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Reassuring Norwegian kin of their value to home country

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - The Norwegian charm offensive continues as another high-ranking diplomat tours the area to reassure descendants of the immigrants that they remain "giants in the Earth" -- and valued kin.

Wegger Strommen, Norway's ambassador to the United States, will speak at 2 p.m. Friday in UND's Gamble Hall. The lecture is open to the public.

He previewed his remarks in a statement released by the embassy:

"The Midwest has been fertile ground for the extensive bonds between Norway and the United States -- between families, friends, schools and businesses," Strommen said. "These contacts .?.?. have proven to be a solid pillar in what is Norway's most important relationship with another country."

This follows the March 26 Twin Cities speech by Jonas Gahr Store, the country's foreign minister, who said this:

"The Midwest has been fertile ground for the extensive bonds and wide range of ties between our two countries: between families, friends, schools and businesses. All these contacts -- with their strong human dimension -- have proven to be a firm pillar in what is Norway's unique relationship with another country."

The on-point message -- that the historic bonds of blood continue -- is meant in part to allay fears throughout the Midwest spawned by Norway's decision to downgrade its diplomat-staffed Consulate General in Minneapolis to honorary status.

Just three countries -- Norway, Canada and Mexico -- now maintain diplomats in the Twin Cities. About 20 other nations are represented by honorary consuls, and Norway will join those ranks this summer when Walter Mondale becomes honorary consul general. Gary Gandrud, a Twin Cities attorney and founding member of the Norwegian American Foundation, will be honorary consul.

In his address last month at the Humphrey Institute, the foreign minister acknowledged that his decision to shift career diplomats out of the American Midwest had sparked widespread concern.

"I have received and answered many letters, e-mails and phone calls, and I have received delegations in my office," Store said. "And I have been looking forward to this opportunity to say very clearly to you: Norway is not 'closing down' in the Midwest. We are building a new and robust representation to serve common interests for new generations.

"Right here, in the Midwest, Norwegians and Americans have invested together -- in education, in research, in culture and in business. These are investments for the future, and I promise you that we will be here with you to reap the benefits -- and to invest further."

'Be more visible'

Bruce Gjovig, chairman of UND's Nordic Initiative, said that he encouraged the Norwegian ambassador "to be more visible in the Midwest" to counter fears that modern Norway might be losing interest in the region. "They agree there's a sense here that they're forgetting about the Midwest," Gjovig said, and the visits by top diplomats "reminds people that their commitment remains very strong."

Working with the consulate staff, Nordic Initiative has hosted "more than 90 individuals and delegations in the past 10 years" and helped to smooth the way for about 800 Norwegian students who have enrolled at UND in that time, he said. On Wednesday, officials from UND and a Norwegian school announced a new agreement involving a medical student exchange.

"We've had superb results in making connections in education," Gjovig said. "We've not done quite as much with technology as we'd like, but I think that holds great potential. We can learn a great deal from each other in such areas as alternative energy."

The historic ties to Norway often are linked to romantic notions of "old Norway" and family connections that fade with each generation removed from the immigrant past, Gjovig said.

"One of our key initiatives is trying to connect more with modern Norway," he said. "Modern Norway is an evolving country that has lots to offer and many opportunities for people here in technology, trade, education and culture."

Strommen also will visit Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, Augsburg College in Minneapolis and Concordia College in Moorhead during his tour of the American Midwest.

Nordic Initiative plans a luncheon Friday with Strommen and members of the Norwegian American community. For information, call (701) 777-3132.

To read a transcript of Foreign Minister Store's remarks in Minneapolis, log on to