger Hagård: No, they do not exist. As a matter of fact, you cannot say that they have existed as an organization. There were only a few meetings and I think that I was present at one of them. That was when I was appointed Honorary President. Tommy Hansson was rather active and among the conservative youth there was heavy support.
Tor Sellström: According to Angola-Rapport, in April 1989 you visited UNITA’s headquarters in Jamba, where you met Jonas Savimbi. Was this your only visit to Angola?
Birger Hagård: Yes, that was my only visit.
Tor Sellström: How did you find UNITA’s organization and Savimbi’s leadership?
Birger Hagård: I was very impressed by what I found in Jamba, above all concerning education and discipline. Of course, Jamba was a primitive place, but it seemed very well organized both from a military and a civilian point of view. Dr. Savimbi was rather impressive and there were other UNITA members that I found very interesting. I do not remember their names, but one of them was, I think, head of their interrogation service or something like that. He was a very intelligent man. But there was also a conflict, because there were rumours that one of the leaders had been shot by Savimbi and his followers. As a matter of fact, we met him too, but he was later shot. I do not remember his name.
Tor Sellström: How did the UNITA leadership look upon Sweden? Did they see Sweden as backing the Communist side?
Birger Hagård: Yes, more or less.
Tor Sellström: Did other Swedish politicians visit Jamba?
Birger Hagård: No, I was the only one as far as I remember.
Tor Sellström: In September 1992, presidential and parliamentary elections were held in Angola. They were declared free and fair by the United Nations and other international observers, but UNITA did not recognize the outcome, broke the cease-fire and re-launched the military campaign against the MPLA government. How did you look upon these developments?
Birger Hagård: Well, firstly, I doubt if the elections really could be called free and fair. I received reports that mentioned a lot of incidents. I cannot say that they were absolutely true, but I know how very difficult it is to observe these matters. Angola is a vast country and they used these mobile polling stations. Anyhow, it can be doubted how free the elections really were.
After the elections, UNITA was attacked in Luanda. Many of the leaders were killed by MPLA. One of them was a General Mango, who had visited Sweden some years before. I found him a very interesting man. He was killed at that time. One of the Christian Democrats that I had met was also attacked. She was of Portuguese origin. She was held for at least three months in very bad conditions before she could return to Portugal. So, I think that this was a rather bad event.
Tor Sellström: If we extend the horizon to the whole of Southern Africa, including South Africa, both socialist and non-socialist politicians have characterized the long period of Swedish humanitarian assistance to the liberation movements as one of the most positive and constructive components of Swedish contemporary foreign policy. Would you agree?
Birger Hagård: I doubt it very much. As I said, we had no parliamentary control over what happened. Maybe it made Sweden a popular country with ANC, but definitely not with the Inkatha movement and most definitely not among the white South Africans. Instead, I found that they really hated Sweden.
Tor Sellström: Very little has been written about this chapter in Swedish foreign policy, partly because it was treated confidentially.
Birger Hagård: Yes, but I also think that the secrecy was preserved. Outside the political circles I do not know of many who knew what happened. If we had taken up this support from a constitutional point of view, I am not quite sure that it would have been accepted, due to the lack of parliamentary control. I am also not quite sure that it was ever discussed in the Council on Foreign Affairs. If we had known that 900 million Swedish Kronor was given by Sweden as direct support to ANC, I think that we would have launched heavy attacks on the government.
Of course, you could say that the support to ANC has been good for Sweden in a short perspective and in the context of the Mandela government in South Africa. But what will happen after Mandela? I do not know. My first and only visit to South Africa was in 1992. I met people from all sides, from ANC, Inkatha, the Nationalist Party and the Liberal Party, as well as representatives from the education sector, industry and so on. I found the opinions very divided.
Tor Sellström: Finally, do you know of any protests against Sweden by other Western countries due to the support to the Southern African liberation movements?
Birger Hagård: No, but they cannot have been very happy about it.