Interview with Margarite Ekstrom and Per Wastberg
BROADCAST: 1973 | DURATION: 00:55:37
Interviewing Swedish authors Margarite Ekstrom and Per Wastberg while Studs was in Sweden.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel It's just when I'm about to leave Stockholm this day I'm here with two quite remarkable people and creative people, Per Wastberg and Margareta Ekstrom, both novelists and observers. Per Wastberg has been in South Africa, and is I'm happy to say a persona non grata there, as is Canon Collins and James Cameron and a few others, a friend of Nadine Gordimer. And incidentally he's a [snaps fingers] he's a remarkable novelist, and I must apologize, I'm very abject about it to him and Margareta because not having read his works. There've been some translations that Seymour Lawrence, Delacorte Press put out, the trilogy called "Dealing with Earth, Air and Water. Fire Next Time". It's what? "Air Cage" is one. The trilogy.
Per Wastberg "The Water Palace" [sic - called "The Water Castle" in English] is the name of the first, and the third one is called with a sort of double pun in Swedish, not translated well, "The Earth Moon", or "The Soil".
Studs Terkel And an acquaintance of mine in Sweden has said that she has found these books one of the most remarkable studies, creatively, of love. Love aberrant and normal that she's ever read, you know. And so that's part of it. That's one aspect of it, isn't it?
Per Wastberg Yes. It's not up to me to comment on that I think as a writer, but I find it myself very surprising that these books have sold in Sweden alone about half a million copies, and I think attentively? to be sort of solution or explanation of that is that they -- people have been used to discussing in abstract terms for quite a time here in Sweden family life, the sancticity of the family, how to keep together group marriages, what we call the communal families, or communal homes collective living of all sorts and kind, but in abstract terms. I've tried to make a kind of model slightly utopian maybe, but in concrete terms so people should know what they leave if they leave their present way of living in order to try something else. I think that might be wh,y why they have been so successful. Margareta,
Margareta Ekstrom Yes and you mustn't forget that it has been a very big discussion and opinion in Sweden for the women's course and also in this field. These three novels have put some flesh on the [bare?] discussion and really given examples of a new kind of love or relationship between absolutely equal people. It's no question about some, one having to be home making the housework and so on because they are the three of them in this case.
Margareta Ekstrom Exactly. They are very equal people, all of them, even if they are very strong personalities, [all of them?]. And this is also an explanation I think why it has been bought so very much as it has.
Studs Terkel My friend pointed out that the man she found rather dull person, and the two women very exciting and very strong, which is [rather] -- now she said written by a man, Per Wastberg, which she found quite astonishing.
Per Wastberg Well, it's like that intentionally. I think it's -- one [of] our classic writers have said that the fault of living together of marriage is that there's always a conflict between woman's love and man's work. I put it rather the other way around. Here's a man very capable of strong emotions, of a very broad-minded love. Here are two women whose foremost basis is in their work in a way into their career who are absolutely intent to live as independent people not dependent on any man, so that they -- there's a kind of other way around there. And I think the man is not dull, but many women have found him hesitant because he cannot decide between one woman or the other for the time being. I mean, that's its [unintelligible].
Margareta Ekstrom Yes, I think of them which was Lessing said about liberated women, what is the meaning of liberated women? We don't have any liberated men, and I think this fellow in Per's books is really a liberated man that's emotionally liberated because what is the very big need is of course to get women socially in the working field and the political field liberated, and to get the men emotionally family sort of way liberated.
Studs Terkel I'm sure that Per Wastberg -- once they're translated, "Air Cage" is Seymour Lawrence, Delacorte Press, will be fantastic by many of the young women of the United States because this obviously on their minds. Say I, as a male, obsessively, yet I know I'm wrong, you see. But how did you -- how does Per Wastberg come to this particular view? Being a man, you see. How is it that you were able to dig into the psyches it would seem successfully of women so well.
Per Wastberg Hard to say. I mean, it's intuition and it's experience. And I think to broaden this a bit, it has something to do with my experiences of other kinds of oppression, which during years altogether now in in Black Africa I have experienced racism in its most legalistic terms. I mean, the worst kind of such things of racism there is in the world I mean in South Africa, where law proclaims racism, and I've seen people very like myself in Rhodesia, for instance, where I spent a year as a student living together part of the time with an African family. A journalist who is just like myself, and this journalist is now sitting since 10 years in detention in a camp without any hope for the future. He doesn't know when to be released. I could be in his place. I could just -- I could be a woman in Swedish society or [any other?] society.
