8 May 2024 at the Ukrainian memorial in Lyngdal

magne haugland 1

From right: Natalia Litvinchuk, Knut Straume, and Olga Shvets.  Photo: Magne Haugland

On 8 May 2024, we invited to a memorial service for those who fell during the Second World War, as well as the Ukrainians who have given their lives in the fight for peace and freedom in the brutal invasion from the neighboring country in the north.

Knut Straume from the United Nations Association in Norway gave the speech and laid flowers at the Ukrainian memorial in Lyngdal.

He said:

Dear everyone.

We are gathered here today to mark Liberation Day, May 8, which is also the United Nations Day of Remembrance for the Victims of World War II. During the years of war, from 1939 to 1945, approximately 75 million people lost their lives. This corresponds to approximately 3% of the world's population at the time, of which 47 million were civilians behind these numbers and behind every single name there is a unique individual – a person with a lived life, dreams and hopes for the future, who was someone's son or daughter, mother or father, brother or sister, lover or spouse refers to the Second World War as "the war" in the singular form, is perhaps in itself a clear proof that we have largely been spared the horrors of war here at home, except the German occupation 1940-1945. After the dissolution of the union with Sweden in 1905, we, by and large, have been able to live in peace and freedom here at home, something we perhaps almost take for granted. But it is not. Human history is full of war and misery, violence and oppression.

Although the UN was founded after the Second World War to prevent new world wars from occurring, the world has nevertheless seen close to 300 different wars and armed conflicts since that time – civil wars and regional wars. And what we call the Cold War was far from a cold conflict in many areas of the world other than our own - in Asia, Africa, and South America. Nevertheless, it is important to remember what Dag Hammarskjöld once said: The United Nations was not created to bring humanity to the kingdom of heaven, but to keep hell away from earth. And the UN has managed to prevent new world wars and has managed to resolve many conflicts peacefully. And in the wars and conflicts that the UN has not been able to stop, the UN has worked with both emergency aid, aid, refugee aid, and peace mediation at all the levels that have been possible - and in very many cases the UN has also been important in being able to create lasting peace after conflict, and rebuilding both infrastructure and institutions. But for those who live in war and conflict – as we see today in Gaza or in Ukraine – it is literally hell on earth.

War is not only the absence of peace but also the absence of human rights, the absence of security, the absence of hope for the future. Therefore, it is easy to think that the UN is powerless and has played its role when we see how Russia can paralyze the Security Council with its veto in all areas that concern their brutal attacks on neighboring Ukraine. Or when the US again and again vetoes resolutions calling for a cease-fire in Gaza. But even a paralyzed Security Council has its function, both by creating a forum for dialogue, but also by giving the world's population access to the conversations that are held between the parties involved and the other members of the council.

Because if all channels of communication are broken, the world will become an even more dangerous place. And regardless of the work of the Security Council, the UN and UN staff work around the clock to limit acts of war and ease the suffering of civilians at every possible level – from diplomacy and aid work, to aid workers on the ground, observers who report on war crimes and human rights violations and IAEA staff who try to secure Ukrainian nuclear power plants from the disasters that may occur there during power outages or bomb attacks.

September 1 marks 85 years since Hitler attacked Poland, which triggered the Second World War in Europe. By then, Germany had already annexed several areas that had previously been part of a Greater German Empire or had a population where a large proportion of the population spoke German. He was to "reunite the German people". And despite the fact that Hitler built up Germany militarily, brutally persecuted his enemies and opponents, and removed or taken control of all the institutions that could have limited the Nazis' totalitarian power, Europe's leaders saw Hitler's aggression and constant breaking of promises through their fingers. After the attack on Poland, however, both Great Britain and France reacted by declaring war on Germany, but several Western democracies – including Norway - remained neutral even after this. Many thought perhaps that it was not about Norway, and that we would be best served - both economically, militarily, and politically - by being able to continue to maintain approximately the same relations with Germany as with Great Britain, as we had also been neutral during the previous world war from 1914-1918.

It was only when the war came to Norway through the Nazi attack on 9 April 1940 that we were also drawn into the war on the side of the Allies, and through the years of occupation most probably understood that this was not just a political dispute between two great powers, but about a brutal war between two fundamentally different worldviews in which the Western values of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, humanism, Christian charity and liberal democratic principles were under attack from an intolerant, authoritarian, totalitarian and violent ideology that would exterminate and destroy everything that it did not accept and anything it considered a threat. Since peace came on 8 May 1945, we have never repeated 9 April. We must never forget. But what does this really mean? And what does it require of us? One of those who survived the holocaust once said that it is important to know what Hitler and his regime did, but it is even more essential to understand WHY this happened and how one man and his inner circle of thugs could get the room to do something as they did, with a terror regime that occupied large parts of Europe and killed 6 million Jews before a large, worldwide alliance - which from 1942 went by the name "the United Nations" - overwhelmed them with massive military power and left large parts of Germany in gravel.

