‘Sweden makes me feel like I’ve been born again’

‘Sweden makes me feel like I’ve been born again’
After two years in Sweden Mazen Albitar has shed layers of his old Syrian identity and feels he’s on his way to becoming more Swedish than the Swedes themselves. He tells The Local Voices why he thinks the country deserves more respect than it gets from some fellow newcomers.

The first day I arrived in Malmö I applied for asylum. I didn’t have to stay in an asylum camp, because I had a friend who welcomed me at his place. 

I got my residence permit in April 2015 and started to study the language. 

The race to become a super-Swede

And from the moment I get my own Swedish passport, I won’t accept anyone telling me I’m a non-Swede.

Right now I’m not a Swede, but I am trying – persistently –  to become one. In 30 years I might become a super-Swede, maybe more Swedish than Sweden-born Swedes, and Syria will be just a memory.

The kindness of these people has amazed me. I’m still surprised by how kind the Swedes are, especially towards us refugees. This ethos is remarkable and immediately noticeable; they treated us with full respect while most countries refused to help us. 

Isn’t this country worthy of more respect? I am not trying to butter up my hosts, but I can’t recall having a single negative experience here. 

Shaking off the baggage of tradition

After my arrival I quickly decided to socialize with people rather than spending long periods alone – and most importantly, I sought to find myself. Now I see myself as being 180-degrees different, I’m a totally different person. I feel like I was born again after I moved here.

Now when I think back on my previous life in Syria, I see how naïve I was. I was trapped in traditions, customs, and irrational codes. Here I am freer; I can detach myself from traditions, ideologies and everything else that doesn’t tally with my needs and beliefs. 

Everything about me has changed here: how I think, solve problems, make decisions. Even how I  dress, walk, and eat. I now believe I alone have full responsibility for making my life a success.

I am happy now and I feel better – way better. 

I regret that I didn’t end up in Sweden much earlier than 2014.

When I visit Denmark for a few days, I miss Sweden. I don’t feel like this about Syria: I don’t really miss it. Maybe the war caused me to detach myself from my past, I don’t know. 

Sweden lets you be yourself

The greatest thing about this country is having the freedom of choice. You don’t need to move with the flock, you’re free to do your own thing. 

In Syria people weren’t so accepting of differences. Dressing in a flowery T-shirt or wearing your hair in a pony tail exposed you to contemptuous gestures and people would taunt you for being effeminate. 

If you spoke good English with a nice accent people would make fun of you and call you weird. 

If a girl hugged a guy it was assumed she was falling in love with him. 

Now all that nonsense is behind me. In Sweden you don’t have to pretend to accept codes and customs you secretly find ridiculous. And it pains me to encounter such traits here. I have come across people who mock you for speaking Swedish, or even for letting a Swedish word slip out in the middle of a discussion. 

Embrace the new

I decided from the start that I didn't want to just hang around with groups of Middle Eastern friends and ignore the wider society because that’s not the right thing to do. In Sweden I want to be multicultural, open to interacting with people of all backgrounds – open to Sweden’s society. I have friends from different backgrounds, and now they are like my new family here.

I have met many people of Middle Eastern origins who live in tight groups closed off from the rest of society. They physically live in Sweden but mentally they are elsewhere. Some even refuse to shake hands with women. 

I have no sympathy for non-integrated communities that don’t embrace Swedish values: You came to this country, which welcomed you, and you need to accept it with its pros and cons. I don’t mean you have to abandon or denounce your background, but at least avail yourself of the new country, of Sweden. 

Swedes are more tolerant than us, they accept us more than we accept them. 

You may hear people complaining and regretting their choice of living in Sweden. These people need to remember that they came here fleeing war and were warmly welcomed, while many other countries let them down.