Promoting cultural links across the North Atlantic

Røða, Hetland oktober 2003:

Convener, ministers, distinguished guests.

Thank you for the invitation and the opportunity to participate in this conference - and most of all thank you for the clear political signal and manifestation also to include culture in your work and your conference. Surely, a worthy cause. Thank you for that.

We all carry with us our own personal belongings. My personal background is teaching and journalism. Two fields in the service sector that more than any other occupation are based on the fact to work on behalf of others. Always to work on behalf of others.

The Indian film director Sanjiyt Ray, who was a brilliant director of children films, he said on one occasion that "It's a rare gift to be able to feel with the heart of a child, while creating with the mind of an adult". In other words to be able to work on behalf of others - the teacher on behalf of the parents and their children, the journalist on behalf of the reader, and always to work on two levels, the childish fascination in the moment and the adult's critical distant clearness.

To work in these two fields, education and journalism, is to create and build identity. By using the strongest tools ever - knowledge. Knowledge is power. Also, to be wrong. Nothing can be stronger than failing. And no one can prevent errors and shortcomings as a teacher and a journalist. If only he or she does not forget to work on behalf of others.

Last month, reports on a whale drive in the Faroe Islands were brought in UK newspapers. As a result of these reports Faroese pupils got personal hate-mails brought by the mailman. Threats to their lives, because of these so called brutal killings. Being brutal and inhumane, just because of the visual blood. And then comes the interesting part: pictures of children at the site of the slaughter - children described as barbaric, because of their mere presence.

Well, if the journalists in quo were informed about the actual setting, if they had cared to "walk a mile in my shoes", they would learn that even the children for generations have been a natural, balanced part of this act, and being completely aware of what is going on. This is about getting food on the table, they would say. Without any sentiments. The only odd man out is the foreign, educated, estimated, continental journalist, reporting to a market far away. Childishly blinded, he forgets his adult mission. Forgets that he is working on behalf of others, his true readers.

He forgets his mind of an adult while attempting to find his long forgotten childish heart in a world of fictional violence where blood is equal to violence, not food. He has not got the point of the old Indian saying "Walk a mile in my shoes", neither has he cared to do just that - to walk a mile in anybody's shoes.

Here we have the educational system and the informational system meeting. The meeting could have been more rewarding and on a more advanced level, if we could manage to keep our heads clear and stick to the realities, in other words "to feel with the heart of a child, while creating with the mind of an adult". Instead we have become commercial targets and not human beings.

Convener, please allow me to mention some examples of initiatives promoting cultural networks across the North Atlantic:

The first example I would like to mention is the City Council of the Faroese capital Torshavn and the Aberdeen City Council. They have signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The aim of this very cautious programme is to strengthen business and cultural links. Also, the city councils have set up a jointly administered fund that grants financial support for activities, making links possible between the communities through the fields of culture, education and sport.

Seen from my hometown, Tórshavn, this is a good example of widening the scope of a small, remote town and at the same time reinventing the old historic sailing routes and cultural connections. An action and a programme that could be taken on by any city council across the widespread North Atlantic area. So perhaps this could be the start for new twin towns in the North Atlantic. And at the same time a nod to the old twin town idea, brought forward by the Nordic Associations after World War One.

In my opinion such partnerships and networks ought to be establishged first of all within the educational and journalistic sector in our nations covering the waterfront of the North Atlantic.

Talking about education, an educational service centre would come in handy, as would a North Atlantic news agency.

The theme of hunting is in an educational context a very interesting one, giving the pupil possibilities to discover historic, geographical and economical maps in our area. Also in the arts, painting and sculpture and even singing and writing, the theme of hunting is much rewarding to discover, not only in the three West Nordic countries, but also in this nice place of Shetland, neighbouring Orkney, the shoreline of Norway, mainland Scotland, the west coast of Ireland and in Nova Scotia, New Foundland, Nunavut and other provinces in Canada. If we compared the educational plans in these places, I am sure that there would be similarities in all the school systems in our area. But they have never been compared and matched. On the contrary, our own Faroese school system and the one of Greenland, too, have always been based on and developed from the Danish educational system and traditions, not at all looking to our neighbours, dealing with similar subjects and problems, very different from a north European province, as Denmark in this context actually is. One can ask why?

I have already pointed out the basic idea for a North Atlantic news agency. It is only here amongst our selves that we find the know-how, based on living in this area for generations and - whitout knowing the future sound of the very word - inventing the true idea of sustainability at the same moment as the first seal and whale was hunted and brought ashore for the benefit of all the community. Although we surely can be blamed for mindless catches of the blue whiting at the present, the North Atlantic hunter has always been practising the sustainable catch and living.

But who is going the tell the outside world about this fact, when blood in its mere presence gives more dollars and pounds for a new way of journalistic sustainable living? In my home place the Faroes, we are living off fish and fish produce. Between 92 and 96% of our exports derive from this source. And in the school's geography lessons in the seventh form there is always a bright head pointing out to this fact that we classify as a developing country, not an industrialised country. And the pupil is right. We are depending on one main source, not bananas, but fish. And for decades we have not had any journalistic programme dealing with fishing and informing on the many aspects of fishing. We need to go 25 years back to find a fisheries programme on the national public service radio station in the Faroe Islands.

Again I will ask, if we ourselves do not put forward these issues, then who will do it? And in which way and format? I am not sure it will be on our terms and based on our values.

A strong inner cooperation, of course, creates a strength towards the outside world, whether we find our selves on the fringes at the edge of the world, or at the very centre, the navel, of the universe.

The realisation of a North Atlantic news agency would be a challenge for this conference and its participants. Ironically, the first letters NA in both North Atlantic and in news agency, often are used for telling that information is not available, N/A. So let us bear this in mind meeting the future: information about the North Atlantic, and especially hunting, must be available.

