Interview with H. E. Mr. Øystein Hovdkinn, Norwegian Ambassador in Bucharest
What is the significance of May 17th for Norway?
Although Norway has a history as a nation dating back to the Vikings, the 17th of May celebration is a tribute to our Constitution, which was signed on that very day in 1814. That year, Norway ended the union with Denmark, which had lasted for centuries. This makes our constitution one of the oldest in the world and it still represents the basis of our political system, of our liberty and independence. In two years’ time we will be celebrating its 200th anniversary.
The Constitution also became the basis for our development and modernization as a country in the union with Sweden which we entered into after the Constitution was signed. This union which was centered on a common King and a common foreign policy came to an end in 1905 – but that is another story.
How do the Norwegians celebrate their national day?
Our Constitution day is not about the military parading the streets, displaying power. It is more about children cheering and singing. We celebrate our future generations which will inherit the country and its constitution. It is a uniquely Norwegian experience on each May 17th, when all children – throughout the tiniest villages and municipalities, from the South to the highest North, including Spitsbergen – march dressed in the national costumes and waving flags to the rhythm of marching bands. This tradition which is more than 140-years old was initiated by our great writer and Nobel Prize laureate Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. It was also he who wrote the lyrics of our national anthem, in addition to proposing the children’s parade. In adherence to principles important in Norway, such as a strong civic society, cultural and economic cohesion, social inclusion and equality, the day reminds us of the true privilege of living in a free country.
How would you comment on bilateral relations between Norway and Romania?
Bilateral relations between Norway and Romania have been on a positive track for the last 20 years. Political visits at high level, economic partnerships, tourism, cultural relations, student exchange and institutional cooperation between our two countries have known a rapid growth, especially during the last decade.
I have been privileged to travel extensively throughout Romania during my posting here, from Maramures to Dolj, from the Black Sea coast to Timis. It has been a pleasure to visit so many places and to see extremely gainful bilateral projects implemented with financial support from the EEA and Norway Grants. These projects came to life under the auspices of “Solidarity, Opportunity and Cooperation”, the motto of the mechanism, as well as the fundamental values that drive our bilateral relationship.
Norwegian companies have taken a special interest in industries related to shipbuilding, food processing and IT. The alternative energy and the development of carbon capture and storage facility are two other fields intensely scrutinized for further cooperation. I am convinced there is a huge potential for a wider economic cooperation between our two countries, in fields where Romania has comparative advantages and Norway has competence and experience. Thus, it is my impression that Norwegian investors find Romania a rather attractive market, though not without challenges.
On March 23rd 2012 Romania and Norway have entered into their largest ever cooperation agreement. What can you tell us about it?
Recently, on the 23rd of March this year, Romania and Norway entered into their largest ever cooperation agreement. In the new round of funding of the two programs, EEA Grants and Norway Grants, almost 306 million EUR has been allocated to programmes and projects in Romania, for a period of up to 2014. Out of 15 European countries, Romania has thus become the second biggest beneficiary state, supported by Norway together with her EEA/ EFTA partners – Iceland and Liechtenstein.
Priority has been given to strengthening the justice and home affairs sector, the civil society and improving the situation of the vulnerable groups. In addition to these key priorities, the environment and climate change, culture and research are also sectors that benefit from important funding. This is a very fruitful platform for the future development of partnerships between our countries in general, and for the Romanian-Norwegian entities specifically, be it private businesses, civil society or public bodies. A solid coordination and smooth communication between national entities is pivotal for effective cooperation and good use of the funds.
I know that between Norway and Romania there is a tight cooperation in the sector of Culture and Education. What news do you have regarding this?
There is an increased interest on the Romanian side for Norwegian culture, history and society in general. For this year, the center of our cultural events continues to be represented by the Norwegian films, as an artistic expression within focus. We were pleased to bring our contribution to this year’s edition of the Transylvania International Film Festival by facilitating the screening of 5 daring, innovative Norwegian films, all representative of Norwave that is the new wave of Norwegian cinema. This year we have also joined in premiere the European Film Festival taking place in Bucharest and four other cities, including Iasi. I am particularly glad to mention Iasi, because a new department for learning Norwegian has successfully been established there, the first group of students already looking forward to attending the Norwegian film days event, at the end of May.
Furthermore, Norwegian music is well represented this year. Famous Norwegian band Nils Petter Molvær Trio will have a concert on the 5th of June, in Cluj, a city which I am sure everybody already connects with the Norwegian Lectorate in Babes- Bolyai University, which has the highest number of foreign students of Norwegian outside Norway herself. Those of you not going to Cluj around that date will be able to hear the Norwegian artist Stian Wasterhus performing in the frame of the Green Hours Jazz Festival in Bucharest, 4th of June.
Being accredited to the Republic of Moldova, our Embassy is organizing there a concert where two young and very talented Norwegian artists, violinist Hans Petter Mæhle and conductor Jan-Erik Hybertsen will be performing with the National Philharmonic Orchestra.