The story behind Passover – Truth or fiction?

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Why is the Jewish holiday of Passover celebrated? Well, it is to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt by Moses and his people. This year it’s celebrated March 26th – April 2d. Is that Exodus a true story? Did it really happen? Is it just a legend or based on real events? When I studied comparative religion I learned an important concept that I often use in my own thinking when it concerns matters like these… Mythologization of history. This means that some things described might have actually happened, other things have been added later, been more or less widely embellished and exaggerated, certain things never happened, other events most likely did occur, not in exactly the same, but in a similar way than described. Other bits and pieces might have happened at different occassions, but been mixed later to compose a whole story and suit a certain purpose. A kind of rearrangement of true events in the own history to suit the leaders and the “national” identity. The times and dates mentioned might also sometimes vary from real events in history. This is what I believe is the case when it comes to the Exodus story and the character of Moses. It’s a mix of everything. This does not only apply on stories from the Bible but on all legends, myths, stories and sagas from various periods and cultures around our globe.

Truth is never simple and is always a mix of many truths, social groups’ experiences, prejudices, fears and prides. This is just as valid today in the battle of description rights about present events around us in Sweden and all over the world. That’s why the story of the Jewish Passover’s background story might be important to remember in that light.

Passover commemorates the Exodus from Egypt, or Yetsia’t Mitsrayim in Hebrew. The Passover or Pésach in Hebrew has to do with that God “passed” the houses of the Hebrews after he told them to paint their door posts with blood from lambs before God unleashed the tenth plague in Egypt… The killing of all first-born males among both humans and animals. According to the second, fourth and fifth books of Moses in the Old Testament, Tana’kh, the books of Shemót, BaMidbar and Devarím, (The Names, In The Desert and The Sayings) The Hebrews were slaves in Egypt. Their ancestor Joseph had come there in difficult times and helped that times Pharao by saving Egypt from famine. The Egyptian Pharaoh when Moses was born was afraid that the foreign Hebrews would multiply too much and decided to kill the infants. Compare this to the discussions in today’s Parliaments and media about immigrants. Moses’ mother Yokhebed lay her infant in a box of straw and put him in the Nile. The baby boy was found by the Egyptian princess who raised him as her own son. He grew up as an Egyptian prince, but as a grown-up man he learned of his oppressed real people, slew an overseer and was condemned to exile. Moses fled to Midian on the other side of Sinai where he met the priest Yethro and his daughters. He married one of them and lived with Yethro’s family. Later Moses saw a burning bush in the desert and heard the voice of God who told him to go back to Egypt and save his people from the oppression of Pharao. Moses took his family with him to Egypt and looked up Pharao at the court and told him to let the Hebrew people go and release them from their servitude. Pharao refused and Moses then – led by God – released ten plagues over Egypt as punishment, made the Nile red of blood, sent frogs, swarms of locusts etc. The tenth plague was the killing of the first-borns. Before that God ordered Moses and his brother Aharon to tell the people to slaughter lambs and paint the door-posts with their blood. He intended to pass those doors on the road of death. After the tenth plague where Pharao’s own son died he allowed the Hebrew slaves to leave. After a while he regretted it and pursued the Hebrews with waggons and soldiers. God divided the Sea of Reeves so that the Hebrews could pass and then drowned the Pharao and his soldiers. In the dessert Moses after a long while reached the Mountain of God, they camped there, Moses went up on the mountain, recieved the ten commandments from God, went down, saw his people honouring an idol god in the shape of a golden calf, got furious, broke the tablets, scolded his people and went up once more. When he returned with two new tablets with commandments Moses’ face was radiating of God’s presence. Years later they arrived to the land of Canaan, Moses died on Mount Horeb on the other side of the border, but his people could enter the Promised Land.  That’s a summary of the story in the Bible.

Some scientists have said and still say that nothing of this has ever happened because they see the stories in the Bible as entirely imagination. From my perspective that’s an oversimplification of the matter. I will try to present some of the scientific findings and theories that exist today concerning whether Moses was a real person or not and if the Exodus did happen and if so when. In today’s debate two periods in history are presented as possible for the life of Moses and the Exodus. Maybe the story is a combination of several actual, true events from real history that almost happened as described in the Bible? They happened at different times, but have been preserved orally and in short notes on papyrus, stone and other ways, combined far away in Israel and Judah by scribes 400 – 800 years later, been embellished with invented parts, exaggerations, miracles and patriotism, and combined into a theological story of the history of the people.

Many have placed Moses in the reign of Ramses II, or Ramses the Great who ruled in the 13th century BCE. He was a famous pharao, built cities, fought battles etc. His two cities Ramses or Pi-Ramses and Pithom are mentioned in Shemót/Exodus. That’s why many during the last century have focused on the 1200’s BCE and the reign of Ramses II and seen him as the cruel pharao described in Exodus. Maybe he was… in part. It’s possible that part of the story described took place under his reign, for a smaller group of the later Israeli’s ancestors. Not long ago archeologists found remnants of what once was his city Ramses, sections of his statue, inscriptions, house-remnants etc. The city was first called Avaris, but later re-named Ramses. According to the Bible this was one of the cities that the Hebrew slaves built. They had been in Egypt since the days of their ancestor Joseph in the 17th century BCE. Now this is interesting. There are some clues left that shed light on the possible core of truth in the Biblical stories. The Ipawer papyrus from the 16th century BCE, after the time of Senasret III and before the time of the Hychsos period describe Egypt plagued by social turmoil, uprisings, wars, cataclysmic natural disasters, famine and death. This might be connected to the days near Joseph. The Hychsos people was according to ancient Egyptian sources an Asiatic people from the Middle East who immigrated to Egypt, multiplied and also ruled the country for a while. This might be Joseph’s descendants or people that the stories later connected to that figure.

