Thank you to the City of Bergen and Bergen International Literary Festival for inviting me.

The topic of this year’s festival is dust. Allow me to start by blowing dust of some historical facts.

This venue, Håkonshallen, King Håkon’s Hall, was built under King Håkon Håkonson (1204-1263) of Norway. King Håkon admired European literature and poetry. He brought the literary traditions from continental Europe to Bergen.  This is the place where European literature was introduced to Norway and met our Norwegian-Icelandic sagas.

With history in mind, no wonder that the LitFestBergen, after only four years, has earned such an international reputation. I would like to commend you on your digital project Literature Live Around the World. Which in an innovative way keeps the literary dialogue across borders open, even during the pandemic.

The author of the saga of King Håkon himself, Sturla Tordsson, is said to have been writing here in Håkonshallen. The sagas are part of the literary heritage of our world.

Norwegian contemporary authors are also world-class artists. I am delighted that there is great international interest in literature from Norway, an interest that is steadily growing. We are stepping up our efforts to promote Norwegian arts and literature abroad. This initiative will involve increasing funding for international projects, to promote Norwegian artists and authors. And to bring international cultural actors to Norway, including to cultural events in Bergen.

Several authors from Bergen have large international audiences. They tell strong and current stories about important topics of our time. Such as gender equality, diversity, and freedom of expression. We hope further talented authors like Ida Lødemel Tvedt, Sandra Lillebø, Sivert Nesbø and Henning Bergsvåg can reach international readers.

This festival’s human rights focus is inspiring. Artists and authors have always been at the front line in the struggle for these important values. Håkonshallen was also crucial in King Håkon’s son, King Magnus Lagabøte, Magnus the Lawmender’s writing of a national law. This “Landslova”, “The Land’s Law”, included a special protection for the poorer citizens. Stealing because of hunger was not to be punished. The law acknowledged the individual, independent of position in society. This was unique.

Respect for human rights and freedom of expression is crucial to democracy and the rule of law. Therefore, human rights are at the corner stone of Norway’s foreign policy. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, human rights, including cultural rights, were challenged in many parts of the world. Now, we see that the pandemic has reinforced many negative trends. Human rights defenders are being threatened, silenced, and attacked.

Among them we find artists. Musicians, writers, and filmmakers are censored, persecuted, and discriminated against. The right to express opinions and ideas through art lies at the very centre of the right to freedom of expression. We must safeguard artists and artistic expressions. Creativity and critical thinking are crucial to democracy and social development.

Freedom of artistic expression should be put on the agenda where laws, policies and practices are being discussed. I am delighted that you are enabling these discussions. Culture and artistic expressions have the power to build and change societies. 

This hall symbolizes Bergen as a meeting point between Norwegian and European impulses in literature and the rule of law. Bergen has always had an international perspective – its faces west towards the world. Throughout history and still today.

I wish you a splendid festival!