Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has arrived in Shetland on a visit which will see him open the new Scalloway Museum tomorrow morning and help further cement the close historical ties which bind islanders and Norwegians together.
Mr Stoltenberg flew in this afternoon and arrived in the village, where the Scalloway people are limbering up for three days of celebrations to mark the museum’s opening, shortly after 4pm.
Several buildings were bedecked in Norwegian and Shetland flags on a bright, blustery afternoon as the Prime Minister and his wife were taken on a short stroll and shown the Prince Olav slipway, which formed a major part of the Shetland Bus base during World War II.
Mr Stoltenberg and his entourage paid a visit to the Walter & Joan Gray care home, where he was introduced to family members of those involved in the heroic campaign of resistance against the Nazi occupation between 1941 and 1945.
Those included relatives of Kaare Emil Iversen, who made in excess of 50 trips across the North Sea before marrying a local girl, Cissie Slater, and living in Scalloway for the rest of his life. Also present was Sverre Syversen, 92, a surviving Shetland Bus veteran with whom Mr Stoltenberg had a lengthy discussion.
The clandestine special operations group’s activities form a focal point of the new museum’s exhibition, and Mr Stoltenberg said it was a “pleasure” and an “honour” to be invited to open the building.
He said: “I believe that it is very important that we are able to take care of the memories and the common history of Shetland and Norway. The museum is a way of expressing the very close ties between Shetland and Norway and everything that happened during the war.”
Mr Stoltenberg spoke of how those involved with the Shetland Bus had not only helped Norwegians to flee the German occupation, but transported people and equipment to contribute to sabotage and other resistance activities: “Shetland was really important for all the people that were fighting for freedom in Norway.”
Tomorrow is Norway’s constitution day, expected to be an especially poignant event this year as it is the first since the terrorist atrocities which took place on 22nd July last year. It comes in the middle of far-right extremist Anders Breivik’s trial for massacring 77 people in Oslo and in the island of Utöya.
“I think that the constitution day will be even more important this year than before because what happened on 22nd July last year reminds us of the importance of freedom, democracy, that we have the right to take part in political discussions without feeling afraid,” Mr Stoltenberg said.
On the day of the attacks, many Norwegians were in Shetland as part of the Tall Ships celebrations and Mr Stoltenberg spoke today of his nation’s gratitude for the support shown by Shetlanders during those trying and traumatic days.
“So many people expressed their support for the Norwegians that either were wounded or killed or lost their loved ones,” he told this newspaper. “It is in times of grief that we really need friends like the people of Shetland.”
Billy Moore, one of those involved in the latter stages of the project, told The Shetland Times he was “privileged” to meet Mr Stoltenberg and said it was “remarkable” that the committee had been able to attract such a major figure to open the village museum.
He feels young folk in Scalloway remain very conscious of the sacrifices made during World War II, both through school visits to wreath-laying at the village’s war memorial and through the inter-marriages between Norwegians and Shetlanders which have helped keep the history alive.
Mr Moore added: “Tomorrow’s going to be a very busy day, more of a celebratory day than anything else.”
Following a wreath-laying ceremony first thing, a visit to Scalloway School and a civic parade to the Shetland Bus Memorial, Mr Stoltenberg is due to open the museum at 10.45am. Following that a community party, including live music, will take place throughout the afternoon.