Convener, let me turn to the literature of the small nations of the North.

In two weeks a Faroese novel will be published on the British market. This is the second time for this to happen in Faroese literature, a direct translation from the original language to a major language. Last year saw the German translation and publishing of a modern Faroese novel. This fact means widening the target audience from a mere 50.000 to a presumptive 80 millions Germans and now 60 millions in the UK area, not to mention the rest of the English speaking world.

Initiatives like these have not been costly but have been based on mutual interested parts, friendship associations, cultural institutions, arranging a simple meeting, attracting the right persons at the right time and nothing more.

This conference and the governments represented, ought to see the value of the very small means that can achieve so much in the field of literature.

While the literature has to be translated to reach an outside audience, the painters and sculptors do not have that problem. But from small and remote regions it is difficult to reach and establish contacts with the big city galleries. Although we have connections with embassies, there is no programme in my home country to promote this part of our cultural heritage, neither at home nor abroad. So programmes on promoting each other’s cultural heritage and opening museums and galleries in this context is of the outmost importancy.

Convener, we have a string of cultural institutions in the North Atlantic. We have the Nordic Houses in Reykjavik and Torshavn and their sister organisation in Nuuk, Greenland.

We have festivals in the area; the St. Magnus Festival in Orkney, The Faroese Arts Festival covering the islands of Faroe and the Reykjavik Arts Festival, now being an annual festival as the two others mentioned. All three festivals are held during the summer season. The possibility to promote each other's foremost artists is obvious. But never tried.

The other year, in the Faroes, we presented a Scottish rockgroup with a Nova Scotian front singer, Runrig, based in the oil-city of Aberdeen. On the same occation we also presented a leading singer from the Norwegian oil-city of Stavanger. The idea was to bring together culture and business - to the benefit of the local audience. On this year's film programme in the Nordic House we present a Canadian inuit film "Atanarjuat" The fast runner, a prizewinner in Cannes. And the Icelandic one is again a prizewinning film on Noa, The Albino. And regularly from Iceland we present, on a world scale, trend setting rock groups. On the literary front every year we present the Nordic authors nominated for the Nordic literature prize, given by the Nordic Council of Ministers. Cultural workers from other North Atlantic areas and institutions could state the same facts.

So as one might understand the local cultural activities are on a considerable level and towards the outside world we have a lot on our minds. Although we have had official Nordic programmes such as the Up-North programme, these activities have very seldom succeded in getting across to the neighbouring countries. And at the same time the Nordic Council of Ministers so far has been defining the neighbouring countries and areas on behalf of us in the Nordic region and not listening to our traditions and commercial connections. To me the Baltic states, inland Russia and northern Europe are very interesting places, but they are not my neighbours. My neighbours can be found around these seats and tables. So I was extremely happy to hear Mr. Unckel at the opening, stating a new policy on these matters. Thanks!

Convener, working further in the North Atlantic with the many aspects mentioned here, our work has to be carefully planned and coordinated. Unfortunately, at exact the same time as we have this highly interesting conference, the two before mentioned city councils - Tórshavn and Aberdeen - have their meetings and even a full blown cultural week in Tórshavn. As pioneers in the rediscovering of the North Atlantic links of course they should be here. So let us send them a nice thought and wish that their effort will provide results and add a new dimension to this, if not groundbreaking, then ocean-dividing project.

Talking about cultural cooperation, we also have to take in consideration the travelling options. By sea or air. The ocean that ties us together is also dividing us with considerable distances. As of now the Smyril Line is one of the few ocean going lines, connecting mainland Europe, Shetland, Faroes and Iceland. Regular and continious flights have been tried with various results, for instance between Iceland and Greenland.

Finally, I have to mention the traveling exhibition Hunters of the North as an example of combining a wide array of skills and expressions to describe the already often mentioned North Atlantic way of hunting along our shores. A quarter of the Faroese and Shetland population attended this travelling exhibition, which still is travelling. My wish is that this exhibition could serve as an example on how to present a difficult subject, hunting, in a meaningful setting, approaching and not submitting, the modern society and attract attendance outside our own area. In due course I hope that Canada will accept this exhibition and mainland Scotland as well. And that this exhibition about hunting in the North Atlantic, together with the Viking exhibition created for the North America market, will inspire others to take on the responsibility to promote our way of living and getting food on the table - during ages, always on a sustainable way, even before this word "sustainable" was thought of, constructed and made meaningful. The sustainability issue was an integrated part of the hunter's very psyche from the beginnings of time. This is also our challenge, towards the world community and our own coming generations, to hand down a community and a culture that can provide food on the table and a rich, living culture, based on own values, not as a recreational part away from the world, but an integrated part in the process of globalization.

Convener, turning back to the educational and journalistic point of view, we constantly have to prepare our selves to take up another fight. It is the struggle against the public opinion created in the classrooms and the newspaper's columns. My final words, describing this fight, are taken from the Faroese newspaper Fregnir a month ago. An article, describing the possible future with a total ban on fishing. The article concludes with these words, going out to continental big city dwellers. And these words I will share with you on this occation:

"There is no reason to underestimate the power of the continental bigcity dwellers all around the world, having no knowledge about the nature and having nothing to lose on a financial term, if our fishing would be stopped, or considerably limited, not to mention our hunting of whales".

Knowledge is the power, also to be wrong. We have a considerable amount of knowledge each in its own field. The challenge for this meeting and the future for this conference is to take into consideration the many aspects of not only statistically investigating the ocean, but also to be active in the endeavours to create positive and sustainable living conditions around our own wide spread shorelines from east to west, from north to south.

Speach Shetland October 2003: Birgir Kruse, Head of information and marketing, The Nordic House in the Faroe Islands