It was a sad occasion when the Swedish Consulate General of New York held its farewell party at the beautiful consular residence on Park Avenue, where in the past so many interesting projects have been celebrated and so many fascinating people have had reason to gather.
For Swedes in this part of America, it's difficult to fathom how such a decision could come to pass. New York is, as we all know, not only the city of bright lights that we here are proud to call home, it is also the unquestionable capitol of the world in art, film, fashion, food and entertainment. Sweden has been heavily and beautifully promoted by the talented and hardworking staff of the consulate. What has it meant? That a piece of the Big Apple, a good piece actually, has been distinctively blue and yellow. While the Consulate General of Sweden will indeed close at the end of this month, an Honorary Consulate will open at 445 Park Avenue, 21st floor. The Honorary Consulate General will be responsible for Swedish commercial, cultural, and public affairs in New York, working closely with the embassy in Washington.
"You all know why we're here tonight," said Consul General Alf Karlsson about the somber occasion. "Thank you all from me and the staff. We've had an ongoing and long-lasting cooperation in many fields; we hope this will continue."
Artist Hans Frode, photographer Kristofer Dan-Bergman and artist Peter Åström all feel it is a tragedy that the consulate is closing. "It's a pity a lot of networking will disappear as well," said Hans.
"Sad and short-sighted," said Commissioner Brian Andersson about the decision to close the consulate. "Hopefully it will be restored to the level it should be." Singer Eva Engman said, "You cannot put a price tag on what they've done at the consulate through the years. Visitors won't get the same kind of help anymore."
Artist Ragna Berlin and Gunhild Ljung from Svenska Skolan in New Jersey. "It's shocking," said Ragna. "I suppose we shall see what happens next." "New York is the capitol of the world; it's an unsettling decision," said Gunhild.
Inga-Britt Ahlenius, Under-Secretary-General for United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services, also thinks the decision hard to grasp. "I've written to Carl Bildt about it," she said. "This is the capitol of the world, a center for fashion, a center for art ... and Sweden is not represented?"
"It's tragic because New York is an important place for Sweden in America," said Maud Hendler. "This is where the pulse is. Washington is all politics, but New York has everything else. And what will happen to Swedes in New York who need help now?"
Tour guide Harriet Nielsen and Anne Sitrick were also upset. "Iceland has no money whatsoever," said Harriet. "But they do have an open consulate in New York City. And this is not all about PR for Sweden, it's so much more. It's impressive what they've done at the consulate here." Anne added: "I've a feeling that in Sweden they don't understand the importance of having a consulate in New York. There are probably more Swedes in this city than anywhere else in the U.S. The consulate has played a big part in the community."
"I don't think it'll stop just because the consulate is closing down. Swedish-American commerce is old. It's the government's decision, not a commercial one. The Swedish branding will continue without the foundation of a consulate," said James Cecil, President Cadence Communications.
"It's been a wonderful experience to promote Sweden in New York. It's been so much fun. I'm happy our presence here will continue, but at the same time it's sad to leave a fun job," said Helén Daun-Rosengren, who worked at the Consulate as Officer for Cultural and Public Affairs.
Johan Brunkvist also worked at the Swedish Consulate General in New York as Officer for Cultural and Public Affairs. "I don't think anyone here feels this is good, everybody thinks it's strange," he said.
Kyle Reinhart, Film and Cultural Programs Coordinator at Scandinavia House and Magdalena Herrgård, Media Relation Coordinator at Consulate General of Finland. "It's a difficult situation," said Kyle. "This was such a wonderful source of promoting Sweden." Said Magdalena: "It's a horrible thing to happen, but we're looking forward to working with the staff at the honorary consulate."