In an amazing, spacious flat overlooking Patriashy Prudy, with a feeling of space that is truly Scandinavian, I met Anna Gustafson Bril, the President of SWEA Moscow (Swedish Womenâs Educational Association) and Cecilia Wettstam, Vice President of SWEA Moscow. Cecilia Wettstam will most likely be elected the new President end of February.
Over banana cake and pumpkin soup, made according to recipes that can be found on the SWEA blog www.sweamoskva.blogspot.com, Anna and Cecilia told me about Swedes in Moscow and about what SWEA Moscow does.
How many Swedes live in Moscow?
The embassy has a list of fewer than 1000 people, but I think that there are more Swedes here, maybe as many as 1500. There are about 400 Swedish companies operating in Russia, which is quite a lot, more than the Danes or Norwegians have â but the Finns have 1000 companies in Russia, so there we have some catching up to do!
Who are your members?
The majority of SWEAâs 90 members in Russia are accompanying spouses, even though the trend is that more and more women come here by themselves for career reasons working for Swedish companies.
The average age in our chapter here in Moscow is around 40, i.e., not that old. Traditionally, Swedish women have mostly ventured abroad together with their families. Nowadays, we see that there are many more young Swedish women relocating and travelling for work by themselves. In Sweden, approximately 90% of mums work; there are almost no stay-at-home mothers. When you come to Russia, however, it is not so easy to continue your career immediately. Nevertheless, there are a substantial number of Scandinavian women who work professionally here, mainly within Scandinavian companies. We also have a surprisingly large number of Russians ladies as members who have maybe lived in Sweden, or have studied Swedish here, and they are of course also welcome as members. Our doors are also open to other Scandinavians.
All Scandinavians have the same culture?
What one realises when living abroad, is that the Nordic countries have so many things in common. For example, the Santa Lucia tradition, which celebrates an ancient Italian saint who helped the poor. Boys and girls dress up in white clothing, carrying candles and sing songs. Before moving to Moscow, I did not know that this is also celebrated in Norway and Denmark, maybe even in Finland. The mentality and thinking, the way of life is quite similar for all Scandinavian/Nordic people, according to my experience.
Even the language, apart from Finnish which we cannot understand, is a rather low barrier which one can get over. Swedes, Danes and Norwegians can understand each other, especially if everyone speaks slowly. The climate is also not vastly different.
Is SWEA an international organisation?
The whole organisation has 7,500 members in 34 countries all over the world. So, the fact that our 90-member strong chapter in Moscow fits into a large international organisation, has many advantages. For instance, I and Cecilia Wettstam, our Vice President visited Vienna just a few months ago for a SWEA regional meeting, where we met with the other presidents in our part of the world, which was useful. Cecilia also works internationally with SWEA as part of the IT committee, where a big job of upgrading our web hosting is underway.
Do you help to bring Swedish cultural figures out to Moscow?
We are a non-profit organisation so we donât have a huge budget and therefore canât bring large numbers of people to Moscow. The cultural department at the Swedish embassy and other organisations such as the Swedish Institute are geared up for that. Our main purpose is to act as a network for our members, support Swedish culture and Swedish language; this is very important for us. For the last three years, however, we have started a tradition to bring somebody over to our February General Meeting. Last year we invited Ola Lauritzson, a diet specialist quite famous in Sweden who lectured about healthy ways of eating directly after our General Meeting. We also finance our âSweden scholarshipâ enabling a Russian woman to visit Sweden each year.
Do you have a favourite Swedish restaurant or place where you meet?
We donât have one particular place where we meet all the time, rather we try to discover new places of interest in Moscow. We also have meetings in our homes in the evenings and mornings, then there are the yearly Welcome Meetings that we organise in September in the Scandinavia restaurant. Other annual events in which the whole Swedish community takes part are Sweden Day, which we organise with the Swedish embassy celebration our National Day in June.
There are so many activities that itâs sometimes hard to keep up. Cecilia will most likely take over from me in February, as I need a break from our busy SWEA schedule. There is a pre-conceived illusion about womenâs clubs âthat all they do all day is drink coffee and bake cakes.â Many of us love baking, no doubt, but there is so much more. We organise lectures to understand the Russian culture better and we do a great amount of visits to Russian centres of culture for example. I feel that in a place like Russia, which in many ways is quite different from where we come from, itâs very important for our members to network in order to exchange ideas and experiences about life here.
Youâve been here for 7 seven years. Has your impression changed over the years?
I always felt pretty good here in Russia. I like the Russians, I think they are warm, passionate, and intelligent people. We eventually came to live and work here on a permanent basis.
But youâre exceptional. Do most Swedish people have the same attitude toward Russians as you do?
Maybe there are Swedes who have a less positive impression of Russia because of negative media coverage in Sweden. However, often once they come over here, many discover that this is an amazing place; it is for example culturally very rich. Of course I think that there are challenges that you face when you live here, a lot of things donât work as efficiently and easily as they do in the West, but that is not the whole story.
What do Swedes think of Russian men?
Well, I canât really say very objectively, because I am married to a Russian! But in general, Russian men like to make women feel like real women.
Contact Anna or Cecelia for more information about the Swedish Women’s Educational Association :-
Anna Gustafson Bril,
President SWEA Moscow
+7 916 102 7531
Vice President SWEA Moscow
+7 985 233 9687