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[Oh] how greatly I long
For light and sun and gentleness
For the churchly silence of peace
For life’s lovely summers!
It could be me saying this - a
Scandinavian living in “the High North” - longing for the long,
gentle summer in the Mediterranean sun.
But it is
Brand, the main character of Henrik Ibsen’s play of the
same name, who says this at the very end of the play.
Brand wants life to be good. He himself wants to be good.
Brand – what is good is what is right. – To live and to be
true to oneself.
Dear friends, scholars,
Henrik Ibsen touches on some of the
most essential, most basic issues in our lives:
How can we live in accord with
What is that is right?
How can we live a life where what
we do is right - and at the same time good?
How can we be good?
Light, sun and gentleness – I cannot imagine a more
fitting venue for this conference than Rome – the eternal city, the
cultural and spiritual metropolis where Henrik Ibsen himself spent
so many of his years - his most creative years.
As I walked from the Aventino over
Gianicolo Hill to this beautiful park this morning, it was obvious
to me why Ibsen felt so inspired here:
the light and sun and gentleness.
Returning to the 1860s, Henrik
Ibsen didn’t want to keep on writing for the theatre, but he wanted
to write about the priest
Brand in the same form he used for
Terje Vigen – a long epic poem. The Ibsen family spent the
summer of 1865 in Aricca, a village in the Albani Mountains (not
far from Rome). One day Ibsen – wearing his big hat – he was just
Il Capelone! - went to Rome on an errand. In a letter to
his countryman Bjørnson, he writes: ”One day I went into St.
Peter’s Church […] and it was suddenly clear to me what I had to
say. Now I have abandoned what I have been torturing myself with
for a whole year without getting anywhere, and in the middle of
July I started something new that is progressing like never before.
[…] I am working all day and into the evening, which I’ve never
been able to do before. It is blessedly peaceful out here, no one I
know; I read nothing but the Bible – a powerful and moving
The result was
Brand – published the following year. A powerful and
Ibsen lived more than 10 years in
Italy. Here he found the inspiration for some of his most well
known, most deeply cherished plays.
Here he experienced his first
literary success, with the plays
Brand – as I mentioned - and
“A taste for the good things of life came my way from
Italy,” says the
“world citizen”Peer Gynt to
Monsieur Ballon when he is asked whether he happened to be
I can well imagine how the physical
distance - the cultural distance – made
Peer Gynt, well I mean Ibsen, see Norway more clearly and
judge Norwegians more “harshly” (which may still be the case for
the many students and scholars from Norway living and working in
Italy today). As some of you know, the dramatist commented while he
was working on the play
Peer Gynt that he had
a particular type of Norwegian in mind: a happy-go-lucky
fellow, a cheerful, boastful dreamer.
So, why are we arranging an Ibsen
Year when it is Ibsen year every year?
The main aim of the international
Ibsen Year 2006 is to highlight the importance of the
dramatist’s legacy and provide opportunities for fresh
interpretations of his works. It is an open invitation – to you -
to reflect more deeply on his message.
As Foreign Minister, I find the
Ibsen Year especially stimulating because it is not only
examining the artistic aspects of Ibsen’s work, but also the many
political dimensions of his writing - which is one of the main
themes of this conference.
Frankly, the Norwegian government
does not actually need to “promote” Henrik Ibsen. It is rather we
who need to look to our great dramatist’s works for support,
strength and inspiration. And these works are our common cultural
Although the scenes Ibsen creates
are set in the small towns and deep fjords of the Norway of his day
- and are typical of their time - the issues he addresses are high
on today’s international agenda.
So, what lessons can we learn – if
I can put it this way - from his plays that can be applied to
politics, even to foreign policy?
With the playwright in mind, I have
occasionally thought that there are two lines in foreign policy
that should not be played out to the full on the real stage of
world politics and diplomacy:
“the Peer Gynt line”: going round about, dodging the
issue, demanding exceptions and special measures, being sufficient
unto yourself, free-riding on the efforts of others, shifting the
Peer Gynt had been a foreign policy maker dealing with
today’s challenges, he would have embraced globalisation and would
have been quite content to be the only pro-EU person in his
village, while when in another frame of mind, he would presumably
have voted a defiant no to Norwegian EU membership – depending on
Peer would probably have supported the regulation of trade
under the WTO – as long as he didn’t lose out, and the rules could
be broken, to borrow some insights from an article by social
anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen.
The other questionable foreign
policy path is
“the Brand line”: the policy of an isolated and
uncompromising zealot, whom many fear but few listen to, preaching
to all the world without many followers, being put to the test and
digging in his heels to the very last.