Another expression used in the old Egyptian sources from the New Kingdom (1550 – 1070 BCE) is “Apiru”, very similar to that of “Hebrew”. Some scholars today want to place Moses in that era, ca 1530 – 1430 BCE) I’ll return to that later. Exodus 9:31 – 32 contains a description of plants that existed in Egypt, but not all of them in Israel centuries later: flax, barley, wheat and spelt. In Exodus 5:7 the scribes tells us that the Hebrew slaves had to build houses of bricks that contained straw. Israeli houses were made of stones, while archeology in Egypt has proven that houses from the New Kingdom were made by bricks with straw. In Tanis, a dig in the vicinity of Luxor, near a mortuary temple, four-roomed houses were found from around 1200 BCE, exactly in the same fashion as later excavated in Israel and the Jordan valley. Not Egyptian style. They also found a stele from the days of Pharao Merneptah, (1213- 1203 BCE) who was the 13th son of Ramses the Great. The inscription said e.g.: “Canaan has been taken captive and wailing, Ashkelon is conquered, Gizer is subjugated, Yanoam is no more and Israel is laid waste”. This is the first and only time the name of Israel appears in Egyptian sources. This is likely national propaganda and boastful exaggeration since no ruler said anything of lost battles etc, but it’s still interesting. Maybe, just maybe some of the Jewish ancestors travelled to the land of Canaan a generation before… But was it Moses and his group? Maybe, maybe not.

According to Jewish mysticism and old forgotten sources astrologist sages predicted the birth of Moses long ago because of a big conjunction in the sky in the zodiak of Pisces. Compared with modern science about the ancient sky the date has been fixed to Newmoon February-March 1537 BCE. Moses was supposed to according to that ancient prophecy have been born three years later in 1534 BCE.

In that period an Egyptian princess lived who might be the princess mentioned in the story of Moses. That was Hatshepsut who later ruled Egypt as a female Pharao. The new theory explains that the Pharao that killed the children were Amentotep I, 1526 – 1505 BCE or maybe his father. The exact dates are uncertain, but roughly the same dates appear. Hatshepsut appear with someone close to her that later was expelled from court by Thutmoses II and his wife Iset who hated Hatshepsut. In this theory the man expelled from court was the historical Moses. Hatshepsut is said to have been hurt that her dear one wouldn’t call her Sat Nisut/Pharao’s Daughter. The flight to Midian should then take place ca 1492 – 1479 BCE and the Exodus under Pharao Thutmoses III, 1479 – 1435 BCE).

On the Sinai peninsula, 180 km from Suez, in Serabit El-Khadim, there are caves found that once were used for mining turkos stones for Egypt. The caves are dated to the days of Hatshepsut and on the walls are archaic Canaanite graffiti. Could this be a place for Moses to hide, or others like him? Hebrew slaves? On the border between Israel and Egypt there’s also Har Karkom,(The Mountain of God), a mountain ca 4000 meters high. By the foot of the mountain archeologists have found many circular stone formations, remnants of what might have been the site for the holy tabernacle, 12 stone pillars and carvings in stone. Among them a picture of something that looks like a Jewish altar with horns from the side. “The altar” with its horns is divided in ten squares, representing the ten commandments? Maybe, maybe not. We will never know for sure, and like all estimations and interpretations it’s speculative. But it’s not unlikely that this jigzaw puzzle contains the core of truth in the story.

Interpreting and expanding a message for a specific purpose to commemorate old national events is not unique for the scribes. This still happens today in patriotic, political and religious propaganda and various dichotomized debates all over the world. Just watch the debates and many fractions. We are no better 2500 – 3500 years later. In this case it’s a story of past events in the combined Jewish and Egyptian history. It’s like as when we write novels about Sweden or other countries in the Viking era, Middle Ages or something to strengthen the national pride. It’s just important to remember that we don’t use that patriotism and the stories to continue fighting each other. North Korea and USA, Israel and Iran, Iran and USA, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Mali, Israel, Turkey, Shi’a genocide in Pakistan. The list can expand. Will we ever learn from history? Let’s commemorate the true meaning of Passover, the solidarity, remember hard times, pride but also co-operation. Why not use that for a local, national and global purpose? We need each other.

Anders Moberg, March 28th 2013

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The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ

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On December 19th I wrote a text on this blog called “The Birth of Jesus – When, where and perceptions of purpose”. Now, the Jewish Passover and the Christian Easter is soon here. They are connected but in a tragic way and they commemorate different things. Tomorrow on Maundy Thursday I intend to write about the Jewish Passover. Jesus came down to Earth as a Jew, Yeshu’a bar Yoséf, and his disciples were Jews, living in Galilee/Ha-Galil and Judea, Yehuda, mainly coming from the area around a small village in the north called Natzèret.

Most scientists and scholars today agree that Jesus did exist, probably born between 7 and 2 BCE and executed between 30 and 36 A.D. Today, even among secular scholars, Jesus is seen as a great man in different ways, even if the epithets vary: a sage, a philosopher, charismatic leader, leader of an apocalyptic movement and a social reformer preaching the Kingdom of God. The only two things in his life that is certified outside the Bible is that he was baptised by the preacher John the Baptist and that Jesus died on a cross outside Jerusalem near Passover. For me personally Yeshu’a = Jesus is, was and always will be the Messiah. I have personally seen him in a revelation which he gave me when I was 14 years old. Jesus has also sent me other signs of His holy presence in recent times. He continues to this day to make an impact on many different peoples’ lives in a glorious and supernatural way.

I am nowadays convinced that the stories in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are basically true stories, and the sayings uttered by Jesus, and the things he is described doing according to the gospels are most likely also true events.  I am a Christian myself, even though I have been quite secular, and since my days of studies in Comparative religion I have a very critical eye when I compare ideologies, both religious and secular ones. However, the revelations which the Lord Jesus Christ actually have sent me, make me convinced of his existence, and that the only way to get to Heaven is through faith in Jesus Christ, obedience to His commands and to follow His message of Love, kindness, humility towards others, while we pray to God, and Honour him.

Traditional Christians see Jesus as conceived by Holy Spirit, born by a virgin, Mary, he founded the church, died on the cross to achieve atonement, rose from the dead on the third day, ascended into Heaven and became the second part in the Holy Trinity, Father – Son – Holy Spirit. Muslims 600 years later percieved Jesus, or ‘Issa as they call him, as a prophet, giver of scriptures, born by a virgin, but not dead on the cross. The Quran says in Sura 4: 157-158: “They killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them (or it appeared so unto them… Nay. Allah raised him up unto Himself.” For Bahai believers Jesus wasn’t the Son of God, but the Manifestation of God.

