Sep 27, 2015

Have they forgotten their history? How is that even possible?

In my case it is Heikki. And my friend Susanna’s father Robert.

Heikki came with a name tag around his neck from Finland during the second World War. He was one of the 70 000 children evacuated from Finland during the war, one of the largest children transfers in the world, as far as we know.

Elisabet was a distant relative to me, a bit older than my mother, an intense talkative woman married to a silent and mellow man. They didn’t have any children of their own, and they adopted Heikki. My memories of Heikki are very vague, but the story the more vivid. The fact that he for a while was engaged to one of the biggest pop singers in Sweden, Siv Malmqvist, made his story even more intriguing. 

To me Heikki was somewhat of a shadow. Elisabet talked about him all the time, but I don’t know his occupation, and did he live in Stockholm? I think though, that he was a fragile soul, and he died quiet young, maybe even before his parents.

Robert was one of 200 000 Hungarians who fled their country at the failed uprising 1956, and the regained Soviet Union control of Hungary. 8000 people sought refuge in Sweden, and Robert was one of them.

He made a life for himself here. Studied, married and had two daughters, Susanna is the oldest. His two sons were still in Hungary, and by the time they came two the age of military service, Robert and his Swedish family made not only one but two dangerous and dramatic trips to Hungary successfully smuggling his sons, the young daughters half brothers, over the border, for a safe life in Sweden.

Those stories are like taken from a dramatic film with a happy ending. But all films don’t end well, reality exceeds poem, and today Europe is facing the largest refugee catastrophe and immigration challenge since the World Wars. People from mainly Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria are leaving their home countries because they have no choice, the voyage across the Mediterranean is true horror, and if they survive, the route to northern Europe is blocked by closed borders, barbed wires and water cannons.

I was born in 1956. The Hungary year. Most everyone in my generation knows a story like Heikki’s and Roberts. The stories of Finland and Hungary. Friends, friends of friends or family. The fact that Hungary today won’t let people even pass through the country is incomprehensible. Have they forgotten your history? How is that possible?

But the news reaching us this week makes me feel sick, maybe because it’s so close to me. People from Iraq are traveling through Sweden for Finland. Although Finland is a lot more restrictive when it comes to letting refuges into the country than Sweden, Finland consider Iraq more dangerous than Sweden does, therefore Iraqis feel their chance for asylum is higher in Finland, and they often have relatives there.

The Iraqis are traveling through Sweden on train. The land-border between Sweden and Finland is at the north end of the Bothnian Bay, the inland sea separating northern Sweden and northern Finland. The Swedish city Haparanda and Finnish Tornionjoki is practically one city, the border passing through it.

A week ago, Finns made a human wall at the border. People side by side, many in the Finnish hockey teams shirts (!) marking they wouldn’t let anyone in. The distance between Bagdad and Haparanda is 65762 km (4074 miles). That’s how far the refuges have traveled in unspeakable privations. And crossing the border, making it down to a refugee camp in southern Finland they were met by Ku Klux Clan look-a-likes, throwing stones and waiving blue-and-white banners: Go Finland go. Like this is a hockey match!! The dark Mississippi meeting the World Championship and the refugees are the hockey puck, or what?!!! And have they forgotten their history? How is that even possible?

Every night the trains with refugees are passing Umeå, making a stop here. People wanting to help out are there, providing them water, food, clothes and humanity. Today I have gone through my closets to see what I can do. I found four pair of winter shoes, sweaters, thick ski pants, two leather jackets and one big long beautiful beige wool coat. 

The coat is a favorite which for some reason doesn’t work for me anymore. For years I have been trying to give it away to someone who would really appreciate it, but failed. Now I am picturing a cold and scared woman, far away from home, being on the run for months, wrapped up in my warm coat, pulling the hood over her dark hair. And maybe she will even feel a little bit pretty, restoring a piece of her dignity.

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