What is the Friends of Norway Caucus?
I formed the Friends of Norway Caucus in 1999 with retired Rep. Martin Sabo (D-MN) to further enrich the relationship between the United States and Norway. According to the most recent U.S. census, there are more than 5 million Norwegian-Americans. North Dakota, the state which I represent, has the largest percentage of Norwegian-Americans, with over 30 percent of my state's population claiming Norwegian descent. My constituents have deep ties with Norway, and I wanted to create a congressional entity that could further connections between our two countries.
What are the areas of concern to your constituents with regards to Norway? In what ways do they wish to have links to Norway?
Norwegian-Americans in North Dakota care a great deal about our tourism, culture, and heritage connections with Norway. In fact, the largest Norwegian festival in the United States, Norsk Høstfest, is held in Minot, North Dakota each year. North Dakota also hosts the largest tour operator in the United States for taking Americans to Norway.
North Dakota shares a strong connection with Norway through our university systems. For a decade or more, the University of North Dakota has hosted more students from Norway than any other university in North America. Moreover, the leaders of the university are working towards strong, reciprocal student and faculty exchanges in Norway in areas like law, medicine, entrepreneurship, and engineering.
Interestingly enough, my state, like Norway, has a great potential to produce energy. People from my area look to Norway to see if its enhanced oil recovery technologies may be helpful to our efforts. In fact, a Norwegian company is currently working on putting together a strategic alliance to produce wind energy in North Dakota, using their expertise developed in northern Norway.
How has the caucus been useful to you?
The U.S. has a strong bond with Norway. Our interests are strategic in nature as we both work to bring peace and stability to troubled spots in the world. We appreciate our friendship with Norway, and have been able to use the caucus to build upon the bonds between us founded on our shared values of freedom, democracy, free markets, and human dignity. Our governments work well together diplomatically, militarily, and economically. But for me and my constituents in North Dakota, this connection is personal. The caucus provides an opportunity to foster those good friendships.
What do you expect to achieve by being engaged in the caucus?
I want to foster understanding between our two nations. Norway is more modern and high-tech than many Americans understand, and Americans are more diverse, kind-hearted, and generous than many Norwegians understand from what they see on television. Some Norwegians come to New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, or Disney World and think they have experienced the United States. Instead, I invite folks to come to the Great Plains, where so many Norwegian descendents live, to fully understand what is in the hearts and minds of Americans.
We have much to learn from each other, and much to gain through working together. Ideally, we hope to attract more Norwegian students to study in the United States at the undergraduate and graduate levels. So many of our wonderful relationships with the leaders in Norway started with Norwegians studying here in America. I wish we had thousands of Norwegian students studying in the United States, not just hundreds.
In what areas do you think Norway and the U.S. should cooperate?
I can think of an area where we should not cooperate - perhaps you could send us a little less lutefisk, but keep the brown cheese and Jarlsberg cheese coming! In all seriousness, there are areas where we could cooperate more, such as areas of alternative energy, energy efficiency, global warming, rural medicine, and commercializing innovation from our research entities.
How would you describe the nature of U.S.-Norwegian relations?
Just excellent. As good friends do, we sometimes disagree, but we know we are still best of friends. We work closely together around the world to bring peace and stability to troubled spots. We work closely together in NATO and the United Nations. We both are involved in humanitarian relief in many countries. Norway invests the most per capita in foreign aid, and the United States invests the most overall. We are both committed to making the world a better place.
Who is your favorite Norwegian politician off all time?
Former Prime Minister and WHO Director General Gro Harlem Brundtland.
Who is your favorite Norwegian artist?
Painter Edvard Munch.
Why do your constituents/Americans of Norwegian ancestry care about Norway now that they live in America?
Norway is a very powerful brand in North Dakota because Norwegian-Americans are proud of Norway's accomplishments, culture, history, and people. You hear North Dakotans almost apologize for only being one-quarter or half Norwegian rather than 100 percent Norwegian. Norway has advanced from being one of the poorer nations of Europe more than a century ago, whose citizens had to leave to find opportunity, to a country today that is among the richest nations of the world. Norway is now an example for other nations because of its high standard of living, high levels of education, and great opportunities for its citizens. Folks in North Dakota recognize the great accomplishments of Norway and are proud of the educational, business, and deep personal connections between our two countries.