Tribute to Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson in Košice!


“My fight for the Slovaks costs a lot of time, which I need especially for my literary work. But I am not complaining, because it brings me joy. I have never in my life received so many thanks and that also has a value” Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson wrote in a letter in 1907 to his Slovak friends at a time when the Slovaks were fighting against oppression and for their own language and identity in the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the beginning of the 20th Century. To commemorate Bjørnson’s engagement for the rights of small nations and the Slovak people and to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the first Czechoslovak Republic and the 25th anniversary of the independent Slovak Republic, the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Slovakia in cooperation with the Municipality of Košice, unveiled a new Bjørnson monument in the City Park, and organized a conference and an exhibition on Bjørnson’s legacy for 1918 and present times, in Košice on 6 February 2018.

Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910), a famous Norwegian writer and Nobel Prize laureate, is equally well known for his political and social engagement at home and abroad and for his vocal advocacy for peace, justice and the rights of small nations. Thanks to his articles in influential European press on the oppression of the Slovaks in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the world became aware of their situation. Bjørnson’s engagement raised enormous enthusiasm and hopes in Slovakia, and his legacy is still remembered and cherished - more than 100 years after.


Bjørnson Monument. “I am greatly honoured and pleased that we this year – when Slovakia is celebrating  the 100th anniversary of the first Czechoslovak Republic and the 25th anniversary of the independent Slovak Republic - can unveil a new monument as a tribute to my great fellow countryman Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson – a literary giant and Nobel Prize Laureate, and, not least an advocate for the rights of small nations and the Slovak people in their fight for their own language and identity at the beginning of the 20th century. His support for minorities and his ideas on democracy, justice and the rights of small states became a source of inspiration in the nation building process in Europe after the First World War, and thus the establishment of the first Czechoslovak Republic”, Ambassador of Norway Inga Magistad said in her opening speech. Warm words on Bjørnson and his engagement for the Slovaks during their struggle, and his continued relevance for promoting democratic and humanistic values were also given by the Vice-Mayor of Košice Renáta Lenártová and the State Secretary of the Slovak Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs Lukáš Parízek. The author of the monument Miroslav Beličák expressed his great satisfaction of being given the opportunity to make a modern monument to this great literary giant and fighter for human rights and the just cause of the Slovak people. The Košice Teachers’ Choir sang the Norwegian and the Slovak national anthems and cute children from the kindergarten at Hrebendová – Luník IX in Košice performed Roma and Slovak songs and dances. The closing words were given by Bjørnson’s biographer Edvard Hoem who recited in Norwegian a beautiful poem by Bjørnson, while the Slovak version was given by Ambassador Magdaléna Vášáryová. The Vice-Mayor, the Ambassador and the State Secretary laid wreaths at the monument after the unveiling, and some soil brought from Bjørnson’s home at Aulestad in Norway was placed in front of the monument by the Ambassador.


The monument, in the form of wings of freedom and an open book with famous quotes from Bjørnson, is made with financial support from the EEA and Norway Grants.


Conference on Bjørnson’s legacy for 1918 and present times!

In her opening speech the Norwegian Ambassador referred to Bjørnson’s commitment and strong belief in humanism, freedom and human rights as she quoted the literary giant and freedom fighter: “All that concerns humanity concerns me! If by my song or my speech I can contribute ever so little towards the amelioration of the lot of millions of my poorer fellow-creatures, I shall be prouder of that than of the combined laurels of Shakespeare, Milton and Goethe”. The Vice-Major emphasized Bjørnson’s legacy as a fighter for the rights of Slovaks and the gratitude that Slovaks want to express for his inspiration to the Slovak nation for freedom and nation building.  After opening speeches, the Norwegian writer and Bjørnson biographer Edvard Hoem gave a 45 minutes captivating lecture on Bjørnson, his life and his support for the rights of the Slovak people during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Following Hoem’s key note address, Ambassador Magdaléna Vášáryová moderated a lively panel discussion between Hoem and the Slovak author Milan Žitný. The participants were also given an interesting reading of a monologue in the Bjørnson play “Beyond Power II” by Miriam Kičiňová, dramaturg at the Slovak National Theatre,  and a presentation of a Bjørnson commemorative book by Marianna Oravcová from the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic. Both the play and the book will be staged and presented later this year.


“Star from the North” – exhibition.  The exhibition, organized by the Embassy and the Slovak National Library in Martin, gives an introduction into the intellectual, artistic and moral universe of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and presents his ties with Slovakia, in particular his active struggle for the rights of the Slovak people. Through pictures, articles, letters and quotes, the exhibition portrays Bjørnson as a poet, journalist, novelist, and not least, as fighter for peace and supporter of the rights of small nations, in particular Slovakia. Additionally, a replica of Bjørnson’s Nobel price medal is displayed, and the visitors can enjoy a film based on Bjørnson’s novel "Synnøve Solbakken" or read some of his books translated into Slovak/Czech. The exhibition will stay in Košice until 15 March 2018, before moving to other Slovak cities.


Bjørnson as a literary lion and fighter for justice and rights of small nations were also the values highlighted in opening speeches by Ambassador Inga Magistad, Vice-mayor Renáta Lenartová and the Director of the National Library Katarína Krištofová. His last words uttered on his death bed - and also to be found of the new monument – still hold true today, and were quoted as a suitable epitaph for this great champion of democracy and human rights: “ Good deeds save the world”.


Link to interview with ambassador Inga Magistad: