Sunday, July 23, 2006

Convicted Soviet Spy Member of Swedish Left Party

The former Soviet spy Stig Bergling has been member of the Swedish Left Party (v, Vänsterpartiet) since the beginning of this year, it became clear in an interview he gave to the largest Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter. Officially it is no problem for the party that a convicted spy has become an active member, «because has done his time in prison, and everybody deserves a second chance».

Who's Stig Bergling? He started to work for the Swedish security service Säpo, but as an officer in the military reserves he also worked for Defense and had access to secret information about Swedish military installations. During a mission for the UN in Lebanon in 1973 he sold documents to the GRU, the military intelligence service of the Soviet Union, but after his return to Sweden he continued to work for the Soviets. Eventually he was arrested in 1979 by the Mossad in Israel, and that same year by a Swedish court sentenced to lifetime in prison for espionage.

In 1987 he managed to flee from prison in Norrköping in a spectacular escape, and through Åland and Helsinki he found his way to his old employer, the Soviet Union. He lived for a while in Moscow and later in Hungary, but left for Lebanon in the autumn of 1990. He voluntarily returned to Sweden in 1994, and did his remaining three years in prison.

In his interview with Dagens Nyheter he says he did it mainly for the money, and calls himself not a communist. The latter is a rather hot potato in the former communist Left Party since the controversy around Lars Ohly in 2004. In a research and an interview for the Swedish national television channel SVT some rather undemocratic aspects of the current party president had come to the surface, and he was questioned and attacked about them in the interview. He defended himself by saying that someone who calls himself a communist not necessarily endorses a Soviet style communism. However, further research had shown that he had called himself a Leninist until as late as 1999. In the aftermath of the interview almost all national Swedish politicians, from the right to the social democrats, insisted that he would stop calling himself a communist, but he refused. Only a year later, on 30 October 2005, Lars Ohly said on Swedish television that we would stop to do so.

Whether the president of the Left Party isn't allowed or doesn't dare to call himself a communist any more – it seems to me more important what his real ideology is rather than how he labels it – today, the party has a former and convicted Soviet spy in its ranks. Officially this is not a problem for the party: he has done his time in jail, and just like everybody else he deserves a second chance. (And asked whether they were afraid he would sell the party strategy to political opponents, they said they were confident that would not happen.) However, a question that immediately pops up in my mind, is whether the party would be equally forgiving if Stig Bergling had sold Swedish military secrets to, let's say, the CIA. Or is it possible that the party makes a difference between a peccadillo (spying for the Soviet Union), and mortal sins (spying for the United States)? Maybe even more remarkable is that the party allows someone to become member who didn't spy out of pure conviction, but first of all for the money. Or at least claims he did so. Does this for example mean that if the Americans had offered him more money, he would have sold the information to them? Perhaps something the Left Party can reflect upon this summer.

Currently, the Left Party supports the social democrat minority government of Göran Persson, together with the Green Party (mp), from the opposition. It has however announced that it will not support a new left government after the general elections in the fall of this year, unless it can join the coalition, because it wants to have more influence on government policies. The party labeled itself communist until 1990, the year of the fall of Iron Curtain.