Propaganda or hidden truth…?

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I would say I am a somewhat sceptical person. The news recently aired a speech wherein President Donald Trump positions Sweden in a bad light has come as a blow for a nation that is proud of their country. Although it has also resulted in people using it as an opportunity to ‘speak up’ about the issues they seem to face. It has prompted a debate and split the country into those that believe Sweden to have significantly deteriorated and want the right wing gvernment to take control of the situation, and those that defend the decisions and actions of their current leadership. 
In the past many believed their country to be superior and at least historically, have had good evidence to confirm that this is the case. The health system, education system, welfare system and the overall quality of life score has been in the top ten countries in the world, repeatedly. Their reputation therefore globally has been of a successful nation which they benchmark their change and transformation upon within their own countries. Many stil believe this to be true, even with the inlfux of immigrants over the years.  
Since coming as a child I have gradually seen the changes in Sweden both visually and through the stories and experiences my family and friends tell me. Although I spent the majority of my time in London with frequent trips to Sweden, strangely I found myself having a negative view of these changes. It made me feel uneasy. In London it was prfectly acceptable to have friends from various countries. In fact I very much enjoyed it. My best friend was always from somewhere exotic and never did I see a problem in having people around me that were from outside the United Kingdom. Maybe it’s because my own background was of different nationalities; my mother Swedish my father Greek Cypriot. Or maybe it was because I went to boarding school where there were people there from all over the world and it was exciting for me to hear about the places they lived and the traditions they enjoyed. I’d say being in contact with a mix of people from all over the world enriched my life and broadened my mind. 
Strangely and retrospectively, however, my visits to Sweden were the best parts of my childhood, mainly because there I was one of the family whiolst at home, as only child it was just my mother and I, and she was out,a lot. In Sweden I was a part of something that had a core, a culture, agreed traditions, and a respect for each other. I had an identity as one of them, even if I was a bit different. But I also cherished my time in Sweden because there I was allowed to wak to the end of the drive to pick up the post from the rickety wooden posbox, and even collect honey from the farmer at the end of the dirt track. It had nothing to do with when they have blond hair and blue eyes or even whether they were swedish or not, although in those days clearly most people were. In those days I was unique: the english girl. And people were fascinated with me and wantted to know more about where I lived and what life was like there. Secretly I wanted to be Swedish, but their acceptance of me and my background meant I could feel comfortable with who I was, whilst benefiting from their love, culture and embracing nature. Yes at times it was boring and yes I spent hour after hour in dark days that seemed to never end, wondering what I was going to do with my time. But somehow I managed to find things to do. In fact, it was this that prompted me to write fiction. My typewriter and my imagination became my best friend, the one that would sit me in the ‘pink’ room. My only obstacle was bedtime and when I ran out of paper. Not traffic, tube times, or the cost of various activities. 
I was desperate to leave London and live in Sweden but I was too young to make the decision myself. As soon as I was old enough I wanted to meet a man and have three children and have big family Christmases, just like my grandparents did. I wanted to give this magical world to my children. From a very young age I was consumed with the idea. More than career, friendship, travel, or anything else. However moving to Sweden seemed unachievable, certainly on my own. Perhaps if I met a man that was willing to move with me then it would be easier as I wouldn’t have to do it on my own. So when I did meet a man that’s exactly what I told him. I told him that if you want to be with me then he would have to move to Sweden, within two years. This is what I considered to be home and this is what I believed to be best for our new family. However the changes happening in Sweden made me hesitate, and when my husband dragged his heels, I didn’t protest too much. 
We ended up living in an industrial town in Suffolk, Haverhill, which on first glance looked like it was a good place to bring up children. It isn’t a bad place, but it certainly didn’t fit the dream I had in my head. I stuck with it. 
However the dream bug wouldn’t go away, however hard I tried. I didn’t go for a few years, mainly because with a new family I couldn’t afford it, but it just made it all the harder when I did go and I found myself filled with regret and even became jealous of those that lived in Sweden. What I wanted to do, move to Sweden, still felt like an impossible task, without a job, with a family, and without several thousands of pounds to support myself until I found a job. 
I pushed the dream to the back of my head and carried on with life, being everything for everyone else and no one for me. 
