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The soap bubble
By Rebecka Liljeberg, SVENSKA DAGBLADET


(19-10-2000)

When I was a kid I lived in another world. A soap bubble of security, which certainly bursted frequently but still always restored itself. My life was not free from troubles but I had access to everything I needed. I had a mum and a dad who loved me and I went to a good school with good teachers and classmates. I was small, I could sit on my mums knee eating honey puffs with milk while the snow was whirling about outside.

Then in 1989 something happened. It was autumn and my father travelled to the Soviet Union, in the time of revolution and disintegration. He returned, probably with lots of thoughts in his baggage. But also with something else, which didn't turn up until much later. In the Soviet Union dad had met two young photographers and some of their friends. They were russian Jews and lived a life not particularly free from troubles, with poverty and unrests as part of every day.

Some months later suddenly two russian cousins came and moved into our apartment. Dad had, when in the Soviet Union, invited them via the swedish embassy. To be invited as a guest to another country was the only way for them to be granted a permission to travel.

Some weeks later dad would meet his friend Roman, who would visit us, at the boat from Finland. But as it turned out Romans friend and colleague Mischa was also there, invited by dad via the embassy. And his wife. And their five children. They had to take a taxi to our little two-room apartment in Bagarmossen, where I, dad and my kid sister together with the two cousins already resided.

Some hectic days followed, collecting mattresses and bedclothes, but somehow we managed to find space for everyone. Exactly why they had left Russia we never knew, but they had had a bad time and their children were small and thin. On the stove we cooked lots of food, mainly pasta and potatoes. MTV was on day and night, many of our things got broken and the queue to the bathroom was at least one hour in the evenings.

One day, soon after the arrival of the family, we went to the food store at ┼hlÚns. We were going to do big shopping, and had the whole crowd of russians with us. Their reaction when they saw all the food laying in drifts on the shelves and in the vegetable counters was indescribable.

"Tell us what you want and we will buy it" dad said.

But they were totally mute. Never had they seen so much food before. Finally one of their daughters managed to make us understand that she would like to taste some oranges. So we bought lots of oranges, and apples, bananas and toothpaste that didn't taste bad, milk which wasn't sour and coffee which wasn't substitute coffee. I suddenly realised that things which I took for granted weren't that obvious in other parts of the world. I realised for the first time that I belonged to a selected group of people who got a good life almost for free.

I don't know how we survived during that time. With dad's pay as the only income thirteen people were supported. But we made it and as far as I can remember we were also happy.

Some further weeks later the last person which dad had invited arrived, a lonely russian Jewess. Both the apartment as well as my fathers economy was exploited to the limit of its capacity. My father, my sister and myself escaped for a while out in the country to my grandmother's and grandfather's home. In the apartment there was chaos. When we returned a number of my sisters toys were gone or broken. Especially her absolute favorite, a big soft Mumintroll, which she still talks about and curses the russian children who lost it.

After many months and with help from the Jewish church in Stockholm everyone except one of the cousins were granted a residence permission in Sweden. We were then considerably poorer than before, but thousands of experiences richer.

I sometimes wonder what is happening to us people. I can't help but think that maybe we are evil from nature. But certain people's fight and struggle for the good side has one time after another refuted this to me. It's simply just a matter of not giving up, don't be lazy and don't be weak but use your strength to make something better. And the time to speak your mind is now. We can't just blame someone else. New technology makes us see almost everything. We know what is happening to our fellow beings in the world. But we close our eyes.

You almost feel like wanting to die. How can we accept oppression against women and how can we just look on while mad dictators practice national murder almost in level with Hitler? How can we accept states developing their defence instead of giving food to their starving people?

Now I think it's time to put an end to this damn neutrality. Start fighting with the power of words. Make sure that people all over the world can live their life with dignity.

It's terrible that the fight for justice often ends as soon we've got a fairly acceptable existence. If we don't feel like there is anything worth fighting for at home why can't we commit ourselfs to other countries fights for justice? But regrettably in Sweden it seems to be a bad thing to have opinions and fight for anything at all. And if your opinions could also be interpreted as radical, then you probably are a little bit crazy and spaced out. Maybe a remnant from the flower-power era? No doubt you are taking drugs as well.

My bubble burst to a certain extent during my familys russian period. I could see that the world was not a happy place. But I also started to understand lots of things then, things which have influenced my opinions on the struggle for human rights and a life with dignity for everyone. I realised that we are really not powerless in front of the injusticies of the world. I realised that all of us can help, if we have the guts and will to sacrifice a little.

Translated by Peter S