On a recent visit to Kristianstad, I met with Beni Sadriu from Kosovo and talked to him about what it is like to be an immigrant in Sweden today.
When visiting Kristianstad recently, I met Beni Sadriu—an emigrant from Kosovo. We met at the pool, where I was swimming and he works as a “badmästare," which is to say he teaches swimming lessons and water gymnastics, conducts baby swim classes and is in charge of the cash register at the front desk. I was struck by how fluent his Swedish was and asked if perhaps I could come back another day for an interview. After some initial reluctance, Beni agreed, and a few days later we met.
Beni Sadriu is a tall man, with a strong, proud profile, and when he speaks he does so in the typical Scanian dialect, with just a hint of a foreign accent.
His Swedish was very good, and I wondered when he first came here.
“I’d spent part of the war* abroad and part here. Then I met my wife, who was born in Albania but grew up in Sweden. I met her in 1999. After filling out all the paperwork, I had to wait in Kosovo for 6 months before I was granted a visa and could join her in Sweden. I moved here in 2002.”
By then Beni already knew a lot about Sweden: His brother lived here and he had explained how the Swedish system works, what the economy is like, what Beni could expect.
“It seemed exciting,” says Beni.
His first impression wasn’t very exciting, however. He arrived in wintertime.
“The weather was piss,” he says with a crooked smile.
Beni had spent time abroad in Munich, Germany. Was Sweden very different?
“Well, there was more life in Germany. But of course Munich is much bigger than Kristianstad.”
And the Swedes?
“Most Swedes really are a bit cold,” he says after quite a long pause. “A bit stiff and quiet, you know. Back home you say hello when you meet someone, but here … you can’t do that, unless you know the person. But that’s alright. And most Swedes ease up a little when they drink.”
Beni had just finished high school in Kosovo and had hopes of becoming a physical education teacher, when the war put a stop to his plans.
“When I came to Sweden, I decided to really learn Swedish. A lot of immigrants don’t, they want to get a job right away, but what kind of jobs are there if you don’t speak the language? It was hard to learn Swedish, but I’d studied English in Kosovo and that helped. Also, I taught boxing right away when I came here and the kids I taught helped me a lot with my Swedish. It all comes down to what you are willing to do with your time in Sweden.”
Beni’s wife spoke Swedish to him at home, to help speed up the learning process. Today they have three children ages 8, 4 and 9 months.
I ask if he feels at home here now.
“Yes, I do. I’ve a lot of family here, one brother and my parents. Another brother and my cousins are in Kosovo, but we go there every summer.”
Beni doesn’t think he’ll move back. The economy in Kosovo isn’t very good and his children are happy in Sweden. And though he still has hopes of becoming a physical education teacher, he is happy with his work at the pool.
I ask him about racism in Sweden today, if he has encountered any.
“No, not really. You hear a lot about it, though. With the Sweden Democrats being strong here in the south. But there are so many immigrants here in Kristianstad, and many of them are married to Swedes. We do things together, we play soccer together, we box.…”
Nobody’s ever told him to go back to his country, at least not in words.
“Sure, you feel it sometimes. You feel it from how people look at you.”
Beni thinks Swedish immigration policy is good.
“All countries should be this open. I’ve lived in a country in war—I know what it’s like. You have to help those who are in need. Especially women and children.”
He explains that he and his family celebrate Muslim and Albanian holidays and cook special dishes from “back home”. With pride he tells me that his mother’s Swedish is “quite good” after seven years in Sweden. Both his parents work in Kristianstad, though his father is about to retire.
He thinks the system is what's best in Sweden.
“When I studied here, I received financial help. But the Social Democrats were in power then—perhaps that has all changed, I don’t know. To me it’s OK with high taxes, because health care is practically free.”
The only times he feels homesick for Kosovo is in winter.
“It’s too cold here,” he says.
*The Yugoslav Wars were a series of wars, fought throughout the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 1995. The wars were complex: characterized by bitter ethnic conflicts among the peoples of the former Yugoslavia, mostly between Serbs (and to a lesser extent, Montenegrins) on the one side and Croats and Bosniaks (and to a lesser degree, Slovenes) on the other; but also between Bosniaks and Croats in Bosnia (in addition to a separate conflict fought between rival Bosniak factions in Bosnia).