Former Norwegian Ambassador-at-Large to the Russian Federation Øyvind Nordsletten delivered a public lecture at NArFU as part of the III International Belomorsky Forum and Barents Bird Festival. Russian and international students had a unique opportunity to hear about the historical facts and real life stories from a renowned diplomat who witnessed them firsthand.
In his introduction of the speaker, Honorary Consul of Kingdom of Norway in Arkhangelsk Andrey Shalev mentioned that Mr. Nordsletten is the one who knows all the ins and outs of Russia-Norway relations and cooperation and has witnessed them evolving from the side of Norway, Russia and the Soviet Union. The veteran of European diplomacy appears very fond of our country and its culture. .
Mr. Nordsletten’s diplomatic career started in 1974 in Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and saw him acting as Ambassador of Norway to Ukraine (1992-1996), Russia (2000-2008) and Ireland (2008-2011) and Consul General in Murmansk. In the performance of his duty, he often visited Arkhangelsk.
In his speech, Mr. Nordsletten provided a detailed account of the history of Russia-Norway relations that date back to Kievan Rus'. Curiously, the connection between the two states was established, literally, on the level of genes. In Middle Ages, spouses of several Norwegian Kings were announced Grand Princesses of early Rus’. Elizaveta, a daughter of Yaroslav the Wise, married Prince of Norway Harald. ‘She was announced queen of Norway and followed her husband to England when he joined the war. After his death in that war she and her children returned to Norway,’ told Øyvind Nordsletten.
Another Norwegian king – Olaf I – was raised at court of Prince Vladimir in Novgorod the Great (known among the Vikings as Holmgard) and spoke, according to Norwegian sources, good early Russian language. Olaf II the Saint, a saint most revered by Scandinavian Christians, was also highly worshipped in the ancient Rus’. In confirmation of the fact, Mr. Nordsletten showed a photo of an icon depicting Olaf II the Saint, painted by a native of Sergiev Posad.
Related to the royal court of Norway was also Russia’s last emperor Nicholas II, a cousin of Haakon VII.
Other pages in Russia-Norway relations mentioned by the speaker included confrontation during the time when Swedish empire tried to expand itself. Many an interesting facts have been reiterated by the Mr. Nordsletten of that period, for instance, the origin of surname Schved. Mr. Nordsletten believes that the Schveds are the descendants of Karl XII warriors who had been taken prisoners in the Battle of Poltava (1709) and settled in the ancient Rus’.
The speaker drew a parallel between the tatar yoke in Russia and the Danish oppression in Norway. In the Danish-Norwegian Union, existed from the 16th to the 19th century, Denmark assumed a dominant position. The formal language of Norway at that time was Danish.
In an attempt to oppose Sweden, Denmark and Norway formed an alliance with Russia. Yet, their alliance had been defeated by Napoleonic Wars, whereupon Norway became part of Sweden and Finland of Russia.
Norway gained independence in 1905. ‘The first country to recognize our independence was Russia, our great northern neighbour,’ underlined Øyvind Nordsletten.
Another curious parallel connected great Russian encyclopaedist Mikhail Lomonosov and Norwegian polar researcher, zoologist, founder of physical oceanography and political figure Fridtjof Nansen. Both of them were outstanding explorers, had versatile personalities and men of ‘nordic character’.
Two years ago a special voyage of the Arctic Floating University was launched by the University of Tromso, Norwegian Polar Institute, NArFU, SFI, SevHydromet and Barents Secretariat to mark the anniversary of Fridtjof Nansen. Among the expeditioners onboard the research ship Professor Molchanov was Mr. Nordsletten. The ship followed the route once covered by one of Nansen’s expeditions. The discussions onboard the ship revolved around different issues and were contributed by scientists, diplomats, businessmen.
Another interesting fact: the Spitsbergen Treaty 1920 granted its members the right of conducting operations within the Norwegian-owned archipelago. Most active was the Soviet Union (and later Russia), with its employees outnumbering those of Norway.
During World War II Norway and the Soviet Union were allies. Occupied by Nazi Germany, Norway longed for independence. The government in exile was set up, as well as the resistance movement. Many Norwegian would live in mines as their hideout places. One of those mines was home to 3000 people. The Red Army liberating divisions were met by singing by Norwegians of The Internationale and their national anthem.
Norway is where many Soviet soldiers and sailors died. Around 100 thousand soldiers were taken prisoner of Nazi camps in Scandinavia and among them Øyvind Nordsletten’s father. The jewel-case he was given as a present by Soviet prisoners-of-war is still kept by the family.
‘There are more Soviet than Norwegian soldiers who found peace on the Norwegian land in WWII, a fact important for us to remember when developing our relations with Russia,’ said Mr. Nordsletten.
When talking about what it is that unites Russia and Norway, Mr. Nordsletten recalled the saying of Russian President Vladimir Putin: ‘We are guided by one polestar – the Polar Star.’ ‘We are northerners and will be working on the Arctic issues together, which we are already doing,’ said the speaker.
Mr. Nordsletten continued with speech with Russia-Norway projects dealing, among other things, with environmental protection and economy, and with the challenges his country is facing. The audience asked questions. One of them was about why Øyvind Nordsletten chose diplomacy as his career path. When a youth, he saw a Russian Language course advertisement:
‘I applied and they enrolled me,’ said Mr.Nordsletten.
A matter of chance circumstance, it had set the path. Next year it will be 50 years since Øyvind Nordsletten first visited the Soviet Union.
translation by International Cooperation Department