Speech/statement | Date: 15/10/2019 | Office of the Prime Minister
By Prime Minister Erna Solberg (Frankfurt)
Speech by Prime Minister Erna Solberg at the opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair, 15 October 2019.
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Ladies and gentlemen,
The Dream We Carry.
This is Norway’s slogan as Guest of Honour here at Frankfurter Buchmesse.
Here we can dream among friends.
Thanks to German translations, even more people are now able to enjoy the work of Norwegian authors.
Many of our greatest writers have travelled to Germany to find inspiration and exchange ideas.
We politicians do the same.
Today, Chancellor Merkel and I have shared experiences, concerns – and dreams.
‘Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.’ These are the words of your great writer Goethe.
We must dare to dream. Only then can things happen.
You could say that literature is society’s way of dreaming.
When literature challenges us, it can make us think in completely new ways.
It can change us and our societies for good.
I believe we have a great deal to learn from literature.
It can give us visions for the future. But it also teaches us about the world we are living in today.
The world is moving forward. We have made great progress in the last decades.
Fewer people are living in extreme poverty. People are living longer. Fewer children are dying. More girls than ever before are getting an education.
International cooperation, global trade and international law have played a vital role in these achievements.
By adopting the Sustainable Development Goals – the SDGs – the world has agreed on a common set of dreams.
The SDGs are our roadmap for the world we want.
They make it clear that global challenges are also national challenges. And that we need to take a coherent approach.
For example, when mothers are educated, fewer children die.
Those who learn to read, and those who grow to love reading, not only gain new knowledge, they also gain access to a whole new world.
Children who read can learn about their rights. And about injustice. One of my first great reading experiences when I was young was reading The Merchant of Venice.
It gave me an insight into how people regarded Jews, women and money in the past.
Shakespeare depicted a complex and unjust social order.
We are still struggling with many of the challenges he wrote about today.
The world around us has become more complicated. Both the welfare we enjoy and the problems we face are the result of global trends.
We have to acknowledge and deal with the challenges of globalisation, while also making the most of the benefits.
More and more people feel excluded from the benefits of globalisation.
Jobs that used to be passed down from one generation to the next are disappearing.
Society is changing.
We will meet resistance if people feel that it is only the few who benefit.
This is why the dream I carry is a dream of inclusion.
How can we prevent people from being left behind in an increasingly globalised world?
We must make sure that everyone has the opportunity to support themselves.
We must show that we are all part of the same society. That we share a common destiny.
We cannot afford to fail in our efforts to promote inclusion. Only by ensuring an inclusive society will our future be sustainable.
As Prime Minister, I am interested in how we can ensure that people from different cultures can live together in harmony.
How we can ensure that we don’t live in parallel realities.
Åsne Seierstad’s book about two sisters who leave their home in Norway and travel to Syria forces us to ask ourselves some difficult questions: What could we – as a society – have done differently? What can we learn from their story?
The way we integrate minorities in Europe will be even more important in the time ahead.
We must try to understand other people.
This will help us to build bridges.
With their book Shameless, the three young women who call themselves ‘the shameless girls’ make an important contribution in this context.
They confront the issue of negative social control.
In this debut work, the authors have hit a nerve – not only in Norway, but all over the world.
They are creating their own revolution.
And it is precisely this – Create your Revolution – that is the theme of the Book Fair’s collaboration with the UN this year.
Literature can translate injustice into words. And it can help us to feel more confident in our own culture and the values we stand for.
When I read books, it is not because I want to read about people like me.
It’s to learn about others. And to learn about how others experience their meetings with my culture. This is something that it is good for me to learn about.
There are many things I will never experience first hand. Literature can make up for this.
James Baldwin’s descriptions of what it was like to be a gay, black man during the civil rights struggle in the US have stayed with me to this day.
I was moved by his descriptions of his experiences as part of a minority within a minority. Of all the layers of prejudice that he met – from society as a whole, but also from his own community.
The way the world is today, many people have multiple identities.
There should be room for them.
The world of politics needs literature.
We need to read real stories written from the perspective of the individual. These stories help us to understand.
Reading Orwell (or Solzhenitsyn) gives us a better understanding of what it’s like to live under a dictatorship.
Reading Anne Frank’s Diary gives us a better understanding of the Holocaust.
Being able to see the world through other people’s eyes is important for everything we do – as people, and as politicians.
This is a thread running through the whole of our common literary canon.
And it is at the heart of Norway’s peace and reconciliation policy.
In peace negotiations, it can be difficult to keep the parties at the negotiating table. Even if they have come there of their own accord.
But the work we do helps to offer them an alternative way forward. The common good that they are seeking may not yet be fully known to them.
There is a high risk of failure. But the potential benefits are so great that it is always worth trying.
Peace and security are essential for development.
Resolving conflicts far away from home is also important for our own security. And it helps to prevent and alleviate humanitarian crises.
We are impartial, but not neutral when it comes to values.
We promote international humanitarian law and human rights.
Even when we meet resistance.
We are seeing that the values we stand for, such as the rule of law, democracy, freedom of expression and binding international cooperation, have to be defended every day. Even here in Europe.
Sometimes it can feel like the world is moving backwards.
Trade wars, international terrorism, climate change, and instability are all cause for serious concern.
Trust is being eroded.
There are many who share our concerns.
As we just heard, Heiko Maas is one of them. Norway stands together with Germany in defending these values.
‘Language is courage: the ability to conceive a thought, to speak it, and by doing so to make it true.’
These are the words of Salman Rushdie, in the book that led to him experiencing every writer’s worst nightmare. Threats were made to his life, and an attempt was made to kill his Norwegian publisher.
This should not happen.
Freedom of expression is a universal right. Views and opinions need to be pitted against each other.
Many brave writers are speaking out.
Simply thinking critical thoughts can be dangerous. Writing them down can be even more dangerous.
That’s why it is so important to have translators who can bring these thoughts out into the world. Whether they are serious or funny.
Without these writers and translators, we would be left to dream alone.
Without them, we would not know what critical questions to ask.
Without them, those trying to silence others would not know that we can see what they are doing.
In old Norwegian folk tales, the fearsome trolls can turn to stone and crack as soon as the sun rises. Literature can reveal the real-life trolls that cannot stand the light of day.
‘I believe that I am first and foremost a human being.’
In Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Nora says these words to her husband.
They are not controversial today, but they created a stir when the play was first published.
This was another example of literature changing society for good.
Today it is quite normal for a woman to be Prime Minister. Or Bundeskanzler. Or anything at all.
But we can’t stop at that.
I will continue to stand firm in my conviction that society is for everyone. That everyone can and must make a contribution. In their own way.
For ‘the dream we carry’