Carl Bildt's comments about Ariel Sharon were controversial. Photo: Markus Schreiber/Oded Bality/TT

How should we talk about dead politicians?

Just like everyone else, politicians die. What then? Should we treat them with more respect, because they are recently departed? What if they are someone we disagreed with, for what they did?

This week there is a conference on Digital Diplomacy, including the use of social media for diplomats. Sweden's own Carl Bildt is giving a TED talk on this - and he is know for being very active on Twitter. But recently the foreign minister made a statement on Twitter that some found rather un-diplomatic.

"Ariel Sharon was a great leader of Israel. A brilliant military commander, but also a wise statesman seeing the necessity of peace."

This is not the same way that everyone feels about the former Israeli prime minister, defence minister and general.

In the early 1980s, as defence minister of Israel, he was held partly responsible for refugee camp massacres carried out by Christian militia in Lebanon.

Kerstin Lundgren is foreign policy spokesperson for the Centre Party, which is part of the same government as Carl Bildt. To Swedish Radio News she says she personally has a completely different image of Ariel Sharon, and that an analysis of his actions has to include the way he was involved in crimes against international law that happened in the Middle East.

Figures from the opposition Green and Left parties have bee even more critical.

Foreign minister Bildt himself says that some people can never see anything positive about Israel, but he is not one of them, and that it is important to bring out other things, and it is good form to "above all emphasise what is positive" about the deeds of a recently departed person.

Is that a rule that should always be followed?

Carl Bildt himself does not always follow that rule. When the president of Venezuela died, Bildt tweeted.

"Hugo Chavez was undoubtedly a charismatic and strong leader, but his policies led his country astray with grave economic consequences."

On that comparison Carl Bildt says there simply was not much positive to say about Chavez.
So what should we do, if someone we politically disagree with dies?

Radio Sweden asked Mats Danielsson, an advisor on politeness and good etiquette. He agrees with Bildt, that it is important to say the best things about a recently departed person.

But he also says it is possible to criticise the deeds a politician did, as long as you separate personality and actions. And he adds that saying negative things about teh departed is of no benefit, and it is often best to keep quiet.

And while Carl Bildt has, in his time on Twitter, written positive obituaries for Nelson Mandela, and eastern European politicians plus Ethiopia's prime minister and Margaret Thatcher, he has also passed over other figures, like Vietnam's general Giap.

This is a possible indication that, as Mats Danielsson says, if you cannot say anything positive, it is best to say nothing at all.

Loukas Christodoulou loukas.christodoulou@sverigesradio.se @loukas_rs

Radio Sweden has gone through all the political obituaries Carl Bildt wrote on Twitter:

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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