Read Ambassador Tarald O. Brautaset’s speech held at the CoScan meeting in Kirkwall 1 Oct 2004
Ladies and Gentlemen,
One of the perks that come with my job is to be a patron of The Confederation of Scandinavian Societies of Great Britain and Ireland. When I was asked I immediately accepted because the offer was irresistible: You, the members, do all the serious work, and I get a chance to meet interesting people with a passion for the relationship between these isles and my part of the world.
So tonight it is a great pleasure and privilege for my wife Elisabeth and me to be here in Kirkwall with all of you.
And CoScan could hardly have chosen a better place to meet than Kirkwall. I always feel both proud and humble on my visits to Orkney. As a Norwegian, I feel at home because the history and culture clearly tie us together. At the same time I am on foreign soil representing my own country. But more important is that such feelings are mutual and that we live in a part of the world and in a time where these kinds of cross-border relations are common and encouraged.
This was not always the case:
A quick lesson in the history of Orkney and its early ties with the Nordic region shows that Vikings came to Orkney in the 8th or early 9th century. Whether they came as "landtakers", dispossessing indigenous people, or as farmers settling peacefully among the natives of Orkney, is not known for sure.
By the end of the 9th century, the colonisation of Orkney had been so successful that it had become a Norwegian earldom. The very strength of this Norse settlement would ensure that in time the pre-Norse names would disappear. How quickly that happened is not known. There are no written records from the period prior to the arrival of the Vikings. And the Viking Sagas were written 400 years later. In any case, it appears that the Norse immigrants soon assumed dominance over all the communities here; and for more than 600 years – until 1468 – Orcadians pledged their loyalty to the King of Norway.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
By then, Norway itself had become part of a united Danish-Norwegian Kingdom with its centre of power in Copenhagen. The Napoleonic wars changed that, and Norway was forced into a union with Sweden in 1814. Next year - 2005 - it will be a hundred years since this union was dissolved and Norway once again became a free and independent nation. The Swedes and we pride ourselves, and rightly so, that this dissolution was a peaceful one. But I have to add that when the final act of the union closed on the 7th of June 1905, political conflict and drama had been building up over a long period of time, and preparations for armed conflict had been taken on both sides of the border. But common sense prevailed and the willingness on both sides to de-escalate the conflict was strong enough.
This is of course not the only example of an orderly and peaceful separation of nations. The Czech and Slovak republics for instance also took separate paths in a peaceful way. But sadly there are too many examples of the opposite, also in Europe, for instance in the Balkans.
This historic event in Scandinavia almost a hundred years ago will be marked in various ways next year. The bulk of activities in 2005 will naturally take place in Norway. But there will also be a number of events together with Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland in their countries.
And of course we will have a wide range of activities here in Great Britain. I will not go through the whole list of planned events tonight, but I would like to highlight a few:
- There will be music. A lot. Jazz and electronica at the Barbican, modern music in clubs around London, contemporary music in Huddersfield, classical music in the House of Lords as well as an all-Norwegian concert with the BBC Concert Orchestra. BBC Radio 3’s programme series ”Late Junction” will focus on Norway and Norwegian music in the last 100 years. The series will culminate with an entire evening of Norwegian music in 2005.
- One of the first big events will be the opening of an exhibition of Queen Maud’s dresses –“Style and Splendour” – at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This exhibition will open in February and be on display until January 2006. There will also be crafts and decorative arts exhibitions in Lincoln and London. In Scotland, the Consulate General in Edinburgh is also planning a wide variety of activities next year. One of them is called “The State of the Nation”, where a joint Swedish, Norwegian and Scottish literature project with conferences, meetings and seminars will take place during the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
- For the children, we are preparing a new “Look at Norway” geography resource pack for schools. This is the second internet-based resource pack we have launched and this one is for schoolchildren aged 8 –11 years. This new pack presents Norwegian geography, society and history in a form consistent with the National Curriculum.
- For those of you who like to attend more intellectually-inclined events, there will be a lecture series on Nansen at three universities:
- One will discuss the future of the Gulf Stream – will it weaken and disappear? It will take place at the Tyndall Research Centre, University of East Anglia.
- Another will be about the North Polar glaciers and environmental change, given at the Scott Polar Research Centre, Cambridge University.
- The third has the title ”Peace and Reconciliation, the Norwegian Facilitation Framework”. That seminar will take place at the Manchester Metropolitan University.
- On top of this a number of local and regional events are planned all around Britain.
- A final part of the celebration I would like to mention may be small but it is a highly symbolic and important one; it is the unveiling of a statue by Ada Madsen of Queen Maud of Norway – daughter of King Edward VII - in the front garden of the Norwegian Residence 10 Palace Green. This is first statue of Queen Maud of Norway on British soil.
The programme will shortly be published on our web pages and I encourage all of you to go to www.norway.org.uk to keep yourselves updated on the programme as it unfolds.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me finish by paying tribute to your umbrella organisation, CoScan, and its 22 member organisations. The value of your work is important, and I invite you to raise your glass and join me in a skål to CoScan and its future.