So what about the Jews then? Jesus was himself a Jew and he was talking about the Jewish society and the Jewish customs. He talked about exaggerating Pharisees who had elongated fringes on their talit gadol, the prayer shawl to show their piety, he talked about attitudes to the sabbath, the resting day. Jesus was most likely very much like many of the Pharisees in his days, but he also differed from them and said things that provoked the surroundings. He was a simple man, with a simple profession, a social agitator, healer and preacher. He started preaching rather late in life in a country occupied by Romans and gathered followers. He also criticized the aristrocracy and upper-class priests, the Saducees, named after an earlier high priest, Tsadóq. The Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a mentions a Jesus that might be this particular man. It says: “On the eve of Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place a herald went forth and cried “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practised sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf”. But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of Passover.”

Most likely Jesus was crucified near Passover in the Jewish spring month of Nissan on the 14th. A common mentioned date is Friday, April 3d 33 A.D. between nine a.m. and three p.m. in the afternoon. The description is made in detail hour for hour in the Bible. A week earlier he had entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey to remind people of the prophecy that the Messiah, the Annointed one, should arrive that way. He then created trouble in the Temple, turning tables and calling them hipocrytes. The Roman procurator Pontius Pilate who ruled 26 – 36 A.D. with contempt for Jewish ways was informed. When the Jewish holiday Passover drew near Jesus and his disciples gathered for the seder meal which turned into the last supper with Jesus. He explained his parting and later that night he was arrested in the garden of Gath Shmanim on the mount of Olives. His disciples were frightened and upset. Jesus was put before the Sanhedrin Gadol and accused of rebellion and herecy. The Jewish Council then took him to Herod Antipas and to Pontius Pilate who sentenced Jesus to be crucified, a cruel punishment only used for obstinate slaves, non-Romans and political rebels. In the New Testament the story is found in Matthew 26 – 28, Mark 14- 16, Luke 22 -24 and John 16 – 21. He got a crown of twisted thorn, a purple mantle and above him on the cross a mocking sign in three languages Aramaic, Greek and Latin: “Yeshu’a demén Natsèret Malka de Yehudayé, Jesous o Nazaraios o Vasileus ton Ioudaion, Iesus Nazaraenus Rex Iudaeorum”. According to the Bible he was executed, put in a rock-hewn tomb by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, but rose from the dead two days later, showed himself first for his favourite Mary from Magdala and then for his male disciples before ascending to Heaven.

A Jewish scribe and historian, Josephus Flavius, participated in the revolt against the Romans in 70 A.D, but then helped the Romans and became a traitor. He wrote around 90 A.D. about the Jewish History, Antiquities of the Jews. Josephus Flavius mentions John the Baptist twice and several people named Jesus, but only one called the Christ, the Messiah in the so called Testimonium Flavium. Christian scribes have later on been tempted to add things in Josephus statement to make it Christian, but when we remove the later additions Josephus words about Jesus becomes more authentic in its nucleus. Chapter 3 in Book 16 begins though with talking about Pontius Pilate who takes statues of the Roman emperor as idol and put them in Jerusalem to provoke the population and then kills the opposition.

“But now Pilate, the procurator of Judea, removed the army from Cesarea to Jerusalem, to take the winter-quarters there, in order to abolish the Jewish laws.”… “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, for he was a doer of startling deeds. And he gained a following both among many Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was called the Messiah. And when Pilate at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day”.

The Roman historian Suetonius writes about a quarrel that took place ca 49-50 A.D. in the Jewish congregation in Rome. It’s mentioned in the paragraph Suetonius, Claudius 25:4. The quarrel was about if someone called Chrestus was the son of God or not. In Suetonius Nero: 16:2 he also writes “Nero punished the Christians, a group of people fallen to a new and desolate superstition”. After the crucifixion of Jesus the first Christians were a Jewish sect and was so for about twenty years, led by Jesus’ disciple Shim’on Kefa/Simon Peter and a couple of Jesus’ brothers. Once more the women around Jesus, among them Mary from Magdala were made invisible and patronized, like so many other times in history… Like today. Christianity then became more and more alienated from its Jewish origins and the polemics hardened.

This polemic and hardened rhetoric is still seen two thousand years later. In my eyes that’s a great shame. Independent if we are Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Bahai, Sikhs, Buddhists, Mandeans, Atheists, Pagans, women or men we still haven’t learned the lesson not to hate each other for our variations in human ideas and personalities. We hate those who do not have the same political, religious or social values, we harrass, bully, mock, pursue, quarrel, mutilate and kill. Jesus actually told us to even love our enemies, not just our friends and family.

Among those who have had near-death-experiences we can notice that all of those who have come further than just seeing themselves from above, all say that it is Jesus Christ on the other side. Not Buddha, not Odin, not Mohammed, not Allah, not Vishnu, Krishna or som other pagan deity.  Before they have had these near-death-experiences they have had various beliefs and lifestyles: former atheists, former agnostics, former New Age gurus, former Buddhists, former Hindus, former Muslims, former Jews, former drug dealers, former prostitutes, former business men, former scientists and doctors. They all come back to life and give witness about the same thing. Heaven and Hell are both real, and the only salvation is through Jesus Christ. Everything else is false and blind turns. We are supposed to love each other, but first and foremost love and honour God.

Still…Dissidents are hated, the religious conflicts have intensified in recent years… it’s hate, hate, hate. However good things are made, but it’s too often on a basis that is not given credit or the monetary support to expand. Take this Easter and Passover to consider the punishment given to Jesus. Why was he punished? For stating uncomfortable truths? Why do we mock, punish and kill good people? Do we want a cruel and cynical world where humanity kills itself bit by bit in a harder and wilder nature destroyed by ourselves? Will we co-operate in peace, make love not war? Will we save our humanity? We live today in the days of the Book of Revelation. Jesus Christ gave His earthly life on the cross for our inequities and sins. If we want to be granted a place in Heaven after our short life on Earth is ended in this vast Universe, we must repent, turn away from sinful and shallow lifestyles, pay the Lord Jesus Christ the deepest of respect for His sacrifice on the cross, obey His rules, give our lives to Him, honour Him by loving the Lord and to love our neighbour as ourselves.

