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The Ambassadors: ‘Sweden is a champion of innovation – that’s important to us’

The ambassador of Bangladesh to Sweden tells The Local about the two countries' long-standing diplomatic relations – and what has surprised him the most about living in Sweden.

The Ambassadors: 'Sweden is a champion of innovation – that's important to us'
Bangladeshi ambassador Mehdi Hasan and King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. Photo: Lisa Raihle Rehbäck/Kungl. Hovstaterna

Swedes may have a reputation for being a reserved kind of people, but it was actually the friendliness and helpfulness of strangers that first struck Bangladesh’s ambassador Mehdi Hasan about his latest diplomatic posting.

He recollects trying to catch the train on his first day in Sweden.

“I was looking at the board for the direction and which platform to take. In just a few seconds I heard a voice saying ‘may I help you?’ It was a Swedish gentleman ready to help. I told him I was new and was looking for information. He said ‘come along with me, I will show you’. He explained it to me and showed me everything,” Hasan says.

He also fondly remembers the woman who took the time to, in the rain, show him the way to the nearest bus station and explain the routes in detail, as well as all the strangers who’ve offered to help him in supermarkets and other places in his eight months in Sweden.

“They do so willingly, so happily, with a smile on their faces. That’s really amazing.”

Hasan’s diplomatic career spans decades, and it’s taken him to places as diverse as India, Russia, France, Bahrain and Hong Kong, moving every two-three years.

But he’s actually a trained engineer, just like many of his compatriots in Sweden.

“We have around 60 to 70 doctors working in Sweden, we have engineers, we have lawyers, we have business people. There are also researchers and every year about 300-400 students come here to study,” he says about the Bangladeshi diaspora in Sweden.

With so many compatriots running restaurants in Sweden, an estimated 300 in all, Hasan doesn’t miss much food from home beyond the kacchi biryani served at weddings in Bangladesh.

People have been moving from Bangladesh to Sweden since the former gained its independence in 1971. Sweden was among the first countries to recognise it as an independent state and last year they celebrated 50 years of diplomatic relations.

“Since then, Sweden has been our partner in our development process. We share a lot of common positions like on climate issues, peace, women, development and also multilateral forums where we support each other,” says Hasan. 

He mentions too the considerable financial and logistical support Bangladesh receives from Sweden in sheltering the estimated one million Rohingya refugees who have fled persecution in neighbouring Myanmar.

Each year, he notes, the embassy welcomes the Bangladeshi community in numbers to join in celebrations to mark National Day on March 26th and Victory Day on December 16th.

Hasan adds that Bangladesh draws on lessons from Sweden in its stated goal of becoming a developed nation in 2041.

“Sweden is a champion of innovation. They have adopted a lot of smart solutions and climate friendly initiatives. For us in Bangladesh, those things are very important.

“We will not only become a developed nation, but we will make it a smart Bangladesh. I understand that we have a lot of things to learn from Sweden there, and we are engaged with the concerned departments and agencies who are working in this field.”

Why is Bangladesh a key production market for H&M? And how many Bangladeshis live in Sweden? For more from our interview with Ambassador Mehdi Hasan, tune in to the Sweden in Focus podcast: 

Listen & Follow: Apple | Spotify | Google

Interview by Paul O’Mahony, article by Emma Löfgren

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