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Hard-hit Sweden still mourns tsunami losses

Hundreds of Swedes still go for counseling a year after the tsunami hit them harder than any other country outside Asia.
MISSING POSTERS
The missing posters of tsunami victims from Sweden fade in the tropical sun near Phuket, Thailand, on Nov. 10.David Longstreath / AP file
/ Source: Reuters

Hundreds of Swedes still go for counseling a year after the tsunami hit them harder than any other country outside Asia.

“One year is not a long time when one has lost a relative. It is a myth that it takes one year to recover,” said Kristina Brandenge, who organizes therapy at the Ersta Deaconess charity.

Up to 300 people attend her counseling sessions, including relatives of the 543 Swedish tourists who were killed when the tsunami crashed into Thai holiday beaches last Dec. 26.

For Sweden, a country known for its traditional reserve, the toll is as much emotional and political as it is physical.

The experience of the Swedish families, who share their grief with others in the same situation and listen to experienced counselors, is mostly personal.

“The groups will continue for as long as they are needed. Some people have lost all their children and they must be able to meet for as long as necessary,” Brandenge said.

The tsunami, which had a toll of 231,000 dead or missing in countries around the Indian Ocean, still makes headlines in Sweden.

In some ways the whole of the Nordic state is still experiencing the aftermath -- including a serious political row about government failure to support thousands of Swedish holidaymakers who survived the wave and needed help.

Political toll
The dispute could sway voters in elections next September, when Social Democrat Prime Minister Goran Persson aims to extend his decade of rule.

“This is one of the largest catastrophes to hit Sweden in modern times,” said politics professor Soren Holmberg.

An independent commission this month was unusually severe in its criticism of politicians and officials, accusing them of being slow to realize the extent of the disaster and the fact many Swedes were involved.

It heaped ultimate blame at Persson’s door but also highlighted failings by Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds and senior Foreign Ministry personnel. The fallout may drag on for months. Parliamentary hearings are due to be televised.

So angry are some Swedes that the security police have decided to start a threat assessment for some individuals cited by the commission.

The report also caught a wider feeling of angst in a society where the state, symbolized by a strong welfare system, has been viewed in the past as a reliable support for its people.

Swedish newspapers have kept up strong coverage of the disaster with reports on survivors and the identification process while television stations have run several documentaries.

Of the 543 people killed, 17 remained to be identified -- 12 children and 5 adults.