Today, I shall write about good neigbourliness, the importance of appreciating those we live with, without having chosen them. It is perhaps a bit like an arranged marriage, without any chance of getting out of it. I want to emphasize the importance of seeing all that is positive around us. But I don’t want us to be naïve either, and sometimes it is right to be critical and reveal misuse of power, neglect, corruption, wrong policies or failed implementation of projects. Yet, we shouldn’t always look for the wrongs; we must also look for the rights.

For columnists and commentators it is easy to criticize what others do. It is easy to be a ‘sofa referee’ and ‘Besserwisser’. It is easy to find faults with everyone else but oneself. In my columns, I hope I rarely behave like that. If and when I criticize and seem to be righteous, I always try to leave an opening for others to keep their own views and think for themselves. The possibility exists that I may be wrong!

When I boast of Norway, which some readers tell me I do, I usually add that ‘even in Norway’ there are many things we must improve, and I write about things in my homeland that saddens me, such as the growing inequality, complacency, complacency and not bothering to listen to and learn from others. Newly rich sometimes behave like that, and Norway only discovered its enormous oil wealth less than fifty years ago. There is no reason to be arrogant if one is rich. Instead, wealth adds to one’s responsibility because it gives freedom to do what one believes is right. I’d like to give credit to the government policies in my home country, which were mostly wise.

Sometimes in my articles, I admit that Sweden is better than Norway. They are our closest neighbour and the Norwegian-Swedish border is about 1,630 kilometers. I studied in Sweden and had close contact with Swedes in my work for another decade after that; I have only admiration for their fairness and honesty, their deep feeling of equality, and much more. We all believe in the Scandinavian model and the Nordic way.

The political editor in Aftenposten, Norway’s large and influential daily, last week wrote a column entitled, ‘Vi er heldige some har svenskene som naboer’. In English; ‘We are lucky to have the Swedes as our neigbhours’. I am glad he said it and I think the Swedes would say the same about the Norwegians. Yes, we are different in some ways, but we are as close as two countries can be.

Let me not forget the other good neigbours either; the ‘smiling Danes’, as we say, living in the country with which Norway has four hundred years of common history as one united country. This year the people of Denmark have been voted the ’happiest people on earth’ by some more or less serious media organization. One reason for it is that the Danes talk about all kinds of issues ‘all the time’; they don’t let problems clog up inside, which we Norwegians do more than we should, and the Finns even more. Finland is Norway’s third good neighbor, and the common border is about 740 kilometers. Unfortunately, they Finns speak a language very different from the Scandinavian languages; lucky then that English is close to a lingua franca, but only for the young.

And then, the Icelanders, on the saga island out in the ocean, half way to North-America. The Icelanders are not really foreigners either; they are just a combination of Danes and Norwegians, with some Celtic touch, too. Besides, it was Leif Erikson, a Norwegian Viking and explorer who lived in Iceland, who first came to North America and Greenland, some 500 years before Columbus in 1492!

The Russians are also there, close to the Nordic countries. Norway has a 200 km border with Russia, and Finland’s border with the ‘big bear’ is about 1,340 kilometers. The Russians are our neighbours, indeed, although not as close friends as the other Nordic countries. But we endured the Cold War with little contact, on the respective sides of the border. It saddens me that the West’s recent sanctions against Russia became so harsh (and more may come) at a time when the people of Russia, especially in the western part of the land, had become closer to their Nordic neighbours. It makes me wonder if the Cold War, too, was not only about ideology and economic systems, but more about geopolitics and power. Now, Russia looks to the east and south, yet, it also has natural neighbours and partners in Europe, former Soviet republics like Georgia, Ukraine and Belarus. The three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were also part of the Soviet Union. Now, they are part of the Nordic neighbourhood, with membership in common cooperation and friendship organizations.

I will not forget the Germans, the Poles, the Dutch, and the Brits. We are all neighbours with much in common – either we were on the right or wrong side during the last world war. Yes, I hope it was indeed the last war in that part of the world; it is almost unthinkable that another war could occur between the people of these lands. But we must be careful about how we treat each other, indeed our Russian neigbour.

A few days ago, I read a pleasant story in a Norwegian newspaper called Haugesunds Avis. It was about the ‘Berlin children’ who were given an opportunity to come to Norway on extended holidays in the 1950s from the war-torn city of Berlin. The children came to get fresh air, country food and learn to love its neighbours in small-town Norway. In all, over 50,000 German children came from the land that had occupied Norway for five years. But the children could not be blamed for that! Many of them came back again and again. Some were even adopted by Norwegian families. The story I read was about a Norwegian and a German woman, now about 75 and 90, who still felt like family, as nice and aunt.

Everywhere in the world, at any time, we should try to see the positive in things around. We must try to love our neighbours like ourselves. We must try to find space in our heart for those we disagree with, too, in politics, cultural habits, religious traditions and otherwise.

I hope that I manage to convey positive messages in my columns in this very newspaper. In the end, we are all neighbours in God’s garden. Yes, I suggest that there are lessons to learn from the Norwegians and their neighbours. But I have also learned hundreds of lessons from Pakistanis about how people can live peacefully together in happy days as well as difficult times – including now, when Khan and Qadri challenge the going parliamentarian system. Today, the standoff is 43 days. Both sides, being more than neighbours, should seek to end it now and find solutions that make everyone wiggle out of it with some success. I don’t know how to do it, but I am sure it can be done.

 The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.

atlehetland@yahoo.com