Anders Moberg, March the 27th 2013, upgraded on March 15th 2018.

Easter traditions and a sinister background

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Soon it is Easter and time to eat eggs. The Easter egg is a symbol for rebirth and firtility. That’s why I the other day chose to take a photo of an eaten egg instead of a whole one. The tradition with eggs at this time of year comes from Persia, but after the introduction of Christianity the tradition became connected with the re-birth of Jesus Christ. The eating of eggs in Christian tradition marks the end of Lent, and the eggs became popular also because the hens started laying their eggs in Springtime. Another custom, at least here in Sweden, is the use of Easter twigs, thin, rough twigs of wood often decorated with died, tiny feathers in various colours; yellow, pink, purple. They are meant to symbolize the palm-leaves that were used by the crowd when Jesus made his entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey at Passover in 30 or 33 A.D. I intend to write more about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the different meanings of Easter and Passover later this week, just before the beginning of Easter.

So, what do we eat at Easter in Sweden? Well, there are variations from family to family, county to county, and shire to shire, but there are some ingredients that almost always appear on the dining table. Eggs of course, often boiled ones, but also fried, coloured candy eggs, salmon, herring, meat balls, crispbread, cheese and must, a kind of sweet cider that is customary both at Christmas and Easter. Beer and other forms of liqour is also a common sight on the dinner table. Another tradition is to use manufactured eggs in various sizes that are hollow and made to divide in two sections. When opened the egg is filled with different kinds of candy. A tradition that started in Pfalz and Elsass, Germany, during the 17th century was the idea of an Easter bunny coming with eggs. This Easter bunny, a rabbit or hare, was for a long time just part of a tradition in that area, but around 1850 the German toy industry launched the Easter bunny as a candy and toy figurine for children. This commercial stunt became a huge success and still is a widely spread Easter tradition in parts of the world, not so much in Sweden though. The tradition with sending Christmas post cards began some time around the year 1900 and has continued since then. After the introduction of e-mails and internet many Easter post greetings in the shape of cards are sent that way, but the ordinary post cards still is part of the Easter industry.

The Easter hag or Easter witch is another Swedish tradition. Children dress up in dresses, cover their hair in a cloth, take a coffee pan and a broom-stick and walk around in the neighbourhood on a candy walk, a Swedish form of trick or treat. Both the tradition of lighting an Easter fire and the figure of the Easter witch might seem innocent at first, but the reality and history behind it is anything but laughable.

In old days Swedish superstition many believed that women who were witches had made a pact with the Devil and travelled on broom-sticks to the Brocken on Maundy Thursday. The Easter fires were lit, mainly in Western Sweden, to frighten the witches and keep them away. Between 1450 and 1700 at least 100 000 people were accused of witchcraft, sorcery and of being enemies of the Church here in Europe. Most of them were accused of heresy and magic sorcery. Between 40 000 and 60 000 were killed, 75% of them were women. The process was similar all over Europe. The witch processes were based on zealous Christian fears, people’s superstition, fear of people with unusual knowledges, the Churche’s hatred and fear of those who didn’t buy the Catholic, (or Protestant) ideology entirely, competition and jealousy between ordinary people, and just evil rumours without any truth in them. The suspicion among people spread all over. Neighbours and family members accusing each other, children accusing their parents, (mainly the mother), and hatred of dissidents. In Sweden the women were believed going to the Bracken to meet the Devil and the sentenced women were decapitated. In Denmark, (which Malmoe was part of during most of that period), the women accused of sorcery were believed to have poisoned or put curses on people or cattle. Those women were burned on a stake. Those who were most accused were midwives, poor women, but also the occassional woman of substance and also a few priest wives. Maybe the priest saw it as a good way of getting rid of an unwanted wife? Those women who came from better circumstances easier defended themselves, and not all were executed. However, many were. The last death sentence for witchery in Denmark was given in 1695 and in Sweden in 1704. The last Swedish witch process was held between 1757 and 1763. Here in Malmoe there were 86 witch processes in 1543 – 1663. Of those 86 women 38 were condemned to be burned on the stake, 14 were expatriated, seven were acquited, nine were released for good behaviour and 11 released after bail was payed. A Danish law from 1547 however said that people who were already convicted weren’t allowed to be witnesses in witch processes. The Danish king Christian IV passed in 1617 a new law that connected witchcraft to the Devil. Christian IV was zealous in the witch hunt, and those women who happened to be accused had to meet a horrible destiny, not just in Malmoe but all over Denmark. But also even before the law from 1617. One of the 86 women in Malmoe who was accused of being a witch was Johanna Nielsdatter. On July 28th 1578 she was standing accused on Stortorget/the Major Square infront of a panel of 15 lay assesors, a board that sentenced her to death. She was then taken to Malmoe Castle that now is a museum, and tortured in jail by the executioner. He used to break the convicted people’s bones, stretch their limbs and burn them with iron rods to force new confessions. Soon afterwards Johanna Nielsdatter was transported on a cart with her arms tied behind her back and taken outside the city to the hills north east of town, called Kirseberg, Cherry Hill. There she was tied to a pole, small sacks of gun powder were hanged around her waist, a priest gave her the last salvation, people were standing around her, pointing fingers, looking frightened, hateful, mocking, spiteful, compassionate. The executioner lit the fire of the stake and the burning flames started eating her body. The gun-powder containers on her sides made the fire burn even wilder and soon the woman on the stake turned into a burned corpse, condemned for invented crimes. It didn’t need much. Being out walking for a simple night stroll in the fresh air was enough for getting the evil tongues going.

