I have just begun watching the Norwegian political drama on Netflix. In it the Russians have occupied Norway. The story is fascinating, well acted and attention grabbing.
Best quote. “We can’t negotiate if they don’t respect us. ”
Excerpted from Politico Europe
Okkupert (“Occupied”), the most expensive Norwegian television show in history, never mentions the word “quisling.” And yet its premise — a Russian occupation of Norway — evokes Vidkun Quisling’s Nazi collaborationist government and is permeated with the still unshakable trauma of that era.
Between 1942 and 1945, Quisling’s puppet regime revoked the authority of the Norwegian King (exiled to Great Britain after refusing German demands to abdicate), banned the entry of Jews fleeing Nazi terror, and fruitlessly committed Norwegian soldiers to the Eastern Front. At the end of the war, Quisling was executed and his name now dubiously lives on as an eponym for “traitor.”
Okkupert wrestles with a modern version of Quisling’s devastating legacy — and the shameful blot it left on the country’s history. The show is set in the near future, where a Green party government comes to power in Oslo on the heels of a hugely damaging global warming-related hurricane. Promising to unveil a revolutionary new form of nuclear energy powered by the chemical element thorium, Prime Minister Jesper Berg strikes a very Scandinavian pose by announcing that Norway will lead by example and immediately shut down its considerable gas and oil production.
This upsets the European Union, of which Norway is not a member. In cahoots with Moscow, Brussels secretly threatens Berg with a full-scale Russian invasion unless he commits to maintaining Norway’s fossil fuel extraction under Moscow’s supervision. (The United States, having recently achieved energy independence, has withdrawn from NATO and sits disinterestedly aside.) Berg reluctantly agrees to this scheme, promising his people that the insertion of Russian worker crews to restart Norway’s energy industry will be temporary.
When the Russians come to Norway, there are no tanks or fighter jets or “little green men.” The diminution of Norwegian sovereignty and the assertion of Russian control is much more subtle and visible only to those who care to notice. In the absence of a defensive alliance like NATO to deter the Russian threat, the mere mention of war leaves Berg with little choice — at least initially — but to go along with the “temporary” occupation. On the surface, life remains normal for most Norwegians, who go about their daily business as though nothing had changed.
All this lends Occupied an authenticity that has struck a chord in Norway. “I think the feeling we are secure and things can’t really change is an illusion,” Jo Nesbø told the Guardian shortly after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014. “That is the scary bit, because things can change very fast. The thing about Scandinavia is that we take things for granted.”
Teasing out “the scary bits” of such a frightening scenario is what makes Occupied one of the most rivetingly realistic TV shows about international politics in recent memory. Aside from its opening plot device, there’s little about the show that’s unbelievable. The best aspects aren’t the occasional explosions and shoot-outs, but the human drama. Little by little, viewers come to see how a democratic society becomes morally corroded by the everyday compromises regular people are forced to make.
On opposite ends of this dilemma stand Thomas Eriksen, a crusading journalist who risks his life to expose the truth, and Hans Martin Djupvik, a member of Berg’s security detail who sincerely believes he’s helping his country by working with the Russians to monitor and root out fellow Norwegians who oppose the new dispensation.
There’s the teenage boy Djupvik arrests and interrogates for creating an anti-Russian blog. There’s the apolitical restaurateur who, after converting her struggling eatery into a hangout for big-spending Russian securocrats working at the secretive occupation headquarters across the street, is targeted for intimidation by “Free Norway,” an underground, anti-Russian paramilitary movement.
Occupied also taps into distinctively Scandinavian cultural undertones. The last time fears of Russia kept Norwegians awake at night was during the Cold War, when Finland adopted a foreign policy of neutrality that allowed it to retain its formal independence, thereby escaping the fate of the Baltics (forcefully incorporated in the Soviet Union) or countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia (which became communist satellites). Finland had a democratic political system and free-market economy, but its position popularized the word “Finlandization,” a pejorative term still occasionally used by political scientists to describe the phenomenon whereby a small country living alongside a large and territorially expansionist one accepts a reduction of its sovereignty in exchange for self-rule.
“Finlandized Finland … showed the world that the Soviet Union was able to live in friendship with the neighbor. At the same time, Finland remained on the Soviet Union’s leash. Since this was a successful project, it is no wonder that today’s Russia desires to Finlandize other countries.”
“It is certainly regretful that in the year when the 70th anniversary of the victory in the Second World War is celebrated, the series’s creators decided to scare Norwegian viewers with a non-existing threat from the East in the worst Cold War traditions.”