A tale of two countries
The good folk among you who have been regularly reading Strawberries and Salt – bless each and every one of your international hearts – may remember that I applied for Swedish citizenship back in September (new arrivals are very welcome to read that soul-searching saga “To Swede, or not to Swede…” here under the That’s Life category) and lo and behold, my application was granted last week. I am now an officially fully paid-up Swede. And a Brit. And soon to be the bearer of not one but two passports that a good many less-fortunate people in the world would sell a body part to acquire.
To say I feel privileged would be the British understatement of the year. No surprise there. But what I had never in my wildest dreams anticipated was the tidal wave of euphoria that swept through my soul as I read the certificate confirming my new citizenship status. A Swede? Moi? I grinned all the way to the café for some celebratory calories – with my British niece.
’So what’s changed?’ she asked, laughing at my excitement. ‘You’ve been here 30 years!’
‘Oh nothing!’ I assured her. ‘Except for the fact that I can vote in General Elections.’
And yet, and yet. Everything had changed. It was exactly the same feeling as when I married the man I was already living with. Me, just an old-fashioned lover girl, wanted our children born within wedlock. And let’s not underestimate the call of a pretty gown and a ride in a limo. But essentially, nothing changed. And yet everything did. It was all felt very different. In the best possible way.
According to the dictionary’s definition, a Citizen is a person who legally belongs to a country and has the rights and protection of that country.
Which means I am now on equal footing with all those born in Sweden: I can up sticks to wherever and return whenever I please. No explanations. No limitations. I have my own key to the door. Which, I now realised, is every bit as important as my own key to my own door i.e. the UK. So my delight in Swedish nationality is fundamentally rooted in two contrasting elements: freedom and security. I’m a certified junkie of both.
Nationality is a tricky mistress, because it’s a necessity. A necessity that is as automatic as it’s out of our control. We get one at birth. We are who we are and by and large cheer for our life team. Until for some reason we acquire a second citizenship, or switch by choice, or – and this is when nationality becomes an even huger issue – reject and destroy proof of our citizenship for what must be tragic and dire reasons of personal safety. It’s simply too dangerous to be who we are. Imagine that. Arriving in a country with nothing and from nowhere. Because you can’t risk being sent back. Being you. Imagine being a nobody. Officially.
And if I am this euphoric over my new citizenship – my second – how on earth must these people feel to be given a first new home after what is often years of terrible uncertainty and jumping through red-taped hoops? It’s a mind-blowing thought.
It was while I was having this very thought that I watched the Closing Ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. It was beautiful – all credit to the Russian performers and visionary maestros behind the technical cleverness and beautiful scenography – but it was the athletes that imprinted the greatest impression. They poured into the arena from numerous sources, randomly forming a kaleidoscope of colour and elation. Gone was the regular, yawn-dropping dragged-out queue of national flags and orderly teams segregated by preordained invisible boundaries between rivals. These guys and gals were having the time of their lives in perfect higgledy-piggledy pride and peace. Right there, right then, nationality was not an issue. There were no borders. Not even a line to cross.
After years of training, these young athletes had competed their hearts out to win medals for their countries. Cried in the face of defeat and cried in the face of their national flags being hoisted in victory. Congratulated and consoled. Won and lost. Yet here they were now: citizens of the world, united in mutual understanding.
Then came Utopia’s reality check. A camera panned the lucky spectators and rested on President Putin. His stony expression beggared belief and totally belied the non-political party he was witnessing under his own roof. I wondered what was he thinking, what makes him tick. What makes him so seemingly immune to human happiness in this, its most tangible form?
And I thought:
If only we could bottle this empathic brand of harmony and dose mankind with a single spoonful every day.
If only, President Putin. If only.