Approximately 300 meters from where I live is the old execution site. I live on the outskirts of Kirseberg, Cherry Hill, named after the groves of cherry trees that once grew here. Today Kirseberg is one of the suburbs in Malmoe, but became part of the actual city first around 1900. In the Garrison Park, also called the Park of Thieves, just a few meters from a playing ground for small children there’s a memorial stone. It’s that stone you see in my photo below from August 2012. This is what the text says:

“Memorial stone….Witch burning….”You shall die on fire and stake”. This was the verdict for those women who because of their talents, their knowledges and their way to be were perceived as so dangerous that they were accused of being witches. They were burned at the stake here in Cherry Hill/Kirseberg during the years 1543 and 1663…. Burial ground…. Here in the Garrison Park – The Park of Thieves – far outside the city walls, poor soldiers from the Malmoe Garrison were buried during the years 1809 – 1870, and 1827 – 1891 those convicts who died in jail at Malmoe Castle. This stone honours all those people who for various reasons were excluded from their own times community and encourages the future to reflection and consideration… The inhabitants of The Hill, October 27th 1997. “

Being persecuted or badly treated is still a problem in today’s society. You don’t even have to have done anything wrong. In tough times especially, such as now, it’s extra important to listening in, showing acceptance for human variety, empathy and humane values for people around us. Taking care of our selves and taking care of each other. Do you agree?

Anders Moberg, March the 25th 2013

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Earth Hour

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In 2009 a Swedish company called Nordic Recycling developed a revolutionary way to recycle flourescent tubes and lamps and energy bulbs here on the European continent. Instead of a dry process, a wet method where the lamps are cleansed from their mercury content was used.The air won’t turn contaminated any more this way. Nordic Recycling are quite unique with this process and will start exporting to Portugal next month. Other countries are queing up with interest the company leader Göran Lundholm says. The decrease of mercury spread is one part of it, but they also recycle light powder this way. The mercury lamps are crushed in a tank, the crushed material is then washed in a fluid that oxidizes the mercury and creates slam. This slam containing also soil type metalls from the light powder is then finally taken to a deposit or lamp recycle station. Göran Lundholm is proud since his municipality Hovmantorp now becomes more famous on a wider scale. The new kind of lamps are the low-energy bulbs, the led-bulbs and the halogene bulbs.

About the same time as Nordic Recycling started their new business the World Wildlife Fund, WWF, began a new campaign called Earth Hour. The intention was to pinpoint the importance with considering the world we live in, the waste of natural resources and trying to at least make some improvements. By turning off all lights in a town or country for one hour each year was a way to make a statement and make people more aware of where we are heading. The WWF called this campaign Earth Hour. It started out the first year with only a few places but has quickly grown into a global mass movement. Last year in 2012 1.8 billion people around the world participated and turned off the lights. Tonight it’s time again between 8.30 and 9.30 pm locally.

Naser Mosheh, a politician for the Environment Party the Green in Mariehem, Umeå in northern Sweden explains that they want Earth Hour all year, making people more considerate about the natural resources. In Borås the municipality has asked all the town citizens to turn off the lights tonight and come to the Great Square and watch the night sky for consideration. Borås municipality will turn off the lights on many official buildings, the Government buildings, the churches, schools, Borås Arena, Borås Zoo etc. Nordic Light Hotel in Stockholm will follow the request from the World Wildlife Fund and turn off the lights at half past eight tonight. The Nordic Light Hotel has generally the right policies on this matter. Their raw-material for food and tools are eco-labelled, they have meat-free Mondays and an ecologic breakfast buffet. They also have an ISO-certification. Västerås municipality however will not turn off the official lights tonight. Instead they are changing the old street lighting into new led-lamps instead, from 80 W lamps to 25 W. This will save 7000 kWh a year. But it will take time to change all street lighting in Västerås. There are 11.600 of them. Skellefteå Kraft will turn on the lights in Kenya instead to give children there possibilities to read in the dark, see http://www.givewatts.org.

The Canadian city of Vancouver was the other day given an award at a conference here in Malmoe. It was during the conference Earth Hour City Challenge Award Ceremony that Vancouver, Canada, recieved the title Global Earth Hour Capital 2013. They also won in the class People’s Choice in the web-based competition. Why did they win this year? In Vancouver it’s not obvious to take the car. 245 kilometers of bike paths have been built, and between 2008 and 2011 the bikers in town have increased with 35%. They have a locally produced recycling energy to reduce the spread of carbon dioxide. The intention is to have it reduced with 70% by 2020. All buildings are to be carbon dioxide neutral by 2020 and the amount of green jobs will be doubled. The improvements for taking the bike, bus or train will increase with 50%. That’s the goal. The Swedish city that won the title on a national basis was Uppsala, north of Stockholm. They got the title Swedish Earth Hour City 2013 for their energy-smart, recycling fuels and their climate charter. The other winners this year were the Norwegian capital Oslo, Forli in Italy, San Francisco, USA and New Delhi, India. In 2011 Malmoe was given the title that years Earth Hour Capital. Improvements have no doubt been made. Let’s continue on this path. On y va!

Anders Moberg, March 23d 2013

UN’s international day against racism

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Not long ago I was sitting on a train from Stockholm to Malmoe. Infront of me were two young ladies with their roots in Eritrea. They had just been stopped in the Stockholm tube by police officers who wanted to check their “Swedishness”, and if they were refugees without papers. The two women were very upset by it, and could prove that their Swedish was very good and well articulated, and after hearing them I can surely vouch for that. The police in Stockholm and Malmoe were following orders concerning a project called REVA. I will return to that in a moment. These women were nice talking to and one of them suddenly got a phone call from an ex boyfriend or something who turned nasty. The woman handled the conflict in a very mature and good way, but explained on the phone that she didn’t tolerate demeaning expressions about people of African origin. A long while after the call a white Swedish woman in her late 50’s infront of the first two started staring at them and said that she didn’t stand their voices. It got tense and after some minutes the white woman rose and left the apartment. I’m white and male and have never been stopped. I can never say that I understand how it is because I’ve never been there, even if I have experienced prejudiced notions.