Studs Terkel Per Wastberg and Margareta Ekstrom are hosts at their home not too far from the hotel, and you're talking now, we're resuming the conversation, talking now about -- as you saw it quite logical connection between women and seeking their selfhood and what you saw in South Africa. So we have to now go back to South Africa. How you got there. By the way, we should point out, Per Wastberg was in the very first of the Swedes [as a?] persona non grata. Now, how did this all happen? How'd you get to South Africa?
Per Wastberg It's a long story, but I got the -- in 1959 I got the opportunity on American Rotary Foundation fellowship. They asked me, "Where do you like to go?" And I said, "Since you pay the journey, as far from home as possible." And they said, "Well, there are -- what are the places?" I mean, this had to be English-speaking universities. And they said, "Hong Kong or Salisbury?" In Rhodesia.
Studs Terkel -- Now, let me get this straight now. The American Rotary Association is responsible for what happened to Per Wastberg in South Africa. And in a way what's happened to his novels about women in Sweden. So okay.
Per Wastberg That's right. Yes. So I went to Salisbury, because the university in Rhodesia at the time had had no foreign student. I was to study African literature, but I happened to come there at the very moment when the first big raids on African oppositions were made, and they were lots of people were put into prisons and detention camps, and at the university there was a kind of both Black and white opposition. People who protested, I among them, we had this small
Studs Terkel This
Per Wastberg Rhodesia now. And we had a small mimeographed magazine, and I wrote for the Scandinavian press, and one day I was called up to the Minister for -- Minister of Interior, who was also the vice-president of the Salisbury Rotary Club, where I was honored, not a member but I was that sort of favorite young guy who came along and was regarded as a very innocent
Per Wastberg So he called me up and said, "I'm not talking to you now as a Minister of Interior, but as your Rotary host, and we have got here in translation from Sweden the most strange articles. You are on the strange misapprehensions, you must write and tell them that you have gone astray, that you have been misinformed," and so on. And I then declined. Long pause. I wrote some other articles, was called up again, and that was, there was a white priest with the Ministry of Interior who was the head of Salisbury Poetry Society, and the Minister of Interior said, "Here's a poet, a priest and poet. He might understand you, we don't. Could you explain to him in your -- why you also hostile against our -- against our kind of regime, which we call 'apartness.'" Well, I tried to explain. It was unsatisfactorily, next time they -- I got a letter from the prime minister saying, "We think that you are not very much on your ease in this country. Perhaps there are other countries in Africa more free in your mind, to -- and perhaps you will go away." I took the hint in fact.
Per Wastberg Yes. So I left for South Africa and immediately I'd left I was declared prohibited immigrant, and I then wrote to the American Rotary Foundation saying, "I'm not -- no longer a student. I've tried as much as I could to, to promote the Rotary promises of a sort of friendship between the races and no social boundaries and whatnot, but they don't understand me. They think I am the contrary because the Minister of Interior said, "You are no ambassador between the people, the ambassador of goodwill," as we -- Rotary likes you to be. And I said, "I will pay back my Rotary Foundation fellowship, half of it, which I have not used. And what is your position?" And they wrote back to me saying, "We accept money, to be paid back, but we can't take any position. We have no opinion. It's up to you."
Per Wastberg Yes. I was very angry about that. I [reported?] to my Swedish Rotary, to the Swedish Rotary Foundation, and they wrote -- to my surprise quite good and they thought I'd done the right thing.
Studs Terkel By the way, let's raise -- you don't mind, Per, if we wander -- by the, Margareta can enter this conversation any time, I really don't -- push the mike back and forth. You mentioned Swedish Rotary is quite good, and so if I could just -- we'll drop the other shoe later. The Swedish Rotary. So, Sweden. The climate. Because I'm here now. And of course I'm looking for impressions and I found some, perhaps wrong, perhaps right. You're talking now about women, your novels about women, and we think of Sweden as a relatively emancipated Western country. Is this, is this true? Am I fairly right, or am I wrong?
