The historical day has come: I am holding in my hand two passports, a Russian and a Swedish one. In an earlier post, I wrote about the journey to obtaining Swedish citizenship, which I hope may be useful to other newbies or not-so-newbies settling in Sweden. When I wrote it, someone asked me: So how does it feel, to be a Swedish citizen? In this post, I will try to answer that question.
Becoming a Swedish citizen…
Once upon a time, a European passport was one of those impossible dreams for me. It represented the most desired things: the freedom to travel, speak different languages, see the masterpieces of European culture, meet free, confident and happy people – so I imagined it in my teen years. But I never planned to move towards this dream in any systematic fashion. (I even swung in the opposite direction and married an Asian man!) It kind of just happened, as a by-product of LIFE. And if anyone should be blamed (or rather thanked) for it, it should probably be the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess.
I came to Sweden because I wanted to study sustainability – and already in the first few days got acquainted with Arne Naess’s ecophilosophy. (Incidentally, I loved the ecophilosophy as much as I loved the name – and as I am writing this, my little Arne is playing in pre-school). My future husband visited me many times in Sweden and grew his own roots into the Northern soil. We filled out the papers for our first work permit in Goa, two days after our Indian wedding, and a year later Sweden became our home away from home.
There were reasons why we came here, and reasons why we stayed, and reasons why we questioned if it was the right place for us. But we stayed on, and five years later we have got Swedish passports.
…and how it feels
When I was (much) younger, I always felt that having a European passport would make my life very different, or I would be a different person in some way. And it turned out to be entirely true. I am a very different person, and my life is very different – but of course, not because my photograph is plastered into another passport, but because the person in front of the lens has been shaped by the experiences she has had. In the same way perhaps as the experiences of marrying into an Indian family and binding myself to India have shaped me – not the fact that I have the Overseas Citizen of India card.
A new citizenship is a new milestone, and a great thing about milestones is that once you reach them, it is very natural to stop for a little while and reflect on the road that has taken you here, and how it feels to be here, in this very place, at this moment.
So, I feel…
… happy to be part of this fascinating nation
Truth be told, my road to Sweden didn’t actually start with Arne Naess. It started in my early childhood, when Moomins were my favourite book characters. I would need to write a whole new post to fully reveal how the Moomin world translates in the Swedish one, but in a nutshell, it would sound something like this:
I have always been fascinated by Moomins’ (and Swedes’) profound sensitivity to the inner and outer world, and the connection between the two.
This may sound abstract, but this feature has very concrete consequences which many will recognise.
- The love for fika signifies the deep understanding of the need for regular breaks to be able to effectively deal with problem-solving of everyday life and remain creative.
- Scandinavian design is well-known for comfort, elegance, and simplicity and is a result of keen observation of natural principles and human needs.
- The incredible determination to be out in nature in all kinds of weather and the ability to harmoniously ‘blend’ structures and activities into the natural landscapes are present in the Swedish mentality to such a high degree that they border on religion.
- The Swedish success in incorporating equality, freedom and broad general education into the foundations of society, in actually making these principles work for the vast majority of the population, also lies in this acute awareness of the inner world of an individual and how it connects to the societal world.
This awareness-sensitivity is something that I find fascinating. It may be present more broadly to the Nordic North, but Sweden is the country where I most directly have experienced it. I think it is the invisible magical component behind the world’s (fleeting) fascination with ‘hygge’, ‘lagom’ and all things Scandi. And I am deeply happy to live in, be part of, and see from the inside the workings of the fascinating Moomin world.
… welcomed home
In another post, I described my encounter with a Swedish immigration officer at Arlanda airport. Long before I had citizenship or even a permanent residence permit, he said the magical words: ‘Välkommen hem’.
Where’s the punchline, you ask? The thing is, I had never heard this phrase from a Russian immigration officer. Not once in my whole lifetime. I’m still waiting for it.
These words had a magical effect on me, because all my muscles relaxed, and I felt at home. I felt great. I went down the stairs, looking at everything with new, fresh eyes. It was a bit like falling in love. I felt I lived in a state which values its citizens and SEES them, not just as the Big Brother but for their intrinsic value as individuals. I felt SEEN, not invisible. Blue-eyed? Of course. So we become when we fall in love. I had never experienced any kind of positive acknowledgement before from a representative of any state.
But the first time I truly felt at home was when I went home from the hospital with my new-born son. It was a cold, sunny winter morning, and the taxi took us through the whole city, from south to north. My son slept through Slussen, through Stadshuset, through the lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea. I looked at all of it and, in all the dizziness of the previous three sleepless nights, felt like I belonged somewhere incredibly beautiful.
… grateful for the care
The time when I felt cared for most was when I was pregnant and giving birth because this is when you need the most care, support and guidance.
When I thought of having a child, I imagined for some reason that I would go back to Russia for that. I guess I felt scared to go through this experience in a foreign country. It is strange to remember that I was thinking that way. First of all, of course, it’s completely impractical. But more importantly, it doesn’t make sense, because Sweden, for me, turned out to be the best country for becoming a mother.
I received tremendous amounts of care and support, from friends and from the healthcare workers who smoothly and aptly saw me through the long, long processes of pregnancy and childbirth. I could not have dreamt of a better experience. (To be fair, I also got a lot of support from my Russian family and online from a doctor and therapist Elena Volzhenina.)
As I’m thinking of more instances of being cared for here in Sweden, my heart starts to fill over. I stayed in a beautiful home and received a lot of help to get set up; was driven back and forth with all my possessions when moving, significantly more than once; lived with a wonderful family in Uppsala, and shared many special moments with them, partaking in each other’s lives, and they welcomed not only me but my friends and family; enjoyed incredible hospitality all over the country, from people of all ages.
It feels even more special to watch my child being taken care of by his Swedish preschool teachers. I could never have imagined that I will have a little son who will live in the world of the Moomins, Peppi and Ronja, and go on a picnic to the park with fröknarna. And they are incredible – but perhaps that also deserves a separate post.
… humbled to inherit the shared Swedish-Russian history
Yes, we’ve had our moments. There was a lively exchange between Scandinavia and the lands known as Rus during the Viking times. We share common words like ‘torg’ (in modern Swedish and Russian ‘square’ and ‘bargain’, respectively; in the respective language prototypes they meant the same thing – a market-place).
The first of the two Russian dynasties had a Scandinavian origin; the Russians just ‘hired’ Scandinavians to reign their nascent state, as today someone would head-hunt a CEO for a company. Both Russian dynasties had marriages with the Swedish royal family members. And of course, we fought – a lot. The greatest opponent of Peter I was the Swedish king Karl XII – and when he died, Peter was sad, as if he lost a dearest friend. The statue of Karl XII in Kungsträdgården is pointing across the Baltic Sea – towards Russia. Bronze Horseman, the statue of Peter I of Russia in St. Petersburg, is pointing towards Sweden – or perhaps the Baltic in general?
… privileged to belong to the European society
And finally, being ‘Swedish’ is inseparable from being European, and here I again need to emphasise my roots. Russia is neither Europe nor Asia – and yet, paradoxically, it is both Europe and Asia. Even more paradoxically, it is a third entity, a civilisation in itself.
There is a way of writing and reading the entirety of Russian history as a juxtaposition of two forces: the one which pushes it towards Europe, and the one which pushes it away from it. But however it may be, our historical and cultural ties are much tighter than most people on both sides think (or prefer to think).
Holding a European passport to me today feels natural, almost inevitable, as a symbol of everything I love about Europe and everything that my country has learnt, adopted and defended in its more than a thousand-year history.
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