Yesterday, March the 21st, was the United Nation’s international day against racism. Here in Malmoe it was noticed with several lectures and performances in different parts of town. I went to something that should have been a panel debate between Café Pan Africa and the Malmoe Police concerning their way to deal with hate crimes and attitudes. Jallow Momodou from the Afro-Swedes National Association and Café Pan Africa invited the police already in January and they accepted. The Malmoe Police also chose the date, March 21st. Posters were made, a room was booked for the event, but three days ago Jallow Momodou got an e-mail that said that the police withdrew their participation. They didn’t want any questions about REVA and also didn’t like the idea of several people listening. So what is REVA? It means Rättssäkert och Effektivt VerkställighetsArbete, Law-ruling and Efficient Execution Work, and is a form of so called “inner foreigner controlls”. REVA is a project that started in 2009 in a co-operation between the border police, the Swedish Migration Board and the Correctional Treatment Board. Malmoe was chosen as first place in Sweden to test this, without first telling the local politicians and officials. They have been stopping people in the streets, on bus stops, bicycles, train stations, watched children psychiatric clinics and schools, flats and weddings if someone “looks” foreign, and might be an immigrant without papers. According to Jallow Momodou this method is so called “racial profiling” which is forbidden. The REVA project has continued since 2009. On the Police home page we can read concerning REVA that Swedish police in 2013 got a regulation letter from the Ministry of Justice that gave the police the task to improve the efficiency with carrying out and execute decided deportation errands. The Swedish police also tells us that they follow the laws that have been passed by the Swedish Parliament/Riksdagen, decrees from the ruling government and regulations from the Ministry of Justice. A few days ago our present Minister of Migration, Tobias Billström, Conservative, said in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter, The Daily News that: “Sometimes we have the picture that the person which is hidden lives with a nice, blond woman in her 50’s or 60’s who wants to help. But it’s not like that. Most refugees live with their countrymen who are neither blond nor have blue eyes”. Yesterday Tobias Billström was questioned in Parliament about this statement and answered: “To express myself the way I did earlier this week was wrong – and it leads in the wrong direction”. On the other hand he recently also said that human rights weren’t absolute rights for refugees and that he didn’t accept the “shadow world” of illegal refugees, shady businesses etc. The question is what is leading to what? How do we see humanity?

On the seminar yesterday evening pupils and a teacher from Pauli Upper Secondary School had come. They thought it would be interesting listening to a debate between Café Pan Africa and the Malmoe Police. Of course there was a disappointment, but discussions were held. The journalist Peter Herkel, assistant news editor at the free gazette City came and also interviewed some of the kids with immigrant background to see if they had interesting experiences concerning REVA e.g. He made his interviews in the corridor outside.

Café Pan Africa started as a project in Stockholm and Malmoe a year ago and is led by the Afro-Swedes’ National Association. Jollow Momodou said that they also want to start groups in Gothenburg and Uppsala as well. They want to pinpoint the situation for Afro-Swedes, the racism, the possibilities, the self-esteem. They also are involved in the European Coalition of Cities against Racism. Momodou showed a short commercial film on the subject. Malmoe is of course one of those cities. There have been an International Week Against Racism in Germany and Le Semaine d’Actions Contre le Racisme in Canada, which shows that this is a global phenomenon. So why was March 21st chosen?

On March 21st 1960 when Fredrik Verwoerd was Prime Minister in South Africa a large group of natives refused to carry their passports and also started a general strike. The government answered by declaring a state emergency that lasted for 156 days. The demonstrators gathered outside the police station in Sharpeville. There were thousands. The police opened fire, people started to run and as they fled they were gunned down. 69 people died and 187 were wounded. This became known as the Sharpeville Massacre. This awoke feelings of resentment towards South Africa internationally and they were excluded from the British Commonwealth. What were the protests about?

South Africa has been inhabited for thousands of years by the Khoisan tribes in the West and Bantu tribes like Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi and Ndbele in the East. White people started to arrive mainly in the 1600’s. In 1652 the Dutch merchant Jan van Riebek founded Kaapstad. The Dutch immigrants from the Netherlands were the dominant whites, made their own language called Afrikaans and started treating the native Africans like dirt and slaves. The Dutch people called themselves farmers, Boers. But also British people came and used their imperial colonization superiority attitude. Gold and diamonds were found during the 1800’s. Brits and Boers started fighting the Zulus and other natives in South Africa. Then the Boers and Brits fought each other in the two Boer Wars between 1899 and 1902. About that time the Afrikaan-speaking population started introducing several racist laws, to protect the European dominance of the country. In 1948 the Boer Nationalist Party won the elections and introduced a system called Apartheid, Separateness. Government was only allowed for whites. Schools, good jobs, education, busses, health care, restaurants, banks, post offices and civil rights were only for white people. Everything was based on laws of racism. In 1950 the Population Regulation Act demanded that all South Africans should be classified in three groups: white, mixed colour and black. A black person had to carry a passport to show who he was in his own country. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s the protest movement the African National Congress the ANC with Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela gained strength. Mandela and Tambo opened up a small law firm in Johannesburg protecting human rights for native “black” people. There were 3 million white people ruling 25 million “blacks”. The government chased Mandela and the others and Mandela disguised himself. After the Sharpeville Massacre on March 21st 1960 it didn’t take long before Mandela was caught and put in prison on Robben Island between 1962 and 1990, for 27 years. In 1966 the United Nation’s General Assembly proclaimed in resolution 2142, XXI, March 21st as the international day against racism to commemorate the victims at Sharpeville and the foul phenomenon of racism. Apartheid ended in South Africa in 1993 and they had their first free election on April 27th 1994. Nelson Mandela was elected as President. He was born on July 18th 1918 and still lives. Bless him. Let’s continue working for a better world.

Anders Moberg, March 22d 2013

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Norooz and the Wednesday Feast or Fire-Festival

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Such irony this year. The winter has taken a new grip of Malmoe, Scania and many parts of Sweden. It’s Wednesday March 20th 2013 and when I look out of my bedroom window I see the snow flakes falling and building up the white, wet and cold carpet on the ground, even though the wintry cover isn’t high. Still… yesterday evening we gathered to celebrate the coming of spring. At this time of year Norooz is celebrated here in Malmoe and on many places here on Earth. Between September 28th and October 2d 2009 at a UN conference in Abu Dhabi The Inter-Governmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage the United Nations registred the Norooz celebration on UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. I was invited by my friends and former colleagues at the Iranian-Swedish Society Malmoe who arranges the Feast in Folkets Park/the People’s Park every year in co-operation with Malmoe Municipality. The bonfires were lit when I arrived and people in all ages and of various background had gathered to celebrate Eldfesten/The Fire Festival and Norooz. Information about different immigrant services were handed out, food and drink were sold and inside at Moriskan speeches were held and oriental pop music was performed by a live band on stage. More and more people arrived and enjoyed the great entertainment as well as the good music. So what is Norooz and the Fire Festival? What makes it an intangible cultural heritage?