Per Wastberg I think you are fairly right, but it's certainly not true about Rotary, and I would say that Rotary is, is to my mind an anomaly. I wouldn't dream of being a member of it. They were nice at the time because -- to me because they had read my 20 articles. They were brainwashed by these articles, you see, so they took my side. But in the question of human I think it's just ridiculous, these sort of male-dominated clubs or women-dominated clubs, I don't like them.
Studs Terkel What about, come back -- skipping Rotary. Going -- let's jump beyond Rotary. Sweden and women. And this is the aspect, I mean, somehow we think in the United States that Swedish women are more emancipated than women other Western countries.
Margareta Ekstrom Yes, I think we are in many, many aspects really, and we have at least the opportunities even if we aren't in -- even if we aren't as emancipated as we could be here, we have the opportunities in many, many ways. What is lacking is I think in the field of taking care of the children. There are many problems in that field when it comes to in all kinds of day nurseries and also in the very big psychological question, if the day nurses are good for very small children for many hours a day.
Margareta Ekstrom Yes, yes of course, has been a very big discussion about it, because it can if it isn't very supreme kind of day nursery would be rather stressing milieu for a small child. And there's also another very big problem. Almost 100 percent of the personnel in the day nurseries are women, which creates a very false biased milieu for
Studs Terkel A male hug. But then now on that subject, I find, now perhaps this is true of middle-class Swedish families or literary Swedish families. Often, I've heard this more often. Like a friend of mine, my publisher, couldn't meet me last night because he's taking home, taking care of the children because his wife is out doing something else. Now, this is rare in the United States, but I've had, I've heard this several times now. Now, is it rare in Sweden too, is it just in a certain group? Does a working man, a man who works blue-collar, manually, would he be doing this too?
Margareta Ekstrom Sometimes. It depends if his wife is perhaps suddenly out in a committee of some kind. It's more and more common, and it's -- what it's important to my mind is that there is no longer any [Swedish], any prestige in the man guarding his territory in a way, and he could say, "Well, I'm aware, I have to take care of the children, or something."
Margareta Ekstrom I think so, it's at least it is a very big opinion in Sweden for these things, but you must realize that that's also a question about the whole working situation. If the working situation gets tougher, then it's more and more important for the one in the family who earns more money to really be aware of his career. And if the situation gets tougher, it will be more difficult for the women to get out in the working field and it will be more and more important for the men to sort of guard their positions. So to be able to create such a favorable climate for family and children it has to do very much with a good working situation in the country. For a [higher? high?] living standard.
Studs Terkel So it's not accidental that at the moment many reasons Swedish -- [an employment? unemployment?] problem here. By American standards it would be very low. By Swedish standards, huge. The unemployment. So women entering the scene as well as of course foreign workers has created an employment problem here, hasn't it?
Per Wastberg Indeed. I mean, there are many more employment opportunities in Sweden today than it has ever been before. But because of this enormous influx of foreigners and our women, it creates the other impression, and of course this is what we have to strive for because I think it's necessary to have the women enter, and one solution is to my mind that that men take [hard?] part-time jobs, and that even if it means a lowering of economic standards, I think it means a heightening of psychological standards or sort of fullness of life because life is not only work.
Margareta Ekstrom I must agree with what Per said, and I think so many men have had a very bad experience of suddenly becoming some kind of stranger to his own family. And this is a very bad point for a man perhaps in his 40s or 50s to realize that all what is created in his house, in his family is something he hasn't taken part of, he has only paid his way through it. And that's a situation that must be changed, not at least just because of the chil--
Studs Terkel As we're talking now, I want to come back to foreign workers and South Africa and women, obviously all related, naturally in Per Wastberg's mind and in Margareta Ekstrom's. Now, the fact that Sweden is socially democratic, has been for 40 years or so, long way to go, but maybe it reached a certain transition moment. We hear of boredom, welfare state, the cliche is, oh, the cliche in the United States is that it creates boredom, lack of initiative. What is happening in conversation with you and others that maybe there's still a step to be taken not yet taken by a society, a little more developed say than the United States. Know what I mean?
