Commentary: For the past few days, I have let my motorbike zigzag its way between mobile homes and camping caravans heading north. I have tasted the feeling of freedom that comes from moving about in a northern landscape while noticing at the same time that many are out to chase the same experience when summer holidays really kick off.
That will be an observation fitting right into the predictions from those who keep watch over our holiday habits during the times of Corona.
Given the view that is visible through the visor of my MC helmet, there is not wonder that many want to be a tourist in the High North this year. Even I, who have traveled this landscape my entire life, sometimes have to draw an extra breath in order to fully take in grand presentations of people and nature. Driving on two wheels is also a good excuse to lay aside the worries that otherwise have a tendency to characterize a journalist’s everyday life.
A well-deserved flight from reality
In that respect, I get closer to the experience first-time travelers to the north will have.
Low population growth translates into wide-open landscapes. Daily local bickering is reduced to small signs on the side of the road. Kids play on the playgrounds, not local media editors with geographically based opinions and attitudes. Climate changes appear as warm summer nights, and horrific expressions of North Norwegian city planning, which drains our towns of youth, are almost invisible if I just pull that extra notch on the gas handle.
A flight from reality, in other words, and a well-deserved one at that
A flight from reality, in other words. However, a well-deserved one at that, on the far end of a winter and spring that have put both business and people to the test. The borders are still partially closed by a government that not only governs, but also acts as a kind of travel agency.
Because we have managed well so far, medically speaking. The report and analyses flowing in from all corners of the world salute the Norwegian way of managing the Corona virus. Even the economic consequences of a brutal shutdown appear to be better than those of the countries that allowed the pandemic to trickle through restaurants and nursing homes.
Freedom under pressure
That is why “everybody” wants to go to where we already are.
It gives us a challenge when the invisible borders between north and south are opened wide. We are to show off the best the High North has to offer, yet also demonstrate that we respect those among us who are at risk. That we respect the still-valid travel regulations.
However, if the corona – at least for a time – has let up some of its crushing grip on our lives and thoughts, our freedom is nevertheless under pressure.
I park at the end of a forest road and am immediately impressed by a goosander catching its prey in the forest pond before me. It accelerates from 0-100 in a blitz and spectacularly catches its prey.
Then I check the news, as I to far too often.
“A Call to Defend Democracy” is the title of a call signed by 500 former heads of state and democratic organizations across the world. “The COVID-19 pandemic threatens more than the lives and the livelihoods of people throughout the world. It is also a political crisis that threatens the future of liberal democracy.”
An impressive call
The call describes how not only dictatorships and authoritarian regimes use the Corona crisis to weaken the freedom of speech and tighten the political reigns. Even democratically elected regimes have, according to the signatories, used the pandemic to issue authorizations that limit the rights of free people.
“Democracy is under threat”, they write and encourage those of us concerned with democracy to use our power to defend democratic rights.
Strip him from power and honor for all eternity
The signatories, who represent every continent in the world, are also concerned with journalism’s significance for a well-functioning democracy. Concerned with the necessity of strengthening, not undermining, the free press as that is the only way in which we can “counter disinformation that seeks to tear societies apart”.
Therefore, also a personal call to our American friends: Free us from Donald Trump at the next election. Strip him from power and honor for all eternity, because we need freedom to bring back some form of decency into international relations.
Because even for us in the High North, the international dialogue is key to a secure, good and meaningful life. This dialogue is what Donald Trump tramples on nearly every day, without regard to the people who take responsibility for our continuing to live in peaceful co-existence across the Arctic borders.
Have a great summer!
This commentary was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.