Say:We walked towards his home and the dog scampered in front of us sniffing along snow piles. Hans’s cottage was almost invisible behind all the snow, and I would have probably passed by it without noticing it if I had not met him. When he opened the door, the warm air and the scent of burning wood struck my face. The fire crackled slowly in the stove, and Hans filled a saucepan with water and put it on top of the stove. The kitchen was sparsely furnished and there was just a bare wooden table and two chairs. The bright sunlight poured through the two square windows and lit dust particles dancing in the air. “I know it’s dusty,” he said, “but I never get visitors. Actually, you are the first in many years.” I looked around, and I saw books lining the walls, floor to ceiling. They were everywhere and made the little cottage even more cramped. I had never seen so many books in a home, and even before I knew more about Hans I had great respect for him.
“How long have you been in Sweden?” he asked when he served us coffee and some biscuits.
“Only eight months.”
“And speak so well Swedish.
And you speak such good Swedish.
And you speak Swedish so well.
Unless, of course, it is a direct quote. (I don't think so.)
It’s impressive. Tell me what you think of your new home
land.” (A person can only have one homeland.)
“Beautiful country. Clean. Well-ordered. Beautiful women and handsome men. The only problem seems to be coldness and long winters.” Hans nodded his head and snorted a kind of laugh.
“What do you know about Sweden?”
“Not much. I know it’s a neutral country. You haven't had war for hundreds of years.”
He scoffed. His grey eyes had a mischievous look.
“I know that ABBA won Eurovision song contest in the 1970s.
“Oh yes, more please,” he scoffed again.
“I saw some Bergman’s films, read some of Strindberg’s books, watched on TV Borg winning Wimbledon and Stenmark skiing.”
“That means you know practically nothing. Do you want to hear the truth, young man? Do you want to scratch the glossy veneer and see what is under it?” He ran his fingers through his grey hair. His forehead wrinkled. “But I have to warn you, it may change your view of this country forever.” Nobody had ever asked me such questions in my life and I did not know what to answer. Rex lay beside the stove, and I looked at him hoping he was going to give me some clue what to say, but the dog shifted his eyes to the window and stared at the spider spinning its web in the upper corner of the window frame. I was curious to know what the old man was going to tell me and I said, “Of course I want to know the truth. “ “Shell we start with you? Do you know why the Swedish government has given you and thousands of your countrymen shelter and residence permits?” “Probably because they took pity on us. They are compassionate and want to help people in need,” I said. Hans scoffed again. “Young man, don’t be naive. There are hundreds of thousands of people in Africa, Asia and South America who need help, but the Swedish government is not so eager to help them and bring them here. The truth is Sweden needs people to keep its economy going. You are Europeans, white, well educated, skilled and ambitious. The Swedish government got thousands of doctors, engineers, professors, dentists, craftsman and other professionals, and they did not spend one single crown on their education.”
His words suddenly opened my eyes. It had never crossed my mind that refugees could be seen as goods, but his remarks were spot-on.
“Compassionate?” Hans continued, “The 12th largest exporter of weapons in the world. You sell weapons to more than 60 countries, even to dictatorships, earn billions of dollars and then send some crumbs to Africa and call yourself the great humanitarian power. It’s called hypocrisy, young man. “You named ABBA, and Eurovision song contest. It was in 1974, a year when the Swedish government still sterilized its own people. Of course, they will never teach you about that because they are ashamed. Some maniacs founded the State Institute for Race biology many years before Hitler came to power, and then they started to measure people’s heads and other organs and decided to wipe out those who did not meet their criteria.
“As for our neutrality, that it is another myth for the gullible and ignorant. While brave and honest people in Europe fought Hitler and his killers, we made business with him earning enormous amounts of money. We sold him our ore and other precious metals, also ball bearings and timber, and we let his troop transports pass freely to Norway. And when the Russians attacked our neighbour Finland, instead of helping them, our government sealed the border. What kind of men are we?” Hans' face grew crimson with anger. His fingers clenched into a fist and he pounded on the table.
“Do people in other countries protest, go on strike, demand more rights and make revolutions?”
“Of course they do,” I answered. “Even in Yugoslavia during socialism workers protested and went on strike.”
“But that is a taboo here. You can flog a Swede like an old horse and burden him with the highest taxes in the world, and still he won’t complain.”
“That’s terrible,” I said, still not wanting to believe what he told me.
“It’s called indoctrination, young man. It’s going on in every country and society in the world, but here the establishment has mastered it as no other has.”
“But why nobody reacts? There must be some brave people who dare to say the truth.”people who dare to speak the truth. (Or: "But why does nobody do anything? There must be some brave people who dare to speak the truth.")
“Who would listen to them anyway? I tried once when I was a history teacher and my boss gave me a stern warning. None of my colleagues said a word to me, but they started to shun me. When we drank coffee in the staff room, nobody sat at my table. That was their way of telling me what they thought of me. In a dictatorship, they would have imprisoned me to teach me a lesson, but here you become a conformist by choice.”
“Is there any other way to fight the system?” “No. You’re either one of them, or you’ll remain an outsider and you’ll never be promoted. Of course, there is the third option –to live like a recluse, ignore society and people but have your full freedom instead.” He gave me a long stare as if asking me, “Are you strong enough for that?”
I had spent several hours in Hans’ company listening to his experiences and explanations, and the more information I got, the clearer picture of the country rose in my mind. To my dismay I understood that I had ended up in an autocracy, albeit more advanced and subtle than the Communism I had left behind in my homeland. Now I started to understand why the Swedes rushed to buy alcohol every Friday afternoon and drunk themselves into a stupor. The price of alcohol was high, and you could buy it only in special shops owned by the government, but despite that, the Swedes grabbed their bottles like amulets that would give them freedom for a few hours. Without alcohol and holidays spent abroad, the majority of them would mentally collapse and would spend the rest of their lives on antidepressants.
“I see you don’t like what you hear,” Hans said.
“I thought I had come to an ordinary western country,” I said.
“I can tell you how you feel. You believed you had married a beautiful virgin, but now you understand she is an ugly prostitute.” He laughed heartily and patted me on the arm. “Don’t worry, young man. In our great democracy, you’ll always have a choice. There is a warm house and a Volvo, and there is a cold cave, so suit yourself.
As I walked back towards the refugee camp, the sun had started to set, and the streak of pink outlined the hills. Only yesterday, I would have enjoyed the scene, but now it left me completely indifferent. I heard a rumbling of the train, and then saw a never-ending line of goods vans winding like a serpent through the snowdrifts, but I did not want to get my camera out and take a photo. I doubted I would take any photos in this country again. Hans’ words still echoed in my mind, and I was angry with myself that I had been duped by appearances. I promised myself I was never going to be an anonymous cog in the machine. I was going to fight the elite and their underlings. They had no right to control people’s minds. I felt strong and confident; I would break the invisible shackles of my fellow humans and show them the truth. I would start a revolution and throw the manipulators and propagandists into the sea. That afternoon I was full of hope and faith in humanity.
Little did I know then that two decades later I would end up a recluse, hiding from those I had wanted to save.
Student or Learner