Per Wastberg Yes. Well, I would, I would like to see Sweden as a kind of social laboratory as a as an experimental station of the world, where things are tried out, different ways of living. And I think we could afford that, because it's a rich country. We should not necessarily strive for a sort of heightening of production bigger and bigger, sort of broader national product all the time, but try other ways because we are a small nation, we could afford for instance to be moral, as Palme's always accused of being too much, sort of meddling in other people's affairs. Why not? Because big countries are always striving for the nati-- in the in terms of the national interests. They
Studs Terkel The fact is, you're not Number One, I forgot to ask that of Olof Palme, must one be number one? Not only as a country but as a person, you see. In America, you know, in United States number one. We're number one football team, number one -- we will never be less than number one, said Nixon, as a result of which we have Watergate. So you're saying because you're not number one.
Per Wastberg Exactly. Yes. That's why, because we are number sort of 70 and have no real part. We could just as well afford to be moral. I think we could be wrong -- almost cynical about that, because I think we could for instance break off trade with South Africa just to show the world that one white nation in the
Per Wastberg No, and we could I think, I should -- I suggest that we should. It doesn't mean much in economical terms either for us or for South Africa. It's a [cute?] gesture. Japan and West Germany will step in any minute. I think for the sake of the demonstrations or a white state doing that. It would be good. That is a moral gesture. I mean, the Conservatives or other people would say it's an empty gesture. I don't think it is. I think that even like when Parliament is protesting against Vietnam
Studs Terkel This is funny as you say this, Margareta, it's not accidental that Olof Palme took a stand against Nixon, Sweden a small country against that, because it surely has something to do with demonstrations in Swedish streets that Sara Liebman says came from American demonstrations and American protesters and dissenters. Rather interesting, they're not empty gestures at all, they do have an effect, don't they?
Studs Terkel So coming back to South Africa. No, let's stick with Sweden for a moment. You don't mind, Per and Margareta. The word we hear a great deal is ambivalence, ambiguity, at least I feel this. And you told me something over lunch that Sweden was a rural country predominantly up to about 1910, and you were describing conditions as described by the great writer Lo-Johansson as almost serfdom little more than a half century ago.
Per Wastberg Yes. I mean, he has -- I mentioned him as an example that in a small country like ours a writer has had an absolutely decisive influence on the framing of the law and the abolition of serfdom for the farm laborers. They were really tied up to their owner, to the big property owner and couldn't change work up until, well formally at least, until the late 1930s. He by highlighting this in a number of extraordinary powerful novels and short stories and essays, he was key for abolishing this. Of course I mean that this has meant in Sweden a kind of polarization. There is a nostalgia. I mean, you have heard when you were
Per Wastberg Well, I think I think that the big cities in Sweden, let's say Stockholm, consists -- which is about a million inhabitants -- consists by more than 50 percent of people who have left the countryside during the last 20 years. There are very few real Stockholmers like myself, having had ancestors in Stockholm. Feeling at home here.
Per Wastberg Yes. So we are here in the middle of Stockholm and you see I mean like layers in a wooden trunk. I mean, the newer you will have arrived more recently you have arrived, the outer suburbs you are in very dour surroundings, and I think by the way the Swedish sort of planning house, planning a city planning, which was outstanding and a national model until the 1950s has gone totally astray.
Per Wastberg Yes.
Margareta Ekstrom [Unintelligible] communities at least even if the houses are not so small and the architecture is -- architects building, constructing these houses never leaving them, they always manage to find some small wooden house from the 18th century to
Studs Terkel live It's funny you raising this point, Per and Margareta, this question of the machinery deciding, you know often -- this book I've just finished deals with jobs and work, and invariably the person working in this industrial plant or office says, "I'm less than that machine, that machine in terms of what I'm doing, whether it be assembly line or the switchboard," you see. So it's faced here in Sweden. Now, we come to an industrial society that own little more than a half-century ago was a rural society. The farmers' life was terrible and awful, but he did see the end product, didn't he? He knew that if he milked that cow, milk would come out.
Per Wastberg Yeah.
Margareta Ekstrom Now, the people we are talking about who -- Ivar Lo-Johansson, our big writer, liberated. They never saw any end products. They were just employed, and employed in very bad conditions, sort of [Swedish?] sort of serfs, yes.
