Artist protests on behalf of jailed spy

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Is Norway turning its back on Frode Berg? Artist Morten Traavik seems to think so. He’s confronting Foreign Ministry officials with an art installation about Berg’s plight that he’s set up right in front of ministry offices, as Berg sits imprisoned in Moscow, charged with espionage.

The old border posts adorned with Frode Berg’s photo (this one Russian) have been set up on a plaza right outside the Foreign Ministry in Oslo. At left, a statue of the late King Haakon VII. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

“Frode Berg should be hailed, not feel abandoned,” Traavik told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) after his art was unveiled on the May 1st holiday. It’s called Kriegspiel (War games), and Traavik hopes it can help pressure Norwegian officials to work harder to get Berg released.

The exhibit is comprised of old border posts from both sides of the border between Norway and Russia in the far northern county of Finnmark. The yellow posts are Norwegian, the red and green ones are Russian. Berg, who lives in Kirkenes, worked as a border inspector in the area before retiring a few years ago.

He confessed last week that he probably was acting as a courier for Norway’s military intelligence agency E-tjenesten, when Russian security police arrested  him in Moscow on December 5. He was found to be carrying thousands of euros in cash that Russian authorities believe was meant to be delivered as compensation from Norwegian officials to a Russian informant who in turn has delivered information about Russia’s fleet in the Arctic.

It’s hard to miss the old Norwegian-Russian border posts set up as an art exhibit outside Norway’s foreign ministry in Oslo. The exhibit is aimed at pressuring the ministry to do more to secure the release of jailed suspected spy Frode Berg. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

“This is a man who has done something for his country,” Traavik contends. “He has been a faithful servant for Norway his entire working life. He deserves to be remembered and valued.”

Norwegian government authorities have instead refused to comment directly on Berg’s arrest, turning all questions over to the foreign ministry, where Berg’s case is labelled as “a consular issue.” Asked whether he thinks Frode Berg is innocent, Traavik said “no, we don’t think so. He’s a grown man and has known what he was doing as a courier for E-tjenesten.  But that doesn’t change the fact that he wasn’t clear about the consequences of what he was doing.”

Traavik doesn’t think Norwegian authorities are doing enough to get Berg back to Norway. “If there is something concrete that the government is doing for him, we demand as citizens and the government’s employers to know what it is,” Traavik told NRK. “If not, then the government should admit this was an unsuccessful spying operation, so negotiations to get Berg home can begin in earnest.”

The old border posts are also adorned with a short description of him, in English. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

It’s been left to Frode Overland Andersen, communications chief at the foreign ministry, to answer questions on the government’s behalf. Andersen claims Norwegian officials are “continuing the work to look after Frode Berg’s interests. We are working at several levels with this.”

As for having to walk by the art exhibit and see Frode Berg’s photo every day, Andersen noted that it was the City of Oslo that gave Traavik permission to set up his “art project” on the plaza outside the ministry. “It’s therefore not natural for the ministry to comment on that,” Andersen told NRK.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund