Nordic understanding and the English language - again!

As reported in May, the Nordic Youth Council (UNR = Ungdomens Nordiska Råd) decided earlier this year to use English as its working language whenever it is not possible to understand each other in one of the Nordic languages (Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic). The decision was heavily criticized recently by Bertel Haarder, the Danish Minister of Education, who pointed out that the decision works against the Nordic Language Declaration. “Using English at their meetings is completely out of the question. It is incompatible with the very concept of Nordic co-operation,” Haarder told the Danish paper Politiken. The content of the work and the debates in the Nordic Youth Council must be more important than the language being used, argues Lisbeth Sejer Gotzsche, President of UNR. “Since understanding neighboring languages isn’t a priority in the Nordic education systems, youngsters find it increasingly necessary to communicate in English so they are able to understand each other at all,” says Gotzsche. Professor Jorn Lund of the Nordic Language Council disagrees. “Language is an important part of the common Nordic culture and a key to understanding rather than a barrier,” he says. However, Professor Lund does acknowledge that the embarrassing negligence in teaching proficiency in the Nordic languages has been a real problem in Nordic compulsory education for 25 years, but he says that the Nordic Language Declaration is designed to improve the situation.
Perhaps “Scandinavia in Cinema” can help. It is new film-based teaching material designed to promote Nordic language proficiency among young people in the Nordic countries, and focuses this school year on 15-19 year olds. The theme is tolerance, and five new short films describe Scandinavia today from different angles. This unique material is supported by the Nordic Associations (Föreningarna Nordens Förbund), the Nordic Council of Ministers, and the Scandinavian Film Institutes.


Raoul Wallenberg
“…there was absolutely nothing behind him, nothing to back him up.”
“Neither weapons nor soldiers gave weight to his words.”

Several years ago The American-Jewish Committee called for renewed efforts to solve the old mystery of Raoul Wallenberg’s disappearance in 1945.
In May 2007, a monument honoring Wallenberg was unveiled in Göteborg. Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, spoke briefly at the ceremony. “Nazism was defeated 60 years ago but the blindness of morality is always present. We mustn’t shut our eyes to crimes we are all ashamed of,” said Annan in his speech.
Central Stockholm has named a square after him, Wallenbergs Torg, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s book “Courage, Portraits of Bravery in the service of Great Causes” (2007), highlights Wallenberg in one of the portraits.
Why don’t we know the fate of the Swedish diplomat who personally saved perhaps 100,000 Jews in Hungary in the final months of the Second World War?
Gordon Brown’s essay doesn’t answer that question but suggests one to himself and to the reader: He could have left.
Why did he choose to stay in the first place, and why did this mild-mannered civilian from a privileged background in a neutral country put himself at the heart of one of the worst places in Europe at one of the worst times in its history? The streets of Budapest in 1944-1945 were a nightmare of unimaginable sadism, brutality, uncontrolled savagery and torture, writes Brown. Was Wallenberg seeking danger, imagining himself as a hero, a Pimpernel Smith perhaps? Brown dismisses attempts like these to describe Wallenberg’s humanitarian work and recapitulates his achievements: the innovation of the Swedish Schutzpass; the creation of the International Ghetto in Budapest; the stockpiling and distribution of food, shelter, and medicine to desperate Jews; the repeated raids on Eichmann’s death march and the resulting rescues; the deals he brokered to halt deportations and buy time for the Jews; the repeated risks for himself he accepted in order to save lives. “At every stage Raoul Wallenberg could have withdrawn, satisfied he had done something,” says Brown reminding us that “faced with danger, not all decent people have the courage of their convictions.”

Stig Olsson