Per Wastberg Yes, for farm laborers. Yes, but the "Green Wave" means, I mean that is a sort of nostalgia perhaps, but it means the longing to small communities and it means a boredom and a desperation with the centralized bureaucracy, which is perhaps in many ways necessary for a highly complex industrial society. But what people feel, I mean is that, I mean this famous alienation, and you have heard about the famous, world-famous elms quarrel or in the in our city park here, where there were 10, 10 very old elm trees, and suddenly the city decided to turn them to -- what is it, pull them down?
Per Wastberg This was very traumatic. Suddenly, the Stockholmers, the young people, the radicals, the anarchists and the very conservative people who liked trees anyhow, they all gathered and they formed walls so people preventing the city laborers with their saws, saw machines. The police came in, [riding? rioting?] police, didn't matter, and [suddenly?]
Per Wastberg Yes.
Per Wastberg Against the -- yes, against the establishment which is Social Democrat, and this was seen here by the by the Stockholm City Council and the government as very, very dangerous. I mean, the people take over against parliamentary democracy, and they try to make it that way.
Studs Terkel Parliamentary
Per Wastberg You have elected people and you don't trust them, they said. Well, what is to come out of this? I mean, the end product was that the elms are still here to be seen. The police had to retreat, new different explanations were found, and there is now more slightly less hostile attitude to what we call village groups. I mean, every small part of Stockholm has now founded a village groups in order to defend houses from being tear down, and so on. Now happily enough, the lack of money in the present moment in Sweden is saving for instance Stockholm and it's saving many, many other things.
Studs Terkel Yeah, I'm thinking of paradox, marvelous paradox and contradiction. Lack of money is helping save the city for the moment. Rotary also he'll pay them -- Per Wastberg's trip to Africa and we're really talking about a paradox, but I want to come back to Sweden and another kind of paradox. You mentioned protest by conservative and left groups to save the trees against bureaucracy, Social Democratic. Something happened in a city I visited, [Kurynia?] up north, and it's quite remark-- that strike that happened in '69, '70, was a strike by miners, a wildcat against a labor bureaucracy,
Per Wastberg Yes, and I think it meant a great moment of -- I mean in all the stress and the plight of workers, it meant a kind of exhilaration and excitement. Something happened at least. It was possible outside the very strict framed laws of bureaucracy, of striking rights and so on. You know, we have this trade unions and the workers, the employers' associations there, they decide every second year exactly how the wages should be, so you have no freedom of action in between. Now suddenly this was a wild strike, forbidden.
Studs Terkel Wildcat.
Per Wastberg Yes, yes. What you find now afterwards is I fear a kind of apathy what really came out of it, except for the strike leader being now the trade union representative in the mine, mine board, and I think one of the main reasons for why it still is so wrong with the situation is that the whole industrial board, they all the, the elite, the fine people, are here in the right in the middle of Stockholm and go up there once or twice a year or a little more. And they're put up there as their representative a very tough man who is more or less used as a kind of buffer, or as a
Per Wastberg Well, I suppose he's an honorable man, but I see him I mean judging from the strike as a man who has been very good at turning out drunken railway man or tough people because he has a toughness native to the country up there, but he apparently lacked the psychology necessary to deal with strikers who strike for something more than their wages. They strike for a better way of living and the strike [unintelligible].
Studs Terkel Well, you see this man -- if we could just stick with him for a minute. You said when we had lunch you saw him as a buffer as I see as some -- as policemen are in certain societies. This man who was rough-hewn and speaks the language, the same vocabulary as the working men, but represents these absentee power men in Stockholm.
Margareta Ekstrom But you must also realize you say we have had a Social Democratic ruling here for 30, 40 years, but it seems in a way to be a long time and one wonders why the socialist ideals haven't come through more. What we have in Sweden are very good ideology, but we haven't got the people for it yet. It takes generations I think to create a good socialist people. And that's really a very big problem which is concerning what was the strike situation. The lack of people really taking this -- living in this ideology, not only saying yes to it without [malvious?] but living in it and being
Studs Terkel Yeah, well, you see, civil servants and bureaucracy, here's the point we're coming to now, isn't it, that it's a socialist country to some extent. Social Democratic. But bureaucracy is bureaucracy, no matter what the ideology.