But I have to admit that there is
something fascinating about
Brand – which is the reason why I began my address by
quoting him – a man with lofty, demanding ideals that are worth
making a sacrifice for in difficult times.
The art of foreign policy, however,
involves finding a line somewhere between the two, somewhere
Peer Gynt and
Brand: with strong will, principles and ideals, but with
flexibility, the ability to stop and find creative solutions that
are inclusive - and that do not make the divisions and gaps
However, Ibsen has also shown –
take his play
An Enemy of the People – that seeking to compromise and to
find “the middle way” can at times also be an inappropriate and
ineffectual approach – and even a rather toothless exercise.
Perhaps the most difficult, and the
most important task of all – both in Ibsen’s times and in our own –
is to keep our focus on dialogue and bridge-building, on finding
joint political solutions and common platforms:
Focusing on dialogue means that
everybody has to sacrifice something and nobody will entirely get
Focusing on dialogue means that we
must avoid dividing the world into “we and they”, “us and them”,
that you are either “with us or against us”.
Focusing on dialogue means that the
extremist views must not dominate the agenda and the
Focusing on dialogue means a
foreign policy that is not about taking the path of least
resistance, but about attaining high ideals. A foreign policy about
paving the way for freedom, democracy and justice – both in our own
countries, Norway and Italy – and in our world, where there is so
much subjection and suppression, also for others. A foreign policy
about following a course that is clear, recognisable and based on
Focusing on dialogue in our world
today requires, therefore, the greatest courage.
The universal human rights are one
such set of basic values.
Henrik Ibsen proclaims the freedom
of the individual in his work. More than any other writer, he
forces us to reflect on our fundamental rights and values.
Sometimes it is easy to forget how
controversial Ibsen’s works were. Let me tell you a story that
On 13 March 1891, London’s
Independent Theatre gave the play
Ghosts its British premiere. The ensuing scandal exceeded
all expectations. The leading critic of the paper
The Daily Telegraph, Clement Scott, called the performance
“an open sewer, a hideous untreated wound, a filthy act
performed in public, a lepers’ hospital with all its windows and
doors wide open”. And in conclusion he appealed to public
opinion, assisted if necessary by law, to ensure that honest and
decent citizens be properly shielded from exposure to such
A horde of critics competed with
similarly abusive reviews, and for some time afterwards Ibsen was
the most talked-about dramatist in Great Britain. In 1891 alone,
hundreds of articles and reviews were devoted to him in the British
Ghosts even became an issue of
domestic political concern. The theatre censor liaised closely with
the Home Secretary, and for a while the matter threatened to become
a subject of debate in the House of Commons. So offensive was this
Scandinavian import deemed to be that it was not until 1914, 33
years after publication, that the censor granted a licence for the
play to be performed freely on British stages, according to
professor Tore Rem’s book published recently on
Henry Gibson - as the playwright was first known in Great
“Books that are banned attract more attention as ghosts than
they would have done living,” writes the South African writer
and Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee.
The social conflicts Ibsen portrays
are still relevant. Even today some of his texts are censored and
some of his plays banned because they are considered too
Apropos feminism, which you will be
discussing tomorrow, Ibsen also wrote A Doll’s House while he was
living in Italy. Ibsen’s views on the issue are reflected in his
own words: “Der er kvinderne, som skal løse menneskespørsmålet” –
“it is the women who shall solve the human problem.” Ibsen depicted
complex – and thereby very human – characters. This was especially
true of his women - which was extraordinary in those days.
Ibsen’s plays still move audiences
all over the world every day.
Thus, the Ibsen Year 2006 is a
celebration of an internationally renowned playwright – our common
cultural heritage – who found inspiration and company – to say
nothing of good food and wine – here in Italy. - In
the light and sun and gentleness, the churchly silence of
I would like to close by thanking
the Norwegian Institute in Rome and the Italian Institute for
Germanic Studies for arranging this conference together with our
I am confident that your
discussions will provide stimulating perspectives on Ibsen’s work.
And that they will strengthen existing contacts and networks,
establish new ones, and further develop cooperation between
academia and the theatre in the Ibsen field.
Like Ibsen, we must dare to ask the
important, the most essential questions.
In terms of foreign policy, if we
fail to ask them early enough we may be forced to answer them when
it is too late and an international conflict has become
Returning to the messages and
depths of the play
Brand, we see that at the very end of the play,
Brand weeps. And the tears he weeps are like a crack, an
opening through which something might just reach him. A way inside
where something might move him, where something might change, where
something might be released (to borrow some insights from an
article by author Hanne Ørstavik on
“Living is a war with the trolls in the depths of the mind and
the heart,” as Ibsen once wrote to a friend.
I wish you a successful and