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Defense interview

Håkon Løken was appointed Norway's new defense attaché to Poland 5. august. Get to know him better in this short interview; his favorite polish food, favorite places in Warsaw, his polish skills and also a bit about his work.

Could you describe the work of a defense attaché?
A defense attaché is a military diplomat. He is the connection between the ministry of defense and other relevant institutions in his home country, and the corresponding institutions in the country where he is posted. Primarily the ministry of defense, but also other security structures. Often, it is said that a defense attaché is both a spokesperson and a listening post. A spokesperson for his own country, and a listening post.
There is no such thing as a normal day, and there are huge differences on a day to day basis. One week I might visit an armament factory in Radom, the next week I will go to a meeting with the polish ministry of defense. I also attend various receptions and ceremonies. 

You’ve been posted to Kiev and Moscow. Are there any big differences between those countries and Poland?
The main difference is that now, for the first time, I’m a defense attaché in an allied country. Poland and Norway are allies in NATO, and we sit next to each other in the North Atlantic Council in Brussels. Therefore, there are more open doors. The situation in Kiev changed considerably during the four years while I was posted there. From casual, noncommittal talk about a closer cooperation internally in the western security structures, especially NATO, we now have a true wish for a strengthened cooperation in security policy.
Regardless of where we defense attaches are posted, we are still partially treated as certified spies that need to be watched, however I don’t think this is the case in Warsaw. 

Was this openness and hospitality the reason you wanted to go to Poland?
My work in Poland is a natural continuation of my work in Russia and Ukraine.
Before I was appointed to my current position, I spent three years at the security policy department in the ministry of defense in Norway. I worked with issues concerning Eastern Europe, and took part in decision-making processes that have had a lot to say for this region. This has given me a solid “start capital” that is needed to understand the issues at hand in this part of the world. 

What are your impressions of the polish Army?
On the strategic level, Poland is one of the few NATO-countries that have decided to pass legislation that obliges them to spend 2% of their GDP on defense, a percentage that will be successively increased up to a level of 2,5% during the next decade.
This is a unique decision, and Poland are really setting an example for the other countries in the alliance. This decision has secured relatively good financial terms for the polish army, and they trains a lot and carry out many exercises. Strictly speaking, Poland has impressed me in the way that they have adapted to the changed security situation in this part of the world. They look seriously at the situation and do something about it.        

The defense attaché off-duty

What are your favorite polish dishes?
I am very impressed with the polish kitchen – among other things, the poles have a very healthy bread-culture. You can get all types of bread, which is great compared to Moscow or Kiev, where there is mostly only white bread, and not very much wholegrain bread available. Here in Poland the selection is rich. Of the many local dishes I have been served, cabbage rolls have become a favorite of mine – they remind me of my childhood.

What are your impressions from your travels in Poland?
I have been to Sopot, Gdynia, Kielce and Gdansk. I can understand why “TriCity” has become so popular among Norwegians.The beaches and the coastline towards the Baltics are truly amazing.
I enjoy photographing; it is my passion, and the reason for why I am always up before the sun sets, to catch the first light. I hope I will have more time to photograph in the future.

Is there a special place in Poland that you would like to visit?
Yes, I hope to be able to take a trip to the mountain areas in the south of Poland. I’m a bit of a sports fanatic – what you might call a “sports idiot” in Norwegian, so I feel it’s my duty to go there and support the Norwegian (and polish) ski jumpers. There are many wonderful places both north and south that I would like to visit. Let us see what opportunities the future holds for me.

When you have visitors, where do you take them here in Warsaw?
The Old Town. The Lazienki Park is also beautiful, when the weather is good. My wife and I have attended several of the free Sunday Chopin recitals in the Lazienki park.
Once I took my younger brother to an out-of-town flea market. He really wanted to go, and it was fun – it turned out to be a great photoshoot opportunity.

What are your impressions of Warsaw and the embassy?
I have to say that the fantastic local staff at the embassy have made a big impression on me. They are so nice and welcoming, and they are doing everything they can to help me understand their culture and last but not least; the polish language (!).
Something else that has made a big impression on me are the city-bikes. I’m truly impressed by the city-bike system in Warsaw. Not only ordinary bikes are available, I’ve seen childrens bikes, tandem-city-bikes, electric bikes and so on. The bicycle culture impresses me, and I think Norway has a lot to learn from Poland in this case!

You are taking Polish lessons. Have you learned any specific words or phrases that you would like to share?
I’m striving to learn sufficient Polish so that I can be able to meet people and know the most important courtesy phrases by heart. I know quite a lot of Russian, so that helps, but Polish is a much more difficult language. The differences between the two languages are huge, and a lot of studying is required to learn polish properly.
To be honest, when I say “bardzo mi miło” (pleased to meet you), it probably sounds more Italian than polish! When it comes to more specific phrases, rachunek (the bill, please) is good to know. I don’t actually have a favorite word, but I use bardzo as often as I can. I probably practice my polish for 45 minutes every day.

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