King Harald and Queen Sonja headed off Monday on a state visit to Slovakia, viewed as a young republic that shares Norway’s enthusiasm for the great outdoors, mountain scenery and a Norwegian literary figure who’s otherwise relatively unknown.
Slovakia’s capital of Bratislava, however, has a monument to Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, who won the Nobel Prize in literature more than 100 years ago and this year marked the 100th anniversary of his death in 1910. He wrote the Norwegian national anthem and was a champion of his time, but not many places outside Norway still celebrate him.
They do in Bratislava, though, where Bjørnson got involved in the Slovaks’ struggle to hang on to their native language and national pride and authority, and streets are named for him all over the country. In Bratislava, the Norwegian royals will, among other duties, open an exhibition that’s a tribute to Bjørnson in the Bratislava Palace on Wednesday. (PICAPP PHOTO: King Harald and Queen Sonja, center, pose in front of the Slovak National Theater with Bratislava’s Mayor Andrej Durkovsky and his wife Frantiska.)
Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and singer Herborg Kråkevik are also along for the trip, reports news bureau NTB, which includes a full program of cultural, historical, political and business events.
The three-day trip will mostly be centered in Bratislava and the historic city of Banská Stiavnica. Slovakia’s ambassador to Norway, Dusan Rozbora, has returned to his homeland to take part.
“Before I came to Norway I thought we were more different,” Rozbora told NTB. “But the mentality and characteristics of Slovaks and Norwegians are amazingly similar, despite the geographic distance.”
Rozbora claims Slovaks are like Norwegians: “Very nice and down-to-earth people, and we’re a bit peculiar and proud also.
“As small countries in Europe, we have a lot to gain from economic cooperation. This visit will open up new possibilities.”