Fredrik Reinfeldt, former Prime Minister of Sweden
Greetings to you all at the free Iran annual summit, greetings from Stockholm, Sweden. As you know, Sweden has been a very open country for decades for people fleeing suppression, seeking a better society and a better life. For generations, we have seen them come from many parts of the world, first of all, naturally coming to a new society, but actually also reshaping that society. That’s the society where I’ve grown up. We are a very mixed population today.
Thanks to this. We have people from different ethnic groups. We have people of different religious beliefs. And what happens when you get that kind of multicolor, multi, multi religious sentiment is that it creates tolerance and at the best of moments, also curiosity between people. There is always a risk that you divide people and say we are we and they are them. But I would say that the majority in Sweden is more in believe of the idea that people should come together and that the tolerance then should create a new and better society.
So I’ve seen this Swedish example grow and we have created a growing population thanks to the many people coming from other countries. One of these countries is Iran. We very often say that one percent of the Swedish population is of a region from Iran, and I’ve seen them present in daily life in Sweden. I’ve actually had a few of them in the first or second generation working with me in the prime minister’s office during my years in government, trying to make the best of their new society.
I’ve seen the most dentists as doctors, as hard working labor in the industry. They are here to shape a new society, but all of them are still in love with Iran, although not with the reign of Iran, as it has been in the latest decades. So 100000 or more people that originates from Iran is now actually living in Sweden, following very closely what happens in the Middle East and in Iran. I know that this is an example for many of you.
And remember, this is what happens with suppression, with dictatorship. People flee, try to get a better life. And it’s very often the most entrepreneurial that are trying to get away the first, the ones you really need to create the best of societies will instead end up somewhere else. That’s the price you pay when you suppress freedom. And when you actually don’t tolerate that, people are different. So Sweden stands as an example of a more open and better society, and I think that is the important message here today.
We should also say that we are fortunate to be able to assemble to discuss these issues here today. We are in the part of the world where that’s possible because this is an era of authoritarian rule. This is an era where too many people believe it’s time for a strong leader. I have a very hard time to understand this because we have seen everywhere that this strong leader means a call for absolute power. And with absolute power always comes the idea that they will accept no opposition whatsoever, no form of criticism, no checks and balances.
This will open up for corruption and the kind of rule where they rule in their own interest and not in the interest of their people. So with absolute powers, there will always be a crackdown on every kind of way to criticize or redirect the country in another direction with absolute power. They very often also say that the nation state is threatened by everyone else. It’s the we are here, they are their message that we always hear from these autocrats. So they say the foreigners are trying to influence us.
And since they are here present, they are a present danger that we need to follow. And that becomes an excuse for abuse, for torture, for following both foreign interests, but also their own people. Remember that the autocrats, these people with absolute power are always afraid of their own population. They are always controlling their own people because that’s the kind of paranoia that always evolves in these kind of countries. We also see that where there is absolute power, we have seen that they want to show themselves as being more democratic.
Therefore, we see efforts to deliver elections, as they say, because everyone wants to look as if they have the popular support of their people but don’t believe them. What they do is that they rig elections. We have seen this in Russia and we have definitely seen it in Iran. If there is an authority to say that nearly everyone who wants to be a candidate for president can be disqualified and at the end we only allow seven. That’s not a free election.
That’s not a precedent with the support of the people. That’s the reign of absolute power continuing. So they try to portray themselves as more democratic, but they continue. On their pathway of actually trying to control everything and of course, this must change, this must be put in question everywhere in the world where we see these tendencies, we need to stand up and say there is a better solution. And that is, of course, the search for democracy.
And when I use the word democracy, I want to say that that is a word that needs qualifying. Democracy is not just cast of votes because we know that elections can be rigged and that they can be counted in a way which is actually more done in the interest of those in power than in the interest of people voting. So it has to be fair elections. It has to be open. It has to be allowing everyone to search for public office and with the right also to bring out the message and to be able to do that, you need to have free and open media.
You need to have someone actually delivering the message to the people. Otherwise, it will be an unfair situation where you can only follow probably what the ruler himself or his people are saying and not what the opponents are trying to say. But democracy is more than that. It’s the balance of power. No one should have absolute power. All over the world, we have learned the lesson that all forms of power needs to be balanced. It has to be held to account.
Everyone with power should know that someone is looking into what you are doing. Someone is actually controlling you. Someone is standing free of your decision making. That’s what we call rule of law, not politicians or elected leaders or even authoritarian leaders trying to influence the court system. No, the court system standing free and alone from these rulers. That’s why we need the freedom of the press, the press that can search what is actually happening to find the truth, but also to actually show where when the powers are misused, where corruption will grow, because this always follows when there is lack of balance of power and it needs even more than that.
It needs a freedom of speech, a free society where you are allowed to think, where you are allowed to speak freely to friends and people in your workplace without someone reporting you were telling what you said, because if you don’t allow people to free their minds, they will de facto not believe that they are free and they are not able to fulfill what is a free and open democracy. This is what we need to say. This is what we want to achieve.
And therefore, it’s so important that you are gathering today because you’re hoping for something better, like many people are doing all over the world in reaction to totally totalitarian rule and also these authoritarian rulers that we see all over the world. Your work is important, your work is important because people should not have to flee the country that they love, they should have a better country where they can live in freedom and create a better society together with others. So I hope for success, for your cause, and I hope that we will meet under better conditions some other year.
Thank you all.