Thank God for Sweden
I had been to Sweden for the first time when over-killing of Yugoslavia was still on its’ beginning. It wasn’t the greatest fun and I had no particular desire to return. However, when a decade and a half later I started living with Anna, a “true” Swede, my travels to Sweden became regular and in time there appeared a distant possibility that “some day” we could go to there “for longer”. After having lived together in Belgrade for almost six years, at the end of last year we decided to come to Sweden “for longer”.
Many asked me: “What are you going to do there?”. I usually responded: “What do you mean … I’m going to clean the snow, naturally. Swedish snow is waiting just for me …” In fact, I had no idea what I will be able to do. I was convinced that as graybeard journalist , who doesn’t speak Swedish and comes from unpopular “non-EU” Serbia, I have nothing to hope for in my line of work. I had reduced my basic “mission” to three things: completing the paperwork, learning the language and finding some basic job, to earn for the piece of bread.
My imagination saw the paperwork as an infinite Kafkan operation. In the language from which I’m coming from, there is even an expression for that: ”a paper-science”. Getting the most ordinary thing done is a ”big science”. So, I was psychologically ready for the worst – the waiting, the nagging and all the unpleasant things connected with that. My experience thought me that this is the way it must be. Reality surprised me. My paperwork was done in a blink, with no trace of ”science”.
A few months before we started moving to Sweden, Anna and me filled in the immigration forms via Internet. Then an interview was scheduled for me in the Embassy of Sweden in Belgrade. It was a short conversation as the officer who interviewed me told me that the situation was “quite clear”. Within deadline, I received email notification saying that my case had been studied and that I am granted permission to live in Sweden.
After coming to Stockholm, I arranged, again via Internet, a meeting in the Immigrations Office. They took my fingerprint and photographed me for the I.D. And that was it. The whole ”operation” – making an appointment, waiting for the interview and having the interview – took all in all 12 minutes. Maybe 14. The following day, we traveled to visit Ana’s family in the north for Christmas Holidays, and when we got back on December 30, the envelope with the I.D. was already in the apartment (mailbox in Sweden is a part of the front door, so the mail goes directly into your apartment).
Next administration imperative was getting the personal number. People say that without it you can’t even join a library. You need to apply for the personal number in the tax administration building and you usually have to wait around six weeks to get it. Due to the fact that the officer who took my application had Serbian origins (she was born in Sweden) or because there was no queue due to holidays, or for some other reason, I got my personal number after only a week. So my first mission was completed in express fashion, from the second gear with no need to accelerate.
Personal number enabled me to join a language course and start learning Swedish and to register with the Swedish employment office. One of the employment offices is very close to our apartment and I went there. The officer helps me to fill in the form (which is in Swedish) and when we came to profession, she told me: “Aaa, you shouldn’t be here. Journalists register with “Kultur och Media” employment office …”
So I went there, filled a form and emailed later “proofs” that I worked in the media in my country in last three years (because that is what they required), and again, a few days latter, I received notification that I have been accepted and that I have an appointment with a mentor who works on cases of people who come from non-EU countries.
In the meantime, I received a letter from Migration Office saying that permanent residence was granted to me! When, still in Belgrade we were filling out forms, we needed to provide evidence of our life together. We submitted a mountain of photographs, bills for trips we did together and many other things. However, we were unable to find the proof of living on the same address. Anna was registered in the apartment, but I wasn’t, as people there don’t register temporary addresses, because they would need to change the documents, as well.
We went through the bills and a pile of papers many times, but no paper could be found saying that I had been living officially on our address. At the end, it turned out that our Internet and cable TV provider had in it’s archives something that we practically had forgotten – a contract for Internet package dating back in 2008 – with my name , my signature, and with Anna’s and mine address … That was the “crucial evidence”.
