Lawen Mohtadi, born in 1978, is a Swedish journalist with Kurdish heritage. Her parents came to Sweden as political refugees. She had worked as a freelance reported at SR, as well as at a number of newspapers. She was the editor in chief for the culture magazine Bag between June 2008 and March 2011.
In 2003 she was named “Media Rookie of the Year” and rewarded with 25,000 kronor of Swedish journals. Now she has written the book on Katarina Taikon, which has become highly acclaimed.
Lawen talked about how she first got the idea to write “Den dag jag blir fri” (The day I become free), a book about Katarina Taikon, at the book’s release at the Södra Theatre in Stockholm.
“It was in 2005 that I went down in SR’s library and saw a book cover with Katarina’s photo. The book is, among other things, the battle with Ivar Lo Johansson. After I had seen the photo, I was hooked. I discovered that there was nothing written about Katarina and made contact with Rosa Taikon, her sister.”
When the book “Zigenare” (Gypsies) came out in 1963, it lead to a big debate.
“Katarina clearly described the Romas’ situation in Sweden who even now continue to live in camps and are not allowed to go to school.”
Katarina also wrote in the book about Ivar Lo Johansson who met and interviewed Roma.
“She criticised him for his view of Roma, which looked at Roma as an exotic element in Sweden, something she absolutely could not agree with. The book got a big impact mostly because she criticised one of Sweden’s most famous writers.”
Lawen soon realised that she had to start her research from scratch.
“My resources were Rosa Taikon, her family and close friends. Talking with them about what happened 50 years ago brought up strong emotions.”
She draws a parallel with Martin Luther King.
“There was both happiness and frustration in Katarina’s life and work. Many times it was both brutal and hard. In 1964, she met Martin Luther King. Her work was in its constructing phase then.”
The questions that Katarin drew were on schooling and housing issues.
“At the time, Roma lived in camps. She was about to empty them and obtain flats for the Roma. I knew that this was a story of discrimination, but I had no idea the wave of antipathy that came when the Roma began moving into the flats in the 60s, a time when welfare was abundant, but not for Roma. It was not evident that all men would be part of the wellfare committee.
Although Katarina originally sympathised with the Social Democrats, she later left them.
“She was disappointed in how they discriminated against Roma. In the late 60s, she criticised the Social Democrats in the strongest terms.”
Lawen believed that Katarina had been very important for the Romas’ situation in Sweden, especially in terms of housing and school issues. She also raised Roma on the political agenda and made them visible in the social arena.
“She made the Roma visible for the first time. There is only one Katarina Taikon, but there are many who are inspired by her work, myself for example. The book on Katarina.”
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