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Prime Minister of Norway visits St. Olaf

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre visited St. Olaf on September 18, where he celebrated the college’s longstanding ties to Norway and spoke to students in political science, economics, and Norwegian classes about pressing global issues.

“Minnesota is as close to home as I get on this side of the Atlantic,” Gahr Støre said as he began his talk, noting that it was a particular honor as prime minister to visit St. Olaf, which was founded in 1874 by Norwegian immigrants and today has a robust Norwegian Department that offers the largest number of Norwegian language courses in North America.

The prime minister and his team arrived on campus in three Black Hawk helicopters operated by U.S. military officials based at Camp Ripley, where Gahr Støre had visited earlier in the day. St. Olaf President Susan Rundell Singer and Board of Regents Chair Susan Gunderson ’79 greeted the prime minister’s team as they landed, and they gave Gahr Støre an overview of the college as they walked across campus to Buntrock Commons.

Gahr Støre then spoke with students and faculty members for more than an hour in Viking Theater, focusing on the ties between Norway and the United States, the urgency of addressing global climate change, and the importance of taking action in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

“In Jonas Gahr Støre’s hour-long talk with students, he very much assumed the role of professor, explaining the delicate situation now in Europe,” KMSP-TV reporter Rob Olson ’90 noted in his news story about the prime minister’s visit.

As Gahr Støre spoke with students, he used a map of Europe to illustrate why Norway — which shares a land border with Russia — is taking decisive action to support Ukraine. Following his visit with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv three weeks ago, Gahr Støre announced that Norway will send anti-aircraft missiles and mine clearing equipment to Ukraine and help the war-torn country secure its gas and power supply. It is the first time that Norway has ever provided military aid to any nation in conflict.

“We have to support Ukraine. Although we are up in the north and Ukraine is down in the south, this is really about principles — and Ukraine has the right to defend itself,” Gahr Støre told students, while adding that it’s important to remain focused on the fact that all countries involved need to recognize that conflict should be resolved through diplomacy. “We have to work to come back to the fact that this is not the way we solve issues between countries.”

Gahr Støre also spoke about the need to take decisive action to address global climate change, noting that Norway has committed to cutting its carbon emissions by 55 percent by 2030. The country continues to work on ways to capture carbon dioxide and deposit it safely under the sea bed, he said, while increasing reliance on renewable energy sources such as off-shore wind and solar. “This shift to green energy is happening, but we need to push it hard,” he told students.

Students then had the opportunity to ask the prime minister questions, and they eagerly engaged him on a variety of topics — including several questions that were posed in Norwegian. Rundell Singer said the thoughtful questions St. Olaf students from a variety of academic disciplines asked the prime minister about a range of global issues highlight the power of a liberal arts education. “This lifts up the best in a liberal arts education, showcasing how we need to think critically from all our disciplinary perspectives,” she told students as Gahr Støre concluded his lecture.

Professor of Norwegian Kari Lie Dorer told KARE 11 news reporter Megan Wolfe that “there was just a lot of excitement” for the visit by the prime minister. Providing St. Olaf students with the opportunity to connect what they were studying in their courses with real-world issues is at the very heart of a liberal arts education, she added.  “One of the things he emphasized in his talk was really for us to think about how Norway offers opportunities,” she noted, “and it’s from those opportunities that we can make change.”

“Minnesota is as close to home as I get on this side of the Atlantic.”

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre

St. Olaf is one of few U.S. higher education institutions where students can study Norwegian to complete their foreign language requirement and also be able to further develop their knowledge of Norwegian language, literature, culture, and history. For nearly a century, St. Olaf has also hosted the Norwegian-American Historical Association (NAHA) on campus. Norwegian royalty have visited campus a number of times over the years, including a visit by Her Majesty Queen Sonja in October 2022.

Gahr Støre’s visit to campus was part of a brief trip to Minnesota that also included a public conversation with U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar at the Norway House in Minneapolis and a stop at Camp Ripley in Little Falls. After leaving campus, he flew to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting. The prime minister’s visit attracted significant media attention, with the Star Tribune, KSTP, WCCO-TV, and Minnesota Public Radio all covering his time in Minnesota.

Gahr Støre has served as the Prime Minister of Norway since 2021 and has been the leader of the Labour Party since 2014. Before developing a career in politics, he completed naval officer training at the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy and studied political science at Sciences Po in Paris.