Links Stretch Back Over 1,000 Years
January 30, 2014
Norwegian Ambassador to Poland Karsten Klepsvik talks to Ewa Hancock
You have been in Poland for a year now. What are your impressions of the country?
My impression of Poland is a very positive one. I am impressed both by how your country has handled the economy over the last difficult years, and not least by the important and responsible role Poland plays within the EU. Anyone visiting Poland cannot help but be struck by the sense of constructive determination driving the development of the country. Yes, there are challenges to be dealt with, but I am confident that with the professionalism and hard work so apparent in this society, Poland will manage well.
On a personal note, my wife and I are warmly received wherever we go. During my first year here I have had the great pleasure of traveling throughout the country, meeting local government representatives as well as ordinary people. I am constantly impressed and constantly learning. Thankfully, there are still many places left to visit.
How would you summarize norwegian-Polish relations and how do you see them developing in the future?
Norwegian-Polish relations are very good, and increasingly so. Informal estimates indicate that around 120,000 Poles live in Norway, and the 1,500 Norwegian students in Poland constitute the fourth largest group of foreign students here, most of them studying medicine. But, most importantly, our relations have been boosted by the EEA Grants and Norway Grants invested in Poland since 2004. For the two first funding periods, Poland, by far the biggest beneficiary of these grants, has been allocated over 1.1 billion euros. These Norwegian grants have supported thousands of projects all over Poland, and in many of these projects Norwegian partners have been involved. We have big programs in the fields of energy/environment, health, research, culture, justice and civil society, to mention a few. Norwegian government agencies and experts are working closely with several Polish ministries and agencies implementing these Norwegian grants. The grants are designed to both reduce social and economic inequalities and strengthen bilateral relations. I have had the pleasure of visiting several Norway Grants projects in Poland, and I must say I am very impressed with the way Poland is utilizing these funds.
Meanwhile, historical relations between our two countries go back more than 1,000 years. Olav Trygvason, who was Norway’s king from 995 to 1000 AD, married the daughter of then Polish king Bolesław the Brave.
At the outset of World War II, several thousand Polish soldiers, many of whom lost their lives, fought on our side against the Nazis when we were able to take back Narvik in 1940. This we will never forget.
Furthermore, in the 1980s, more than 100,000 Norwegians were members of support groups for the Solidarity Trade Union in Poland.
I believe that bilateral relations between Poland and Norway will become even closer and more extensive in the future.
In the last 10 years many Poles have emigrated to Norway. How do Norwegians feel about Polish people?
Norwegians have the highest regard for Polish people and consider them hardworking, trustworthy and honest. Fifteen years ago we saw mostly young Polish men coming to carry out seasonal work in Norway. Today entire families are settled all over the country including more than 15,000 children. They work in all professional sectors, study, attend kindergartens and schools and are well integrated in society. They contribute in an important way to our society and economy. Having said that, little academic research has so far been done on Poles and their lives in Norway, something that I hope will change soon.
The Polish migrants in Norway and the many Norwegian students in Poland are the best and most tangible proof of the good and close relationship between our countries. I hope the understanding between Poles and Norwegians will grow as friends and colleagues, and that Norwegians will also become more curious about Poland.
At the same time I understand those in Poland expressing concerns regarding so many people leaving Poland for abroad, and share their hope that one day many of these people will be able to return. In the meantime, I think it is a win-win situation that Polish people can find good jobs in Norway.
Why do so many young Norwegians choose to study at Polish medical universities?
Not least because your universities have high standards and offer medical courses in English. At the same time Poland is not far away from Norway and Norwegian students feel very welcome here. On my travels around Poland I have the pleasure of meeting these students. Despite demanding courses and the challenges related to spending up to six years abroad, they are all positive and dedicated to their task. Practicing as doctors in Norway, I think they will find their experience of coping in a foreign culture and language rewarding, not least when treating non-Norwegian patients.
What goals would you like to accomplish before you leave Poland?
Norway and Poland are practically neighbors. We share many of the same values. The way we see important developments in Europe and around the world is often the same. Our bilateral relationship is good, yet the potential to expand it is considerable.
Poland is now rightfully one of Norway’s main partners in Europe. My aim is to consolidate this important position, and further improve and extend our bilateral relations, for example through increased contacts at the political level and more joint undertakings between our two countries in every sphere from defense, via trade to culture. Should I also be able to contribute to bringing our people closer, I would consider this my greatest achievement.