Per Wastberg But [above all?], and I mean [such tendency?] that a bureaucracy becomes so self-sufficient, I mean, we have seen that in this what we call the affair with the security services, the [Ibe?], the so-called Information Burea, which turned out to be a bureau for all sorts of information.
Per Wastberg Yes.
Per Wastberg I work for the Swed-- yes, I work with the Swedish International Development Agency, I mean for aid to the Third World, to operate African refugee [celebration?] movements. I'm in some capacities I'm an advisor in African affairs to the Foreign Office and so on, and I see the bureaucracy all the time. I sit in the Stieg, in the government commission for literature, which is trying to reform literat-- and I must say that very many of them are extremely honest, hardworking people who does the most within a sort of limited framework according to their directives. There are many others and are different levels.
Studs Terkel By the way, Palme, if I could pay tribute to him, Palme's pointed something out here, Margareta, that he says you know, statesmen the world over are so removed from people's thoughts that the individual thoughts I pointed out that this old cab driver drove me there [unintelligible] "Tell him that I'm tired of driving down these mean narrow streets. You know, I'm 60 years old, it's time I had my pension now, not 67 or 65." But of course he's right, but I'm stuck with this paperwork too, you see? And you know Doris Lessing. You mentioned Rhodesia, so I think you know Dor --. She tells a story of Brezhnev and Nixon traveling by plane, others of superpowers meeting each other in banquet halls, but they don't know what people's thoughts are, and this is what bureaucracy is too, in its most grotesque form, isn't it?
Per Wastberg And I think in Sweden now I would defend, I always attack the bureaucracy, but I would defend it when it comes to the Swedish system of what we call, I don't know the American term, of having, sending things on remiss. I mean, when something is done by the bureaucracy
Per Wastberg All the things, I mean all the suggestions for, for instance a law reform is sent out to so many groups, I mean perhaps sometimes about 50 or 60 different groups, private organizations, other departments, whatever.
Studs Terkel I'm going to point something out if I may in tribute to Sweden, and -- I am astonished. I had the list from the Information Bureau that I will see Palme, Erlander, and then Hermansson, the Communist Party leader too, this would be unheard-of of course in the United States. So I do find considerably more openness of political discussion, though you have other aspects of life that are beyond politics, I think, you know, that are problems, but I find much more openness of political opinion here than in the United States or wherever else I've been. Much more. Is this true?
Studs Terkel You know, I'm thinking of something else here. Yeah. Herrmansson is conservative by their standards. I want to come back to something you mentioned Third World representatives. You were in South Africa. You haven't described your South Africa -- I think you Per Wastberg are responsible for being -- for having many Swedes be persona -- personi non grata -- gratii, whatever it is, you're responsible, aren't you? You caused
Margareta Ekstrom Well, they have claimed that. I mean, since the South African foreign minister in Parliament declared me an enemy of the South African people, while by he meant only about 15 percent of the people. I haven't been able to go back and, but also they have prevented most other Swedish journalists to go there.
Studs Terkel In case we missed the last phrase or so with Per Wastberg and with Margareta Ekstrom, you were talking about, since you caused all that trouble in South Africa, Per, when you were there. You were there when?
Per Wastberg Yes.
Per Wastberg And then I have, I've been back to Africa every second year since then, but only down to Zambezi, except for the Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, inside South Africa where they are free states now.
Per Wastberg South African white minister said last year that he had discovered that the devil had an -- living agent on Earth walking around that was Sweden. But this year he changed his mind. He said in an election speech claiming that Sweden has now been succeeded by the Council of World Churches, or the World Council of Churches.
Per Wastberg Yes, and because the World Council of Churches has now found combating racist as it's called. So that was also an admission from his side that racism is the thing to defend. But Sweden has of course been very more active in this field than I'd say any other country outside Africa at least, since after my coming back and -- and writing a book and lots of articles and so
Per Wastberg No.
Per Wastberg No.
Per Wastberg And then it was founded a committee, a government commission for the aid of African liberation movements, and Sweden was the first country to give -- to channel direct aid, monetary aid to the African liberation movements, which was a very tricky thing, since we had diplomatic relations with Portugal and South Africa, still aiding [Lutulis?], African National Congress, or ["Tre Libre"?] in Mozambique or Guinea-Bissau PAIGC.
