Unique UN meeting in idyllic Backåkra

Published 18 May 2018 in:

Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström at the meeting in Backåkra.

There was a hint of summer in the air on that Saturday morning in April when the United Nations Security Council cortège advanced along the tiny gravel road towards Dag Hammarskjöld’s farm, Backåkra, outside Ystad on Sweden’s southern coast. For the first time ever, the Security Council held its annual working meeting outside the United States.

Outside the half-timbered farmhouse, dating back to 1840, the flags fluttered in the fresh breeze. The blue of the UN next to the blue and yellow of Sweden. World politics had come to the flatlands of Skåne for one day.

The cattle in the meadows must have wondered: what is happening?

With Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and Minister for Foreign Affairs
Margot Wallström as hosts, the Security Council would discuss the crises in both Syria and North Korea.

“I believe that when we sit in here, surrounded by Dag Hammarskjöld’s bookshelves, we are reminded that the world needs the UN and political solutions more than ever,” said Ms Wallström.

Indeed, this was the first time that this annual working meeting took place outside the United States. The meeting was originally intended to focus on the future of the UN’s peace support work – how the UN’s peace-keeping missions can be strengthened and made more effective – but now the discussions were clearly marked by developments in the Syrian crisis and the suspected chemical weapons attack just a few weeks before the meeting.

By the entrance to Backåkra, the bust of Dag Hammarskjöld surveyed the assembled UN ambassadors, ministers, journalists, and the curious cattle.

“It is fitting to remember Hammarskjöld’s words: ‘There is only one world!’,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Dag Hammarskjöld loved Österlen and spent his summers in a little fishing cottage by the sea. He bought Backåkra, a mid-19th century farm built around a central courtyard, in 1957.

He had planned to retire there after completing his appointment as UN Secretary-General. He had the farm renovated and decorated under the watchful eye of his good friend and artist Bo Beskow. Unfortunately, Dag Hammarskjöld never got the opportunity to retire to his beloved Österlen.

He died in an aircraft accident in Ndola, modern-day Zambia, during a UN mission in 1961.

In his will, Dag Hammarskjöld left Backåkra to the Swedish Tourist Association (STF).  STF transformed the farm into a museum where Dag Hammarskjöld’s private possessions and gifts from around the world were exhibited together with furniture and art from his apartment in New York.

According to Dag Hammarskjöld’s will, STF was asked to create a gathering place for the preservation of nature and culture, and a place for meetings on topics in the interest of the United Nations. The Museum was closed in 2011 due to a pressing need for large-scale renovation, but was recently re-inaugurated by Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström.

Dag Hammarskjöld was Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1953 to 1961. He is one of the Swedes best known around the world in modern times. As General-Secretary, he successfully developed the UN and resolved a large number of crises around the world.

United States President John F. Kennedy called him the “foremost statesman of his time.”