Norway mourns a legendary ambassador

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Norway’s foreign ministry, diplomatic colleagues and hundreds of Chilean refugees in Norway were mourning the death this week of Frode Nilsen, a career diplomat himself who’s credited with saving hundreds of lives during the regime of dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Norwegian Ambassador Frode Nilsen saved many lives during the military dictatorship in Chile, where he served as Norway's envoy for a total of 10 years. PHOTO: Wikipedia

Norwegian Ambassador Frode Nilsen saved many lives during the military dictatorship in Chile, where he served as Norway’s envoy for a total of 10 years. PHOTO: Wikipedia

“No other Norwegian diplomat has saved so many human lives as he did,” journalist and author Erling Borgen wrote in newspaper Dagsavisen after Nilsen last week died the age of 92. Borgen was Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK’s) correspondent in South America from 1988 to 1992, during Nilsen’s second period as Norway’s ambassador to Chile.

Anne K Lund, director general at the foreign ministry, wrote in newspaper Aftenposten that the ministry had lost one of its great champions of human rights, individual freedom and international solidarity.

Nilsen joined the foreign service as a trainee in 1952 and served in Cairo, Bonn, Madrid and Washington DC before being sent to Chile, where he first served as ambassador from 1975 until 1982. The military coup in Chile and Nilsen’s years working during Pinochet’s military dictatorship led to him leaving his mark as a brave and respected diplomat who gained access to Chile’s prisons and ultimately helped hundreds of political refugees gain asylum in Norway.

“He was a shining example of how a person can use his or her position, resources and abilities to perform great deeds,” wrote Borgen. Nilsen was known for possessing a mix of experience, authority and genuine interest in other people. He invited prison directors in Chile to dinner at Norway’s embassy, Borten noted, and arranged Christmas parties in the slums. “There was no ministerial office or prison closed to Nilsen,” Borgen wrote, and Nilsen was well-known in Santiago as El Embajador. He even made friends within the military junta and was so respected that when he returned for a second period as ambassador, his credentials reportedly were accepted by Chilean authorities in record time despite his efforts to help the politically oppressed and to restore democracy to the country.

It’s said that many Chilean-Norwegians have photos of Nilsen in their homes. He saved the lives of many political prisoners and helped them relocate to Norway, with many settling in Bergen. He continued his efforts after Pinochet’s fall, and until he retired and left Chile in 1992.

Nilsen was laid to rest at Ullern Church in Oslo on Thursday, with Lund writing that the ministry was grateful for his “brilliant work for Norway and the foreign service” for more than four decades. “Frode developed the tools of diplomacy and expanded the limits for what diplomats can do to protect and secure human rights,” Borgen wrote. “He therefore leaves a legacy that goes beyond those he managed to save. He created it through practicality, discreet contacts and quiet diplomacy.” Berglund