The front page of a newspaper the day after Hasan Zatara was shot. Screengrab from 'Shot by the Laser Man'
On January 30, 1992, a man walked into Hasan Zatara’s store, next to the Hägersten subway station in Stockholm, and shot him in the head. The perpetrator was John Ausonius, a.k.a. Lasermannen (which translates to "Laser Man").
Within five months between 1991 and 1992, Lasermannen shot at least 11 people. The Lasermannen case became the second largest and most comprehensive police investigation in the history of Sweden—after the investigation of the murder of Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986.
Lasermannen’s deeds were inspired by the political party New Democracy, which was a populist and xenophobic party that entered the Swedish parliament in 1991. The only thing Lasermannen’s victims had in common was that they were all immigrants. Ironically, Ausonius wasn't really Swedish himself, but of Swiss and German origin, which reportedly meant that he grew up feeling alienated, and as a kid he was often bullied because of this.
From left: Adam Tensta, Mustafa Zatara, and Hasan Zatara. Screengrab from Shot by the Laser Man
Hasan Zatara was fortunately not killed by Lasermannen's shot. However, after weeks in a coma, he woke up unable to speak, with half his body paralyzed. In the 22 years since he was shot, his seven children have learned to communicate with him through body language. Swedish rapper Adam Tensta, who is friends with Zatara's son, Mustafa, met up with Hasan for a video interview, which Tensta released on his website last Friday.
The interview hasn't been subtitled in English yet, so I called up Tensta to talk about his conversation with Zatara, racism, and the similarities between Sweden in the 1990s and Sweden today.
VICE: Tell me about the subject matter of the video you released on Friday.
Adam Tensta: The video is about Hassan Zatara and how his life has been since he was shot. There is also a conversation concerning racism and some more thoughts that he hasn’t had the chance to share ever since he was paralyzed.
How did Hassan Zatara's story attract your attention?
I think it’s important that people get to see the face of a victim of racism, so that they understand it's not just a matter of politics and statistics—that it can actually affect and ruin lives. It wasn't just Hassan Zatara whose life changed after the incident—his entire family was affected.
Has racism affected you personally?
Yeah, definitely. I speak Swedish, and that immediately classifies me as "exotic" in some people's eyes. And people have a tendency to tell you if they think you’re not like them. Like, “Dude, you speak really good Swedish—were you born here?" I can never be a “Swede”.
These are ideas that are usually communicated in pretty innocent ways—people don't really think before saying them. But it affects people more than you would expect—to never be allowed in or not be allowed to be who you are in front of other people. It’s about the way you look, or what religion you follow, etc. Racism can be expressed in many ways; it’s not always manifested with violence. It can be something as simple as “Would it bother you if I call you chocolate balls?” You get me?
I do. How did meeting Hasan feel?
It felt like he had been imprisoned in a bubble for a long time. You can’t see that in the video, but when we arrived outside the building where he lives, we saw him standing on his balcony. The feeling that he really wanted this to happen was strong—that he had been waiting for this moment for a while. I think it’s weird that he hasn’t had the chance to speak his mind before. That's pretty insane, actually.
There are plenty of documentaries about Lasermannen. But it feels like nobody has really bothered to look at his victims and their stories.
I’m not so sure about that, so I can’t comment on that. But if it is that way, it’s obviously a shame. I mean, these are the people who have been affected the most.
How did you get in touch with Hasan?
I know Hasan’s sons. One of them, Mustafa, at some point told me that no one has ever interviewed his dad. We were talking about racism and how it has become this matter of numbers but doesn't seem to have a face, or a face that people accept. So Mustafa obviously thought of his dad, who’s been shot by Lasermannen, and said that it’d be interesting to interview him about this.
When you guys were growing up together, did you feel that the sons were affected by their dad’s situation in any way?
We were very young when he was attacked, but you understood pretty quickly that their lives wouldn’t be the same again. I mean, it was obvious how incredibly sad they were—during class, on our breaks, anytime we hung out.
Mustafa and Hasan Zatara. Screengrab from Shot by the Laser Man
It might be difficult to remember now, but did you understand at the time that there were racist motives behind the attack? And did that affect you and your friends?
We talked about it at home, and I remember that my mum didn’t really want me to go out and play as we usually did. Because, you know, she had heard about this man shooting immigrants. We discussed it quite a lot at school—at least in our neighborhoods. We followed the news, and when we were outside we'd act a little paranoid—'cause anyone could have been the Lasermannen's victim.
But as time passed, the stories turned into some kind of legend, almost like an urban legend. And then it happened again in Malmö in 2009—we got a new Lasermannen, Peter Mangs.
If you look at the situation in Sweden today, do you see any similarities between then and now?
There are so many similarities between how it was then and how it is now, and in a way, that feels a bit like a relief. Because then you can hope that the rampage of the far right will be repressed by the anti-racist movement, in the same way it was in the 1990s. It’s interesting and at the same time terrifying that we’re experiencing the same cycle all over again. There is an actual second Lasermannen, and xenophobic parties are also having some time in the sun.
How are you hoping that people will feel when they watch this?
I don’t think that this will change the minds of people who intend to vote for the Sweden Democrats. I don’t think that will happen, as those people have largely extreme opinions and feelings. But I hope that we’ve shown how racism affects people's lives. Many people imagine that racism doesn’t exist. That there isn’t any institutionalized racism either. I just want to show them all that this is wrong—here's what was and what is happening in Sweden at the moment.
Watch Adam Tensta's video Shot by the Laser Man here (in Swedish).
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