We mustn’t fall asleep on duty!

“For some must watch, while some must sleep. So runs the world away.”
—William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Hamlet

Photo: Gorm Kallestad / NTB
After 11 months, many Europeans seem to be suffering from fatigue from the war in Ukraine, but for Jana Midelfart-Hoff, it is more important than ever that Norwegians stay vigilant.

Jana Midelfart-Hoff
Bergen, Norway

We cannot allow ourselves to grow weary of the barbaric war Russia is waging against Ukraine. Neither can the politicians.

The first act of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” takes place on a cold, dark winter morning outside a Danish castle. “Tis bitter cold. / And I am sick at heart,” the guard Fransisco says. The play was part of my high school curriculum, and the quote has stuck. Rarely have I thought it to be so relevant as this year.

The war in Ukraine has lasted 11 months, and when you hear and see the poor people whose everyday lives are bombed to pieces by a barbaric neighbor (who purposefully retaliates on civilians for lack of progress), your heart feels sick and you feel the cold even more.

And it is important that we allow ourselves to feel this war. Because it’s easy to get tired.

Recently, I was in Germany where I read a very good article about the war fatigue that seems to be spreading somewhat in Europe. The author timely asked if we other Europeans—who are not bombed to pieces on a daily basis—really have the right to talk about fatigue? About how this war must end (implied: the parties, especially Ukraine, must now get it together and sit down at the negotiating table). Find a solution, almost any solution, so we can live as before.

The author strongly argued that the rest of us cannot be tired, that we have no right to be. And I agree with him.

Yes, it is tiring with increased electricity prices, shortages of goods, and a more complicated international situation. But it’s not heartbreakingly horrifying, like losing a child in a bomb attack, a grandmother dying because she can no longer get her lifesaving medication, or a spouse who is permanently maimed. Not to mention the traumatization of constantly having to be on guard because something terrible could happen. Here, it is a neighboring country that has launched a brutal attack on another country, on its existence. We can’t just force the victim to sit down at the negotiating table with the abuser because we in the rest of Europe want peace as we curl up in our sofas at the end of the day.

We must also carry the expectation that  our leaders don’t get tired, that they, on the contrary, show us that because we as a nation assist with weapons and humanitarian aid, we contribute to a situation where the peace that is to come will not reward invasion and aggression. I think we here at home can do better! It would help combat fatigue and apathy if the prime minister and the government regularly told us that our contribution as a nation has an effect. And not forget that symbols are, in fact, political.

Today’s government and its partners have chosen not to grant duty-free access to Ukrainian food products—in clear contrast to other European countries, and in fact, quite extraordinary. No solidarity. I’ve seen explanations that this would just be “symbolic policy”—but then again, symbols matter. Small amounts, big effect. Let Ukraine, through trade with us, have some of its normalcy back.

Perhaps the government’s decision is a result of politicians also being tired. And that some of them think that “now we have to push aside ‘that war’ a bit,” think more about ourselves here at home or about the upcoming election campaign. If that’s the case, it’s unfortunate.

If we fall asleep while on duty, we have not only failed Ukraine but future Norwegians as well by making it difficult to live democratically and independently next to a strong neighbor. So, let’s not forget the war in Ukraine and not allow ourselves to tire and give up—not until those who are in the middle of it ask us to.

As it goes a little later in “Hamlet”: “For some must watch, while some must sleep. So runs the world away.”

Translated by Ragnhild Hjeltnes

This article first appeared in the Dec. 16,  2022, edition of Bergensavisen (ba.no) and is reprinted with the author’s permission.

This article appeared in the February 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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