House of Sweden, Not Just a Dream

By Nora Boustany
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Who said diplomats can't be dreamers?

Ten years ago today, the inaugural Diplomatic Dispatches column recounted how Henrik Liljegren , then the Swedish ambassador, spent sleepless summer nights thinking up ways to make reality of his vision of an idyllic chancery on the banks of the Potomac. Tonight Swedish Ambassador Gunnar Lund will launch the first event at the almost-complete House of Sweden.

Special guests will gather for an intimate preview dinner and seminar, followed by dessert and dancing in the stylish complex. The Swedish Embassy will be the anchor tenant, joined by offices of Swedish companies, apartments and an event center.

Liljegren's initial challenge was to sway his country's National Property Board to shell out $16 million for the prize location -- between the Kennedy Center and Washington Harbor -- and for construction.

His wish remained frustrated when he left his post in 1997. But creative funding that brought in private Swedish money eventually lessened the burden on Swedish taxpayers and helped win over the property board, which falls under Stockholm's Finance Ministry.

The building, Lund explained yesterday, reflects Sweden and its values, "transparency and accessibility, with a lot of glass, stone and warm wood colors in the interior."

Tonight's event will "give some people in Washington a chance to take a peek at what is in store," he said. The complex, co-designed by renowned Swedish architect Gert Wingardh , will be a place for members of the public to meet and interact.

King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia plan to be on this side of the Atlantic for the official inaugural ceremony on Oct. 23, along with Foreign Minister Jan Eliasson , who as ambassador here helped push the new embassy idea through.

Pressing Cuba on Internet Access

Cuba is under pressure to eliminate restrictions on Internet access that are enshrined in legislation there. Making the demand is Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which is part of the Organization of American States.

The Washington-based office said Monday it had been "informed of the critical state of health of the director of the Cubanac?n Press news agency, Mr. Guillermo Fari?as , who has been on hunger strike since January 31, 2006, in protest against the lack of free access to the Internet in Cuba."

"The right to freedom of expression imposes an obligation on all States to devote adequate resources to promote universal access to the Internet," the Washington-based office said, quoting from a joint declaration issued in December 2005 by various multilateral and private groups that track restrictions on expression.

Prince Charles on Religion

In addition to architecture and the environment, the prince of Wales has taken on the murky debate over the clash, or non-clash, of civilizations.

Prince Charles has written the inaugural work in a new series being published by the University of Maryland, "Essays on the Alliance of Civilizations." The series is part of a U.N. initiative proposed by the prime ministers of Spain and Turkey at a time of tension between Islam and the Western world.

In his essay, "Religion -- the Ties that Bind," the heir to the British throne rejects as "dangerously simplistic" the notion of a clash of civilizations. He cites destructive and fanatical tendencies on all sides that make the world increasingly dangerous, and recognizes "universal truths" shared by the major faiths.

"I know only too well how one's faith can be challenged, having lost a much-beloved great uncle, Lord Mountbatten, in an I.R.A. terrorist bomb in 1979," he wrote. "But I remember how it gradually dawned on me that thoughts of vengeance and hatred would merely prolong the terrible law of cause and effect and continue an unbroken cycle of violence."

He also recalls the words of Mohandas Gandhi: "An eye for an eye, and soon the whole world is blind."

Suheil Bushrui , a University of Maryland professor who is co-directing the project, said that "the daily violence of words and actions spreads like a fever across cultures and borders. Yet academic and international dialogues seem too often to focus on mere symptoms and not the infection. We need to change the tone and look for ways to harmonize and integrate cross-cultural discussions."

The U.N. initiative was conceived with a mandate to "bridge divides and overcome prejudice, misconceptions, misperceptions and polarization which potentially threaten world peace."

The plan is to publish a new essay every six months. Future writers are to include Karan Singh , a former Indian official and diplomat; the Dalai Lama ; and Federico Mayor , former head of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

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