Studs Terkel That's incredible. So you, here again the word is 'ambivalence,' the word is 'ambiguity,' of all the Western white societies, it's Sweden that is most advanced in understanding Third World. At the same time still recognizing Portuguese Mozambique, South
Per Wastberg This is, this is I see in many ways a hypocrisy, and a very sad thing. I mean, on the one hand we gave -- the Swedish government gives an -- yearly aid of ten million dollars to the liberation movements. On the other hand, Sweden being a mixed economy, the government is very reluctant to impose restrictions on free enterprise investing in Portugal and South Africa. They will do it now by law for anybody investing in Mozambique in Angola since this is -- countries are war. I think this is totally, I mean mad, because Portugal is [a mother?] country. And South Africa regard as a country of intermittent everyday violence.
Per Wastberg Well, yes. This is I mean constantly discussed. I mean, and as it was discussed during the war, very -- [unintelligible] we were under a real threat to most people, in most people's mind. Of an attack from Hitler's Germany. Should one avoid that by making these concessions? I mean still, we didn't give, we didn't give them the [minds? mines?] and so one.
Studs Terkel So this is not accidental, this feeling I have, of a very excited feeling I have by the way of being [free?] to talk, I never had this freedom. At the same time, I am kind of possessed by this feeling of ambivalence that is here too, so neutrality, middle way, all these phrases are not accidental, are they?
Per Wastberg No, but you must remember I think that no country or whatever political complexion acts when it's sort of caught in a corner from any other point of view than the national interest. Everything. I mean, you employ -- you see with America you employ lies, evasions, whatever in order to safeguard yourself, and that I think Sweden -- I mean, that's why I mean that Sweden could at least afford to be moral now when it's not cornered. That for to be moral, I mean we don't depend on Portugal or South Africa. To some extent we depend on the United
Per Wastberg I don't know, it depends on the leadership and the opinion of course. I think Palme must -- personally is a man who could do that. I mean, he's one of very few men I see with a moral stature, but he's surrounded with, with lots of pressures from all kinds, and
Studs Terkel I realize that there's a great deal of opinion about Palme, but if I could pay for the moment tribute to him, it's a fact that he did, of all the Western powers, take that stand against the Christmas bombings they did and use the direct language he did, you know. In itself to me is significant. What was the Swedish reaction to that? Generally
Per Wastberg Business interests were first scared I think, but then the head of Volvo assured us and Palme that Volvo cars sold even the better in America, because they always sold to the opposition middle classes, to the highbrows.
Studs Terkel [Unintelligible, speaking at the same time as Margareta Ekstrom]. So did the Volkswagen. We're talking about paradox and irony, but one or two more questions, and then we're taking that plane very shortly to London, this is crazy, because you know James Cameron and his writings you admire and I'll give your best to Basil Davidson, too.
Studs Terkel But I've got to ask you about one other things, especially [to?] the Third World, foreign workers. Finns and Yugoslavs and Greeks, now about 800,000, it's something new to a homogeneous country relatively.
Margareta Ekstrom As you say, we are a very homogeneous people, but that's now for this century that we have been so. When you go back to the 18th and 17th centuries, we had big invasions of all kinds of workers and the craftsmen, craftsmen and handicraftsmen was called, so this is not a new situation for us.
Per Wastberg Well, very hard to reply to. I think there is a basic -- I think that's very much down in in trying to educating Swedish people to regard them as -- well, as equals. And there's very much done that, and this is done of course with a basic presumption that everybody detests foreigners, which is a kind of very pessimistic view, but I think that lies in the bottom of that, and the experiences are very, very diverse, and I think it's one -- sometime ago when all is said, well -- for instance, with Gypsies or the Finns, let them be integrated in Swedish society, let them not -- away with the language and so on. Let them be like ordinary Swedes. So they would be then accepted as Swedes. Now there is because of the great influx of foreigners much more of the feeling that well, let's never deprive the Gypsies, the Finns, the Greeks, the Yugoslavs of their culture. So let's have churches, small papers, schools and so like in America.
