On the Edge: Dangerous Separatism?

Steinar Opstad

Steinar Opstad

“On the Edge” is the new opinion column in the Norwegian American Weekly, which offers opinions written by invited contributors to make some comments on the current issues that define modern Norway.

I was four years old when World War II was over, but despite my young age, I have several memories from the war: German soldiers patrolling the road outside our family farm. I knew they were enemies, but I liked them. They gave me small pieces of chocolate, which was not at all available for me otherwise during the war. The soldiers also pulled me on my sled during wintertime.

When I was eight years old, I sat on a bench behind our local gasoline station and heard my father’s uncle tell stories about his miraculous life as a carpenter in Minnesota. He let us peek into a large book that was sent to him by mail every year from J.C. Penney… What a marvelous country. In addition, when farmers in my parish received modern tools from the U.S. as a part of the Marshall Plan, admiration for the country had no limits.

As a young student, I was given the opportunity to study in Germany and France for some months. I traveled by train from Norway to Hamburg, and from there to Strasbourg, Cologne, Berlin and other places. I watched poor, old German and French women knock cement off bricks from houses bombed by Allied and German planes during the war so they could be reused. My father helped the Norwegian secret resistance movement during the war and was very much against Nazism. I had very mixed feelings.

Like most Norwegians I disliked the Nazis, but at the same time felt sorry for regular German citizens. Slowly I developed a feeling of being European. I shared the vision of a united Europe.

In the European Council in Strasbourg, France, I heard leaders from France, Great Britain, Germany and Italy proclaim “Never again war in Europe.” I felt the same as they do.

So what, you may ask.  Why all these memories?

The answer is not a short one, but some of it leads to my concern for American-European-Norwegian relations. Respect for U.S. as the world’s largest economy is falling, driven by ongoing negative effects of the U.S.-born financial crisis. We have fewer consequences from it in Norway compared to the southern part of Europe. Our problem is that traditional markets have less money to buy our products. The problems in the financial institutions seem now, more or less, under control, but still businesses and the employed in many European countries suffer. The growing unemployment rate is like dynamite for social trouble and despair.

I worry when I read about many U.S. leaders growing distrust in Europe, a Europe where trust and hope are really needed. Norway has an exceptional position with our wealth and high employment rate, but with a growing mistrust in the European Union.

Is the U.S., with the Tea Party movement and lower esteem toward Europeans, moving more towards isolationism? Are the northern European countries – like Norway – seriously more negative to European cooperation than earlier? More than half of the Norwegian population expressed in a new opinion poll that they would say no to joining the E.U. Is European unification falling apart and Europe moving back to separatism? The famous Norwegian author, Henrik Ibsen, wrote “to be oneself enough.” To think that we are better than others, to avoid taking responsibly for the rest of the world, is to be isolated. He warned us Norwegians about being too self-righteous.

The experience I had as a boy and young student formed my life and my admiration for the U.S. I learned respect for people with different opinions and to separate between evil political leaders and the ordinary man and woman. This made me a friend of Europe and the U.S., but how will the next generation think?

I am concerned about the political directions in larger parts of Europe and some places in the U.S. Have I reason for feeling uncomfortable?

Steinar Opstad, born 1941 in Sarpsborg, Norway, is the retired vice president of the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry. During his career, he was an educator and communicator with positions as a journalist, editor, teacher and professor. He has a Ph.D. and Hon. Litt. D. from the University of North Dakota. He is the author of several professional books. He is also the founder of the American College of Norway in Moss, Norway.

Please bear in mind that opinions expressed in “On The Edge” are not necessarily those of the Norwegian American Weekly, and our publication of these views are not an endorsement of them.

This article was originally published in the Oct. 29, 2010 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email subscribe@norway.com.

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