I was a bit nervous when I was getting ready to meet my mentor in the “Kultur och Media” employment office. I expected that to be “the moment of truth” when I will learn what can and can’t be done. I feared the truth could be very brutal. The reality surprised me again. My mentor Christina Lunden had studied my CV in advance; she commented how I can do different things and have lot of experience …
Not only was it clear that she wanted to help, but she also “pumped” my ego so that it turned out I had no idea about all the things I can do, how much experience I have and how I can be very useful for Sweden … . In Serbia, my knowledge, experience and contacts were completely irrelevant … Guys like me and knowledge in general became totally obsolete there.
The good think for me was that, according to my mentor, there is positive discrimination in Sweden towards the people coming from non-EU countries because of Sweden’s immigration policy (which was based on “adopting” of asylum seekers and refugees from all over the world). Through various relieves the (employment) office stimulates employers and that helps. The bad thing was that “there is crisis in the media in Sweden” and “many journalists are unemployed”. Not speaking Swedish wasn’t an advantage either…
At some point she suddenly got an idea and told me that the office once did a project with a media house who also does something in English. “I will photocopy you the business card of a woman I worked with, and you can send an email and a CV and let them know that you are here, so if something comes out of that, great …”
Also, as the entire database of Employment Office is also on Internet, she shows me how the browser works. She types in “Serbiska” (Serbian) as keyword and as the first on the list, there was and advertisement from bilingual culture journal “Dijaspora”, which was looking for a journalist/editor ”with a good knowledge of Serbian or Serbocroatian”.
That night, I sent emails to the addresses I was given and I attached my CV … and tomorrow, around noon, just after I came back from my SFI class, I had replies from both places.
“Does it suit you to come for an informal interview on Wednesday at 4 pm next week. David Isaksson, director of Global Reporting will be there as well”, wrote Anette Emanuelsson, whose contact was photocopied and given to me by Christina Lunden from the employment office.
“Please tell me about how your connection with Brazil came about”, was one of the first things David told me when I met him next week in the Global Reporting office. “That’s a long story”, I told him, “but let’s just say that Brazil, as colorful and crazy as it is is a proof that Yugoslavia was absolutely possible …”
I had no idea at the time that David in his 50 years traveled to close to 150 countries …
At the end of the informal interview I was told that, if it suits me, I can start the “praktik” with them right away. That is something like professional practice; the bottom line is that the Employment Office pays some sort of pocket money to the person doing the practice, and that this costs nothing to the company and also that the arrangement can be to mutual benefit. This can lead the person doing the practice to gaining experience, contacts and a longer term contract, while the company can also expand it’s expertise and in a simple way judge who does (not) suit it.
“I have another job interview and I will call you after that”, I told them.
Aco Dragicevic, founder and editor of magazine Dijaspora, came to Sweden as a refugee in the 90’s. He used to work on Radio Čapljina, and here, with the help of Swedish state, he started his own magazine in Serbian/Serbocroatian. In Royal Library he searched all titles in the language and he realized that there was never a culture magazine. Dijaspora wanted to fill that space. Despite the fact that there are more than 200,000 people with origins from former Yugoslavia living in Sweden, and that there is a long list of national asociations, there are very few (if any) magazines like Dijaspora, which managed to keep some continuity.
I had my first meeting with Aco, who lives in Sodetelie, a town close to Stockholm, in Kulturhuset (House of Culture). “I would most like to be able to tell you: come to work on Monday. Unfortunately, I can’t. When I sent that advertisement, I was counting on last year’s funds from the state. Unfortunately, that has been reduced and there are not many advertisements lately, as well … .” We agreed to stay in contact and collaborate when there is possibility.
The contract for my “praktik” in Global Reporting had to be approved by my mentor Christina Lunden from “Kultur och Media” office. “I will only approve the contract for three months. Companies have really good conditions if they hire someone like you and that is why they should not be allowed to take advantage of it … . I will call you in two, three weeks to check how you are doing. I will also call them…” Signing the contract, for the first time in my life I felt like I have a personal manager, someone who represents my interests and defends my rights; even those which I am not aware of.