Studs Terkel I suppose in every society we know in -- the Korean is the, he's the underdog in Japanese society. I imagine this is one of the things yet to be solved, isn't it? Perhaps the last -- we're talking to Per Wastberg and his writing, we haven't talked to Margareta Ekstrom and her writings. And we'll ask Per about your book [Swedish].
Margareta Ekstrom No. I am rather much translated, but not into English. There are some efforts being done just now to translate my last book of poems, which as a matter of fact it deals mostly with my -- our small daughter, Johanna. But I don't know if the efforts will be successful, and also some of my short stories are translated into English. I'm mostly a short story
Studs Terkel I hope so soon, so we can read them. And Per, your book "The Air Cage" is Seymour Lawrence, Delacorte Press. That's part of the trilogy, but it's more than a part of a trilogy, it's sort of a synthesis of it, is it?
Per Wastberg "Sommer [Swedish]". But that has nothing to do with the trilogy. It's, the Summer Islands are all the islands of the Stockholm archipelago, which I believe you have seen a little bit. It's 24,000 islands, in fact, and together with the Finnish archipelago, the largest archipelago on Earth. And what this is about is a kind of sociological detective novel or autobiographical documentary you could say in the way of living in the summer holidays in Sweden. I mean, you know this being a country of long darkness winters and so on, and a short very intense
Studs Terkel Even as you're talking, this moment as we're sitting here in the apartment of Margareta Ekstrom and of Per Wastberg, the darkness has descended, and it's now about 3:40 or so, and here it's dark. And as you're talking, I'm sorry. I thought [I would set the scene?]. Go ahead, Per.
Per Wastberg Well, this is about the, this is -- the book is about the sun setting one could say also over a form of living. The big wooden summer houses in the Swedish archipelago which is a kind of special architecture for Europe that I would say the nearest equivalent to the turn of the century houses that you found here which are symbols of a special way of bourgeois living and summer rituals, the nearest equivalent you'll find in the American South or in Liberia, where you find the Americans' house once more. I mean, the huge veranda, sort of rambling houses almost falling apart with a small wooden towers.
Studs Terkel This is interesting, you point out certain summer houses of those up, you know, up there against the many, but here the summer houses are -- a great many of summer houses in Sweden. Working people [unintelligible]. Some do. Summer houses. Working people, too, have summer
Per Wastberg Well, I think in the summer one never sleeps. Hardly ever. This is a kind of a much more hectic way. I mean, this sort of what you always find that there's a sort of phlegmatic slow Swedes. I mean the temperament gets different in summer
Per Wastberg Yes.
Per Wastberg Yes, Sweden is a country if you regard Swedish literature you'll find that we are, we are a country of Thoreaus. We have many books like the "Walden Pond". I mean, we don't have the Theodore Dreiser so much or the Faulkners,
Per Wastberg Yes.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking, though, we started talking about ambivalence and we end with ambivalence and it's summer, winter. Sweden then is summer winter country. Sweden -- middle way yet socially democratic and we trust on the threshold of something -- you feel it's a transition moment? For this society?
Per Wastberg I mean, the society, yes. Yes, I think so, and I'm not -- I feel for more stable polarizations of society. But I think instantaneous polarizations when scandals break out and so when people finally find their opinions. These are very useful.
Studs Terkel Here again paradox, and perhaps the last question. At this moment we know a scandal has broken out in Sweden. That is, there was a raid on young radical journalists and the papers are all unanimous condemning the police raid and taking -- this is, call it the Swedish Watergate, but even this you find though there's disturbing, terrifying threat to free press, you find -- you said something at lunch, Per. An [exhilaration?] of discussion suddenly.
Studs Terkel Margareta?
Margareta Ekstrom Oh, I have a special comment on that, but I think -- I know that for instance our opposition leader will -- it would be a big article of him in the paper where I am working, next Sunday, and he has suddenly been forced to take more considerate position because of this thing, and this I think can create a good political climate.
Studs Terkel And I have found this particular conversation with Per Wastberg and Margareta Ekstrom very exhilarating indeed, and thank you very much. And Americans you know are so rich and powerful that we don't have to learn the other language, you know, and we wonder why others don't know English. So I did learn [Swedish]. Thank you very much.