There were times when I tried, most seriously when my husband and I separated; I had organised a house, a school, and even managed to convince my ex husband to let me take the children. But I didn’t have a job or the support from family or money in the bank. I wasn’t even getting maintenance for the children from my ex husband. It wasn’t suprising therefore that at the I changed my mind at the last minute.
The dream took a backseat once again whilst I soldiered on. 
So years later I met another man; a kind gentle man 17 years my senior. He was good with the children and gentle with me. He had lost his wife through cancer and was looking to be part of a new family, mine. He had a lot to offer, mainly his kind nature and his strange sense of humour but also the ability to take care of things that I could not. We were a good team. We both didn’t like drama and it seemed like a very good foundation for a healthy marriage and healthy family. With a little gentle and innocent persuasion from the children, we were married within a year and a half from our first date. We were married in Sweden in the restaurant overlooking the Gothenburg archipelago. I had first come upon this gem when I was 14 years old looking for a place to stop for lunch with my mother. It was a perfect day. We were married on a boat on the water surrounded by islands on a beautiful day; the sun was shining high and the water sparkled beneath us. 
This was the beginning of the Swedish dream. 
Although when I talked to Nick about the possibility of moving to Sweden, again it had seemed unrealistic and not something that we were able to do for several years until the children were no longer at school. The compromise would be that we would have a summer house, when we could afford it. And I knew deep down that was unlikely to ever happen. I got a little comfort in seeing the reputation of Sweden gradually deteriorate and the frustrations of the members of my family increase. They regularly told me that England was a beter cuntry to live in, and I believed them to some extent. I didn’t like it that they weren’t happy with the situation, but at least I felt that I was in the right place to bring up a family, especially when I moved to a pretty market town in Essex, called Saffron Walden. However the amount of pressure being put upon me by the school to attent this event and plan that outfit, the children who constantly moaned that their friends didn’t have to go to ater-school club so why should they, and the pressure of work and their lack of sympathy if my child was sick or if I had to leave a lttle early to catch a train and get to the nursery before it closed. Add to this the hige childcare bill I had every month and I was at bursting point. How could anyone survive like this, being a less than ideal mother and a less than ideal employee. I knew in Sweden it would be different. 
Anyway, so, prior to getting married, we bought a large family house in Littlebury just outside Saffron Walden, renovating it, changing every wall, ceiling and floor, knocking down five walls in the process, and adding £15,000 worth of steel. It was a massive project and I was able to create the dream house I’d always wanted. I even called it ‘Hemma’ – Swedish for ‘home’ and asked the children to call it tht too. Surely this had to satisfy my dream. We moved into the house and I knew that something wasn’t right. I couldn’t get that sense of home. Whatever I did with the decor and the furniture I was never able to feel truly comfortable or at ease. Even the brand-new kitchen that we had created became an annoyance due to the loud echoing and bad acoustics. As a family we couldn’t have a conversation over dinner without walking away with a banging headache. 
I also became quite frustrated with the fact that there was nowhere I could walk the dog without getting in the car. There was a short quick once round the village but little access to parkland and countryside where you could freely roam without being shouted at by local farmers or sneered at by gardeners in the audley end estate. It was a lovely picturesque place to live and I was very happy with how the house looked, but I still found myself loking for something else. 
I began to search for property; not in England, but in Sweden. When we were married in Sweden we rented a large house just north of Gothenburg, in in the middle of a forest. It was an idyllic place, backing onto acres of forest with a track down to its own beach in front. It had its own jetty with its own boat. The views from the terrace were breathtaking. We were intrigued as to how much it would cost to buy a house like this, so when a friend informed us that she’d seen a poster in the window of a local shop that said it was up for sale, I couldn’t help but investigate. It turned out to be little more than the price of the house we’d bought in Littlebury. You mean I can have my own beach and wonder freely into the forest for the same money as I have a small garden and big house in England? Oh, I thought. Maybe this dream is worth another look. Surprisingly, this time my husband shared my views and seemed committed to making the dream a reality.
Coincidently, my new husband’s job involves him covering the region of Scandinavia as well as the UK and Middle East. So it wasn’t completely impossible that he should be able to retain his job and continue to work for the same company but be based in Sweden. I had left my full time employment with NHS transformation and was doing paid work as a consultant and coach remotely from home so could theoretically also be based anywhere. Food for thought, to say the least. 
