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Karin Saarsen-Karlstedt, A Founder Of RFE/RL's Estonian Desk

Karin Saarsen-Karlstedt
Karin Saarsen-Karlstedt

One of the founders - in 1975 - of the Estonian Desk at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has passed on. Karin Saarsen-Karlstedt worked initially in Munich alongside Dr. Jaan Pennar (1924-1996), but eventually returned to Stockholm, continuing thereafter to provide Estonian-language features for RFE/RL as a stringer.

Saarsen-Karlstedt was born on December 31, 1926 in independent Estonia into the family of Colonel Villem Saarsen, who was the last head of the country’s military intelligence service before the forcible incorporation of the Baltic States into the Soviet Union. Her mother Halina (née Korab-Laskowska) was of Polish extraction.

She learned the art and trade of journalism in post-war London, which led to her working later as a freelancer for Agence France Presse and for Reuters from Scandinavia, among other assignments. Her byline was also well known in a number of Swedish periodicals.

She received her master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Stockholm in 1970, having focused on the work of the Russian novelist, poet, theorist, and literary critic Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev.

Saarsen-Karlstedt was a writer in her own right. She published several books of poetry and was also the author of more than one play. Her best-known body of fiction was an Estonian-language collection of short stories called The Conquerors (“Vallutajad”).

Always known as a person with a patriotic streak and as an active member of the Estonian community in exile, she taught Estonian to many children in the Swedish capital.

She was the chairperson of the Stockholm branch of the Estonian Writer’s Union, and also a member of the Pen Club. Her book of memoirs, Grand Hotel, Stockholm (and the Polish Summer), was published in once-again independent Estonia in 2006.

Those who knew her may remember her as a keen follower of the comings and goings of the royal families of Europe, and of the Swedish royal family in particular, and also as a big fan of equestrian sports, such as show jumping.

She had an extroverted personality, at least by Estonian standards. The phrase “they threw away the mold when they made her” is used to excess on occasion, but it’s just the simple truth when applied to Saarsen-Karlstedt, who may well have been one of the last aristocratic journalists to have graced our planet.

Karin Saarsen-Karlstedt passed away on January 25 in Stockholm. She is survived by a son.


Written by Juri Estam, a former journalist for RFE/RL's Estonian Service ( RFE/RL operated an Estonian Service from Munich from ​1975 to 2004.