The UN has proven to be a success in many areas. Since the founding of the UN, colonial states have gained their independence and with the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the most important governing documents, the UN has contributed to increased development and improved living standards for a collective humanity, where the proportion of people living in poverty, hunger, war and conflict is significant reduced. But at the same time, we have seen a negative development in recent years, where the pandemic and several wars have reversed much of the important work - and the climate challenges will only get bigger and worse. Young people all over the world, including here at home, have increasing concerns about the future. It can also lead to anti-democratic forces gaining ground at the expense of liberal values and institutions, as we saw in Germany in the 1930s. In several places in Europe and the West, far-right movements are on the rise, often encouraged by populist right-wing radical politicians who use their democratic platforms to spread anti-democratic attitudes. As a historian, I see several similarities between our own time and the situation in Europe approximately 100 years ago and leading up to the Second World War.

We have political, social and economic challenges in the future, with increasing competition between the great powers, and a common climate crisis. In the old days, many believed that history kept repeating itself, but even if it is not a predetermined destiny, man still has a tendency to repeat historical mistakes because he has not learned from past experiences. That is why it is important that we have days like this, which help to remind us not only of what has been but also make us aware of the battles we may risk having to fight in our own time and in the future about we do not remember our past. We watch with horror as the leader of the Russian regime persecutes his political enemies, while at the same time a brutal and illegal war of aggression is being waged against neighboring Ukraine. A brutal and bloody war of attrition that is being fought here in Europe in the 21st century, and which has lasted for over two years. It is incomprehensible that this is possible and that the world community has not been able to stop Russia's aggression. Every life lost is someone's son or daughter, mother or father, brother or sister, lover or spouse.

During the Second World War, 10,262 Norwegians lost their lives, both here at home and abroad - in Hitler's prison camps or at sea. It is important that we remember those who lost their lives in the fight against Nazism. But we were not alone in this struggle. It was a world war in which battles were eventually fought on every continent. And Norway was part of a large, international alliance. In April 1940, British and French soldiers came to our aid, and it was Soviet forces that liberated Eastern Finnmark in the autumn of 1944.

The Soviet Union's role in the Second World War was complex, but after the Soviet Union also entered the side of the Allies, it gradually emerged several so-called "Russian leases" throughout Norway. At most, there were 284 such camps around the country, where the prisoners were used for hard physical forced labor on the Nazis' infrastructural projects - such as building factories, airports and roads. But the terms "Russian camp" and "Russian prisoner" are highly misleading, as the prisoners in these camps were by no means exclusively Russian, nor exclusively Soviet. They came from all 16 Soviet states and also represented many other nationalities from Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Of the close to 100,000 prisoners who were used as slave labor in Norway during the Second World War, a full 27% were from Ukraine - that is, 27,000 Ukrainian prisoners of war.

Of these, 2,000 were civilian prisoners, including women - and even children. And of the 14,000 Soviet prisoners of war who lost their lives in Norway during the Second World War, a corresponding proportion were Ukrainians - 3,780. That corresponds to more than one person from every single household in Lyngdal. All of these 3,780 were a unique individual – a human being with a lived life, with dreams and hopes for the future, who was someone's son or daughter, mother or father, brother or sister, lover or spouse.

Today, the 8th of May, is a day when we remember the victims of the Second World War and celebrate the liberation from the German occupation. We do this to also remind ourselves that freedom, democracy and human dignity are not something we can take for granted. It is something we must fight for and strengthen every single day – it is our collective duty as citizens. But like the phoenix bird, which was reborn from the fire and rose from the ashes - and whose motif characterizes the back wall of the hall where the UN Security Council holds its meetings - we also saw that both Norway and the rest of the world rose up after the Second World War, and that unity we known both here at home and internationally contributed to laying the framework for the political cooperation that led to both a new rule-based international world order, with the UN and other forums, and the building of a fairer and more inclusive society here at home, where freedom, democracy and human dignity are core values.

So let's hope that the crises we see today - war, hunger and poverty, and climate challenges such as drought, heat, floods and extreme weather - can contribute to building a new solidarity across national borders to strengthen the UN and give them the the tools needed to carry out its mandate to prevent new world wars, and let's cheer on those who work to strengthen democracy, cooperation, understanding and solidarity, from politicians and journalists, to civil society volunteers, teachers, sports coaches and anyone else who contributes to creating good societies.


From right:  Knut Straume, Natalia Litvinchuk, Aurika Shvets and Olga Shvets 

Comments powered by CComment