I am back from Ukraine and Norway, still replete with the memories of intense, exciting and often moving places, meetings and forums.
Everywhere we went, we were welcomed in friendship, focusing on the importance of not only celebrating and reinforcing our ties, but of gathering our ideas and strengths together to find solutions to the current economic and social challenges we face. In addition to official meetings, bilateral discussions and official ceremonies, we had many opportunities to meet with the public, and hold forums with young people, artists, representatives from civil society and people from the business community.
Norway, a country in which social engagement is a way of life. We recognized it as soon as we arrived, at a discussion at the Nobel Peace Centre—we could not have dreamed of a better place—with representatives from a whole network of non-governmental organizations working in Norway and abroad. Supporting human development and defending rights and freedoms, justice and peace, children and youth, and equality and security, is at the heart of their activities. Norwegians have a highly developed sense of civic responsibility: 84 per cent of the population volunteer and are members of one or more NGOs! This dynamic social fabric is phenomenal and shapes the Norwegian spirit at every level of society. The remarkable presence of Their Majesties King Harald V and Queen Sonja, Prince Haakon Magnus and Princess Mette-Marit at several of the forums we organized with the public, and the extent to which they listened, were eloquent reminders of their involvement. For this, they are very loved and respected by the people of Norway.
I first met the Prince and Princess in 2006, in Toronto, at the International AIDS Conference, one of the many causes they support and for which they are true ambassadors.
Queen Sonja studied art history, has written on the subject and is known for her unfailing support of artists and culture, which Norway supports with great vision and conviction. She enthusiastically took part in the discussions we had with the cultural community, and she and the King also took part in the public Art Matters forum we held in Oslo.
We held our Youth Dialogue on Diversity at the Oslo International Culture Museum. Immigration is a new reality in Norwegian society, and people are now focusing on integration and citizenship. They are taking this very seriously; it was striking to hear young people speak with so much confidence and optimism about the challenges of immigration, the work that must be done to change people’s mentalities, and what it takes to achieve full and complete inclusion. New arrivals waste no time in developing a sense of belonging and finding their place in the flourishing Norwegian economy and society.
The forum opened on a high note with a performance by the multi-ethnic hip hop group, Queendom, which reflects the new, cosmopolitan Norway. It ended with Inuit artist Sylvia Cloutier, from Kuujjuaq, a member of the Canadian delegation, who had the chance to work on site with two Norwegian musicians.
The Norwegian business community is also socially committed. In addition to their contribution to philanthropic projects, many companies have adopted responsible, green economic strategies. We met with a number of leaders from the energy, gas and oil sectors who told us about their significant investments in new technologies and research, and their desire to develop and explore renewable and alternative sources of energy.
Tromsø, in the Norwegian Arctic, was an inspiring stop. Imagine a university at the 70th parallel! The northernmost university in the world offers leading programs in scientific research, and a number of faculties, including life sciences, social science, law and even a music conservatory. It is a modern campus where young Sami from the North, other Norwegians from the South, and young people from all around the world go to study, conduct research, develop projects and live together. This university has changed the face of the Norwegian Arctic, and has allowed the surrounding communities to gain an infinite number of new perspectives. It is a key development tool in a place where the knowledge community is a priority.
Tromsø is also home to the Norwegian Polar Institute, which brings together specialists and researchers from all over the world, and integrates the ancestral knowledge of northern peoples. At the university, Norwegian Sami leaders and Canadian Aboriginal leaders participating in the Arctic Council conference accepted our invitation to take part in a forum in which they shared their experiences and thoughts on climate change and on the economic and social challenges they face. They all agreed that the future of northern communities must not be limited to the exploitation of natural resources; it must also focus on human development, dialogue and an inclusive vision.