Norooz/Newrooz means New Day in Persian and is the Persian-Afghan-Kurdic-Central Asian New Year Celebration. It is celebrated approximately around March 20th every year and is an ancient tradition which probably is 3000 – 3 700 years old, maybe even longer. When the Sun leaves the zodiac of Pisces and enters the one of Aries instead, and the Sun crosses the celestial equator and makes day and night equally long then it’s Norooz. In Ancient Persia the end of the year was celebrated with the Feast of All Souls called Forodigan or Farvardigan when the Guardian Angels or Faragahar were evoked.

Sometime 1700 – 1500 BCE a man called Zaratushtra lived. In later Persian his name became Zardusht and in Greek Zoroaster. He was a priest and prophet who came from the Iranian Plateau and he simplified the ancient Iranian-Central Asian pantheon of different deities. His writings in the Old Avestan tongue were called “gathas”. The religion he shaped called Zoroastrianism was very dualistic, a combat between good and evil. The Zorastrian ideas has later also influenced Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Zaratushtra as a religious reformer exalted the deity of wisdom and divided the divine powers between Ahura Mazda (the Illuminating Wisdom) and Angra Mainyu/Ahriman (the Destructive Spirit). Zaratushtra is also said to have introduced the Norooz Celebrations and the idea to chase away the darker spirits and welcoming the good ones. Both fire and water were important elements in Zoroastrianism.

This is very clear in the Feast that introduces Norooz. It’s called Chahar Shanbe Suri/The Wednesday Feast and was held on Tuesday evening until Wednesday morning in the New Year celebrations. Bonfires were lit to chase away the dark times and evil Ahriman and welcoming light, fertility and the good Ahura Mazda. People jumped over the lit bonfires and said: “Zardi-ye man az to, sorkhi-ye to az man”, which means “My sickly yellow paleness is yours, your fiery red colour is mine”. This tradition of celebrating New Year and Springtime has continued through millennia until today. During the Persian Achaemenid Dynasty, 548 – 330 B.C.E, Norooz and Chahar Shanbe Sori was very important and part of the state religion. Even more so under the Sassanids, 224 – 651 C.E. just before the Muslim invasion. Many people from Central Asia, Persians, Afghans, Kurds and Armenians have kept this tradition alive. A special kind of food called ajeel is served, which is a mix of nuts and berries. People sometimes disguise themselves and knock on doors in a trick or treat. Many traditions have merged over thousands of years, but also in recent decades. New traditions complete the old ones. Here in Sweden we celebrate spring with bonfires on April 30th with songs, social gatherings and speeches.

Even if the religious conotoations in these celebrations are mostly gone or forgotten in the celebrations today they had a profound religious meaning for the earlier generations. The Swedish celebration on April 30th is also most likely a reminiscence of the same or similar festivities since some of our ancestors and ideas came from the same Asian region long ago, 3000 – 4500 years ago. We mustn’t forget that Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Icelandic belong to the Scandinavian/North German branch of the Germanic language group of the larger Indo-European language family. English belongs to the Western Germanic branch. We’re connected in our DNA and some of our older traditions with the peoples in Kurdistan, Iran, Afghanistan etc. and our distant relatives in India. Even further back in time we all have African origins in our DNA. Over time our different traditions, ideas, clothes, customs, religions and political notions have evolved. But deep down we are very much the same and very much alike. Can we ever learn from that and move on to co-operate in future? Now let’s celebrate and smile. Happy New Year! Gott Nytt År! Sale Nu Mubarak!

Anders Moberg, March the 20th 2013

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Gustav III – The enlightened despot

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“Now there would have been time to shoot. Let’s go down. The masquerade seems jolly and merry”. These words were uttered by king Gustav III on March 16th 1792. He was standing by a window at the Royal Opera in Stockholm looking down on the dancing guests. Fifteen minutes earlier he had finished supper with some of his closest friends. Then a page appeared with an anonymous letter to the king. It said that there was a conspiracy to kill the king and that the assassination would take place during the masquerade ball this evening. King Gustav showed the letter to his friend von Essen who got upset and asked the king to put on a harness, but he refused. After having watched the dancing guests from the window the king put on his tiny masque, a three-pointed hat and a thin silk cloak and went down with his company. Quickly he was surrounded by five men in black cloaks. One of them said: “Bon soir, beau masque”/Good evening, beautiful masque”. He then shot the king in the back who stumbled and exclaimed in French which was the Swedish court language then: “Ah. I’m wounded. Take me away and arrest him. But don’t hurt him”. Gustav III was helped by his friends von Essen and Löwenhielm, while the conspirators called out that fire was loose, but to no avail. Another royal friend Pollet saw to that the doors were closed. There was a quick investigation. While the wounded king was resting at the castle District Police Commissioner Nils Henric Liliensparre led the investigation. Two pistols and a knife were found and a note that quickly revealed some identity.

The culprit who had pulled the trigger was a military called Jacob Johan Anckarström, 29 years old. In the winter of 1791- 1792 some Swedish noblemen had gathered to discuss their hatred of the king. Apart from Anckarström they were Carl Fredrik Pechlin, Adolph Ribbing, Claes Fredrik Horn, Carl Pontus Liliehorn, Johan Tore Bielke and the brothers Jacob and Johan von Engström. The king had withdrawn many of their noble privileges and moreover dragged Sweden into an unpopular and futile war against Russia 1787- 1790. Now they had had enough and plotted to kill the monarch and end his autocratic rule. Captain Anckarström was given the task to do the main job and he replied: “I’ll do it. If opportunity is given”. However, one of the conspirators, Carl Pontus Liliehorn, became reluctant and it was he that wrote the anonymous letter. District Police Commissioner Liljensparre was efficient. He soon succeeded to find all the plotters. All the same it was decided that only one should be executed and that was Anckarström. He was flogged and quartered. The king died from his wounds, blood poisoning and pneumonia on March 29th 1792. Anckarström was executed a month later. His co-conspirators were all imprisoned, but one soon found his way to France and was celebrated in the revolutionary realm.

