Book Review: A Gripping Account of a Ruthless Outlaw Community

Book Review: A Gripping Account of a Ruthless Outlaw Community

The article features a book titled “Children of the Empire: A story” by Liza Alexandrova-Zorina. The book talks about the horrendous events that take place in Swedish society, as reported by the 39-year-old Russian journalist who currently resides in Sweden. The author hopes her reportage will have a similar impact to Johanna Bäckström Lerneby’s “The Family” and Diamant Salihu’s “Till all die”. Alexandrova-Zorina interviewed around thirty people from the Russian-speaking diaspora in Sweden and discovered a pattern in which various parts of the post-Soviet diaspora interact. The lowest on the scale, undocumented and illegal immigrants, are shamelessly exploited and may need protection, where the mafia comes in. This book reveals startling facts about a parallel society from the former Soviet Union residing in Sweden, and it’s mind-boggling that these events have gone unnoticed by Swedish authorities, as revealed by the author.

This is a book that burns in the hands. The 39-year-old Russian journalist Liza Alexandrova-Zorina, now with a temporary residence permit in Sweden, reveals monstrous things going on in Swedish society.

Her reportage will hopefully have an impact similar to Johanna Bäckström Lerneby’s “The Family” and Diamant Salihu’s “Till all die”.

In an interview in DN Saturday (18/3), Liza Alexandrova-Zorina tells how she came into contact with Sweden through a conference for Russian and Swedish writers in Visby. And via a work grant started writing in Russian media about Swedish culture. Later, she was engaged as a writer in Expressen and Sydsvenskan. A small part of the material in the book is already published in articles, but most of it is new.

According to the journalist Ellinor Torp, who wrote about the Swedish shadow society in the book “Vi skuggorna”, the diaspora from the former Soviet Union is assumed to consist of several hundred thousand people, even if the statistics in 2022 say just over a hundred thousand.

This large group is hierarchically arranged through various relationships that deal with background, nationality and whether or not you have money, a job, the right papers. The lowest on the scale, undocumented and illegal immigrants, are shamelessly exploited and may need “protection”. That’s where the mafia comes in. Serious criminals, heavy criminals have great power in this special shadow society.

Alexandrova-Zorina’s method is to survey through interviews. The reporter seeks out around thirty, often strong personalities, and talks to them about their lives and conditions. Gradually, a pattern emerges in which different parts of the post-Soviet diaspora interact.

They come from different countries, some have fought each other, some are doing so today, like Russians and Ukrainians, but they are united by the Russian language. And through the site “Svenska Palmen”, which is a kind of combination of Facebook, Blocket and Tinder, where you advertise everything possible, not least illegal jobs and sex, often in combination. I wonder, do the Swedish police read this site?

An astonishing one image of a robber society is emerging. People have come to Sweden in different ways, some cheated on money via fake ads, fake jobs with contractual salaries – and once they stand in Swedish passport control, they try to follow a manual they were asked to study. For example, it may apply to say that you should visit museums and other attractions. And for an asylum application, there must be a “background story” with supporting documents to present to the Swedish Migration Agency.

A young woman succeeded by falsely proving that she was an activist and supporter of the opposition politician Alexei Navalny. That person admits Liza Alexandrova-Zorina that she, herself a dissident, almost did not manage to relate professionally to.

Otherwise, she seems deft and not infrequently humorous, maneuvering most people, even Chechen mafia members who serve as blackmailers and protectors of the exiled Soviets. Roughly exploited workers call on the Chechens, or the “fixers”, if tough measures are required, for example against Swedish employers who do not pay out of wages to the undocumented. Most often they start in a soft style, then they harden. “The employer needs to understand that it is serious, that he is in danger. Sometimes it is enough to mention where the fixer comes from.”

Photo: Beatrice Lundborg

The Chechens have too usually take care of the “hostels” where Russian-speaking guest workers are housed. The anarchist Petro, who helps make websites and logos for construction and cleaning companies in exchange for a place to sleep, says that the hostels are “the Chechens’ own principality”: “Everyone understands that they live with criminals. You step on your toes all the time. Strict order. Plus many have religious fixations – everything is haram, this is haram, that is haram, and music is Satan’s decoy.”

Ulugbek from Uzbekistan rents an apartment in Rinkeby with five others, he “bought a coordination number for 1,000 kroner from the Chechens” and got a bank card. In a work team of ten illegals, he worked from morning to night on a construction site in Norrtälje, they slept on cardboard boxes on the floor during construction and their boss Kristian “handled us like animals…threatened us, mocked us, humiliated us”. He promised that he would pay but did not pay, but said “you who are here illegally, you are undocumented, you are nothing”.

Another Uzbek, Karim, has similar experiences from a company hired by, among others, Skanska and Peab and, according to the book, was involved in the construction of Nya Karolinska, Scandic Continental and Capio St. Göran’s hospital.

Alexandrova-Zorina wallraffar on some occasions. About the women, she writes: “They are fleeing poverty, exploitation and violence, but when they come to Sweden they end up in a small and isolated world that is also characterized by poverty, exploitation and violence.”

The undocumented men are hit hard, but it still cannot be compared to what happens to the women. Wild animals out there or serfs in other people’s homes. When I read about them, it’s hard to breathe. They are so disgusted by what these women are exposed to in Sweden, which for them is a lawless country.

As an interviewer, Liza Alexandrova-Zorina is good at creating trust and often pokes in details and sharp observations that strengthen the presence. Sometimes it can go really fast in the turns and I have to scroll back and check, who is talking now? At the same time, it is difficult to be critical of a report that offers so much fire and upsetting information. In addition, I have the handicap of not knowing Russian, which in this case means minimal source criticism.

But how it comes that the Swedish authorities failed to obtain clear information about this parallel society from the former Soviet Union, is a mystery.

And it is hard to digest that it apparently takes an improbably brave reporter from Russia to give us this knowledge of what is happening in Sweden.

Read more texts by Maria Schottenius and others from DN’s book reviews


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