So I launched myself from one project into another, from a large scale property development to planning an international relocation involving two adults and three children, and a dog and a cat.
Decided the house we had rented was not not quite right for us on a permanent basis, however beautiful it was. One of the issues I had with the large house in Littlebury was the financial liability of having a large mortgage in the UK so moving to Sweden offered a good opportunity to reduce the liability and have a more attractive mortgage, and invest any spare money into other propeties as an additional income. 
So we kept our eyes open, talked to friends and family about suitable areas and prepared ourselves emotionally for the move. It all still felt like a bit of an impossible dream that would never materialise, all just talk. After all, I had been talking about it for 36 years so why would this be any different? Anyway, I continued to plan for the relocation, the house, schools, the logistics, the dog, etc. Before I knew it, we found a house in a little harbour village called Kullavik, south of Gothenburg, bid on the property, won, exchanged contracts, and informed all of our friends and family that we were leaving. The most difficult part was telling the children. They’ve seen me go down this road various times. They’ve listened to their father tell them that it was never going to happen. They didn’t understand the gravity and the consequences of what I was saying and what this would mean for them. All they could do was trust me. And they did, thankfully.
So we are here now and we have been here for nearly 3 months. It is still new and we are still getting used to my new surroundings, and there have certainly been so quite difficult challenges, but so far it certainly seems worth it. We’ll take great pleasure in the freedom to roam, explore the woods at leisure, marvel at the sea and the sound of the water lapping the rocks. Children have benefited from a new culture where they are more independent and have more freedom. They are trusted to take on more responsibility like getting themselves to and from school, arranging play dates, and their learning at school. They seem happy. They are completely unaware of Sweden’s reputation being in jeopardy, Trump’s ignorant words about Sweden and the drama and the chaos that has resulted as a consequence.
One could argue that it is because we have chosen to live in a safe place we arein a bubble completely unaware of the conflict that goes on in the rest Sweden and that this isn’t a true representation of Sweden. That certainly could be true. However the same is true when we lived in Saffron Walden. There the local papers reported missing cats and tools stolen from sheds, not of murder or of rape. That doesn’t mean to say of course that those horrible crimes didn’t exist, but merely that the newspapers chose not to report them. The reputation of Saffron Walden as a proud wonderful place to live was vital to the people that lived there; in the same way that the people of Sweden wish to protect their reputation. This is a normal part of humanity. This is a survival mechanism that allows us to feel content and bring up our children ine what is perceived to be a happy and safe area. Perception of that area and whether we feel safe is arguably just as important as the level of actual crime.
So when my mother sent me an article from a UK newspaper, I can’t remember which one, positioning Sweden as a place where women didn’t walk the streets at night for fear of being raped or murdered, I became extremely defensive. How dare she question my decision to move my family to Sweden? I became concerned partly in case it was true, but more urgently of the risk that she mightfill my children’s heads with this horror when she soon visited. For me the perception was just as important as the reality. I didn’t know yet whether women actually felt like that in Sweden and whether I’d made the wrong decision to move my family here, including two young girls, but what I do know is that now we are happy, now we see beauty, now we feel freedom like never before, we feel accepted and have been welcomed graciously by neighbours and other people we have met in the last three months. We haven’t so far experienced any of this spoken fear and racism and of course I hope we never will.
From my perspective it seems as though our neighbours and new friends care more about how we respect others and the spaces in which we live than what colour our eyes are or what car we drive. And that is liberating, I can tell you. 
I’m not saying that I don’t believe that there is no civil unrest, racism or horrific crimes in Sweden. I’m sure there is some truth to the stories and the news. I’m just saying that it’s important to have a balanced perspective of Sweden and not only protect it’s reputation but also enable people to have a fair perception of the country, the decisions the government have made, and how this has impacted on the people, the positives and the negatives. Sweden has certainly changed significantly over the years
I remain neutral. I remain an objective observer. But I will also remain to be proud of Sweden and its identity, past, present, and future. Even if it does mean that this has all been a dreadful mistake, and I have to bring the family back to England. Something tells me, that’s not going to happen.

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