Who was Gustav III? What had led to the assassination of him? He was born at the Wrengel Palace in Stockholm on January 13th 1746, as son of king Adolf Fredrik and queen Lovisa Ulrika of Prussia. Gustav also was cousin of Tsarevna Catherine II of Russia. A country and cousin he disliked intensely. As a boy he was taught a lot about the new enlightenment philosophers and was influenced by them, but the king and queen quarreled with his first tutors and changed the tutorship. At the age of 20 he was persuaded by the Parliament to marry the Danish princess Sofia Magdalena, even though he had no real feelings for her. The princess was also very disliked by her new step-mother, the Swedish queen. In the summer of 1768 crown prince Gustav had a short love affair with the young woman Charlotte du Riez, but he soon broke the connection. As a prince he also was very nationalistic and leader of the hat party in Parliament. On February 12th 1771 when his father died he was in Paris persuading the French monarch to help him. The old Louis XV of France gave him the advice to try and make peace between the fractions in Sweden. On May 29th 1771 Gustav was crowned king Gustav III.

Aided by Jacob Magnus Sprengtporten and Johan Christopher Toll the new king tried to instigate an uprising against the Parliament in Finland and Skåne/Scania. The Scanian uprising broke out too early and Sprengtporten hadn’t had time to get back from Finland. Then the king decided to perform a coûp d’état all the same on August 19th 1772. Surrounded by some close advisors he introduced a system of almost total autocratic dictatorship. However, Gustav III was for most of his 21 years of power an enlightened despot. He abolished torture in 1772, improved the health care system, made corruption more difficult, improved the salary system for civil servants, improved the free trade in 1775 and 1780 and made the penal system more lenient in 1777. But it wasn’t perfect. Instead of torture a prisoner could be in jail without limitations until he or she confessed. Gustav III also limitated the freedom of press, instead of easening the system in 1774. However, in 1777 he was the first leader in the world to acknowledge the USA as an independent nation. Already in 1776 Gustav III wrote: “It’s an interesting act to see a state that creates itself – If I hadn’t been who I am – I would go to America to follow all stages of development in the creation of this new republic from close quarters. This might become America’s century… Nevertheless I can’t help myself from admiring their courage and intensely like their boldness”.

The king’s family life was anything but happy. The marriage was a conventional one with little or no affection between the king and queen. In 1775 stable master Adolf Fredrik Munck tried to make the royal couple coming closer to each other. In 1778 a new crown prince was born, Gustav Adolph, and a rumour said that Munck was the real father. In 1782 queen Sofia Magdalena gave birth to another infant boy, Karl Gustav, but he died a year later. This family tragedy of lost family members, a loveless marriage and rumours of infidelity probably triggered the king’s downward trend. Still Gustav III tried to continue developing the Swedish society. He loved arts. He was himself skilled in writing, wrote several plays, was good at sketching and loved partcipating in stage plays and ballets. In 1771 he founded the Music Academy, the Academy of Painting and Sculptury in 1773, the Academy of Belles Lettres, History and Antiquities in 1786 and the Swedish Academy that same year. The Royal Great Theatre/The Royal Opera was founded in 1782. In 1777 Gustav III had introduced the old-fashioned national costume for all people at court. The design looked like costumes from the beginning of the 1600’s and was intended to stifle the competition at court of who had the most luxurious dress. This national costume was very disliked by many courtiers. In 1778  more voices were heard against the king’s dictatorship. He was against death penalty and passed a new law that said that all death penalties should be signed by himself. Then he simply refused to sign any of those. Some people criticized the king for leniency. Gustav III also founded four cities between 1779 and 1786.

From 1780 and onwards Sweden suffered from famine. At the same time the opposition grew stronger and stronger. The social reforms had all but stopped and the king was criticized for wasting government money, and for extending his autocracy to increased absolutism. Ordinary people in the street just saw the waste of money on petty court things which didn’t help them at all. Bit by bit the king grew more impopular. His reductions of noble rights within the aristocracy made him intensely hated in those quarters. In 1783-1784 the king was abroad to raise money for his new projects and in Paris he bought a slave colony in the West Indies, called Swedish S:t Barthélemy. Gustav III tried to raise money from Catherine in Russia and get her help, but to no use.

In the autumn of 1787 war broke out between Russia and the Turkish Ottoman Empire and Gustav III saw his chance. In June 1788 Swedish troups crossed the Russian border from Finland and tried to take Saint Petersburg and Fredriskhamn Castle but failed. This Russian war was highly impopular in Sweden and also among Swedish officers. The king also wanted to attack Norway and Denmark. Russia got help from Denmark who marched from Norway into western Sweden. Skirmishes were fought, Gothenburg put under siege, but the defence improved there. A British diplomat helped Sweden getting a ceaze-fire and the Danish-Norwegian troups withdrew after threats from Great Britain and Prussia. This short war has gone down in history as the Theatre War or Lingonberry War since no big battles were fought. The Russian war however dragged on with some minor victories, but heavy losses and many people dead. The Swedish state was by now tired of futile wars, a destroyed country, a wasted economy and futile embellishments on the surface. A peace treaty with Russia was signed on August 14th 1790 at Värälä in Finland. It was with these experiences in the back that the assassination on Gustav III took place today 221 years ago.

What can we learn from this? Gustav III lived in a time when the modern democracy movement was in its infancy in Europe. As an enlightened despot he started out fairly well, but as time went by the problems increased. “No man is an island, entire of itself”, as John Donne said. Totalitarian systems always contribute to increased fanaticism and a lack of respect for people’s varied rights and experiences. Wars too always lay countries waste. Even if my country hasn’t been to war as a nation for a long time we must realise that the darkness that befalls all people that experience humanity’s darker aspects affect us also in today’s democratic Sweden. We ought to consider that we too have experienced good and bad things, as well as the frailty but importance of a peaceful and democratic society where people get a chance to live and grow. There will always be power-games, corruption, psychopaths, scheming and killings, but we must learn from previous periods in history, both from recent events and more distant. We have to live here and now, do what we can of our own lives and the world we live in so that the future becomes at least acceptably humanitarian.

Anders Moberg, March 16th 2013