Global Reporting. Media agency located in a spacey apartment in an old building in Stockholm’s Old town. The apartment is full of books, some of the colleagues are in slippers, socks; when you are reading something, there are also sofas to sit down and to lie down as well. The kitchen is quite big. Apart from it serving the purpose of a dining room, it is also used to receive visitors. “The point is to feel pleasant at work, like at home”, Lisa Jansson, a graphic designer next to whom I am sitting tells me.
During our first meeting everybody speaks English, so I can understand, everyone introduces themselves, say what it is they are doing … I considered even a possibility to become a part of such a story a privilege. My fist assignment was to write about “Swedishness”, how I see and perceive it. Story about (national) identity in this time of ours, when all around Europe there are all kinds of “newcomers” from all over the place, is a paneuropean and, consequently, a Swedish topic as well.
Who is the “true” Swede? Can someone who is not a blond “Svensson” become that? Are there typically Swedish characteristics, phenomena? Which are they? It seems that those questions remain interesting and “hot” here … and David gave his collaborates – from Ethiopia, Belarus, Iran, Bosnia and, now from Serbia – a space for meditation and contemplation about those topics.
Bit by bit I started to understand what it is that Global Reporting also does. It is a small private company with around 10 employees and many outside collaborates which fights for business and clients in the area of media consulting on Swedish, European and global market. To put it simply – they apply when there are tenders and live of the those they win.
Everyone is also a sort of a “media entrepreneur”, to whom Global Reporting, with its reputation, contacts and 20 years of experience helps to win a tender. So, relatively soon, I got involved in the “game” as well. I knew that The Swedish Institute has developed a competition program “Creative Force” which supports “international exchange from which new quality is created”, so I started developing my own project …
I adapted idea of the Global Village radio show which I did in Belgrade to Swedish (and European) framework and sent my proposal to the address of the Swedish Institute. Less than one month later, Swedish Institute’s Committee decided to approve financing for my project called “Trans Europe Express” … . In their explanation, they said that that they consider the idea to be very interesting, innovative and I don’t know what else…
The following day I signed with Global Reporting a contract for my first job and a real salary. When I went to the Employment Office to tell Christina Lunden that my project received financing, she was as happy as my mother. My colleague Peo Önstedt, who works in Global Reporting administration, told me that “a woman from the Kultur och Media office sounded exhilarated over the phone because of my contract …”
And so I work. For a salary. What I suggest, my Swedish colleagues listen to with attention. This is a society which, thanks to innovative ideas and good, rational organization, got to where it is right now. And in many ways it is at the very top, in global terms. I am happy that I was able to find my way in such a society easily and pretty fast. Thanks to, among other, some ideas.
Some people tell me: “You were lucky”. Anna tells me: “This is the first case I know of when the Employment Office helped someone. It never helped me.” Petra, Anna’s friend tells me: “There are many people which wait for years to get a “praktik”, let alone a job … :” Richard keeps telling: “Discrimination is terrible and Sweden isn’t what it used to be …”
Yes, perhaps I was lucky. At every step I found right people in the right places. They helped me by doing what their job description tells them to do. Such luck is unimaginable in Serbia.
I feel kind of like Woody Allen at the end of “A Hollywood Ending”. Woody Allen plays a director who hasn’t shot anything in many years, so when after so much time he finally gets funding for a film, he blinds from neurosis at the beginning of the shooting. However, he makes the film completely blind, with the help of a Chinese assistant, pretending to see.
In USA, the film meets horrible reviews and director is called a blind man and an idiot. A few months later, the film is received in France as masterpiece, and the director is called a visionary and a genius. When newspaper arrives from France with reviews, Woody Allen reads it, giggles (in his way) and says: “Thank God for France”. From my current perspective, I keep smiling (like Woody Allen:-) and saying: “Thank God for Sweden”.
I am not young and naive to believe in paradise(s). There are also my Swedish friends who remind me all the time that Sweden is not ideal and that the things are not what they used to be … . Nor am I ideal or how I used to be”, I say to them. “That is why, I suppose, this imperfect Sweden suits me so well …”