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2020-06-10 (Dekorima)

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'Since we are doomed to be here on earth, we should try to make life as decent as possible for everyone. That's what politics is about for me.'

I used to be a hacker. Some people insist I still am.

Not a hacker in the current sense - someone who somehow could never get enough of computer science, who could never walk away - even for an evening - from a job still incomplete.

I worked for the government of Sweden back then. In many ways it was an ideal job. It didn't pay a lot, but I had near full autonomy to do what I wanted, and I took full advantage of that.

Our offices were in central Stockholm, a stone's throw from the headquarters and head office of the Royal Mail. I lived in the northern suburbs of Stockholm. I did not use a vehicle to commute. Few people did. I relied on the rickety old train known as the 'Roslagsbanan'. The final train each night left the yard by the Royal Technical Institute after midnight. You had to make it to that train: the alternative was the night bus, and that was both lengthy and unruly, with drunkards returning home after an evening of consuming all-too expensive alcoholic substances.

The smart thing of course would have been to make it earlier to the central station and get the metro going north, or where one could get to the Royal Institute and catch any number of rickety trains heading in the same direction. But hackers always try one last thing before walking away. 'Ska bara' is the infamous expression - 'I'm only going to do one last thing'. And so, as the clock ticked on, the likelihood of using one of the more sensible commuting alternatives became more and more remote.

The absolute last resort to make it from our offices to the rickety train was past a construction site, out onto the major thoroughfare 'Sveavägen', then up an incredibly high set of steps, and then hightail it on foot. As nothing in Sweden is exceptionally far away, this could be done, albeit with considerable effort, in a few minutes.

The scary part was getting past the construction site between our offices and Sveavägen. Years of living in other less secure countries created instincts about those kinds of places. The construction site was both dark and foreboding. Just walking past it brought back memories of how it felt to live in 'ordinary' cities where one had to always be on the alert. There was no lighting for blocks around. That stretch was all dark, very dark. Anything could be lurking in there. One passed by as fast as one could to finally step into the bright lights and traffic bustle of Sveavägen.

And it was here I'd always take a brief breather, look heavenward, and thank my lucky stars that I now lived in a safe country like Sweden. The traffic wouldn't always be light, not even at that later hour, but the bustle on the street, together with the bright lights, definitely had a relaxing effect.

Nothing bad ever happens here! Thank goodness places like this exist!

Thank goodness for Sweden.

Yet it was precisely on the opposite corner - precisely at the Dekorima painting supplies store - that Sweden's prime minister Olof Palme was assassinated on the evening of 28 February 1986.

Sweden lost her virginity that night. Sweden was Sweden no longer. And, in the years to come, it would be apparent just how much things had changed.

The girlfriend said she heard about it on the late evening news at her parents' place but decided not to ring as it was more important I got a good night's sleep. I heard about it in the morning, a Saturday. I traveled to the Old Town and laid a rose at the Palme doorstep. There was already quite a pile of roses there. Then I traveled back to the Dekorima store where quite a lot of people had gathered. The area was cordoned off.

The girlfriend brought her father's copy of the financial newspaper where it was recollected how important Palme had been for the national economy. Palme had kept Sweden 'on the map'. Rarely afraid to speak truth to power, Palme angered quite a lot of influential people, but also opened doors - industrialists and political leaders in other countries would welcome the king and queen, and Volvo CEO Pehr Gyllenhammar, and sport celebrities Ingemar Stenmark and Björn Borg, and they'd think 'oh Sweden, of course - Palme'. And then they'd make those billion-dollar deals. Sweden thrived.

The literary establishment had been fully behind Palme. Palme was not the leader or centre of a movement as much as merely a part of it - everyone was united in making Sweden the best goddamned country in the world, a country so sheltered that its world-famous prime minister could take public transportation to the cinema on a Friday night and then take that same public transportation home again. Of course he could!

Our first children - twins - were born only half a year later. They came into a world that can never be as before. They'll never know what we knew.

The memories of those late-night dashes to the train - the bustle and bright lights when finally emerging from the darkness and back into safety - are with me forever.

 - JC Västerås 2020-06-10

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