UPDATED: An intersection near Russia’s embassy in Oslo is about to be renamed “Ukrainas plass” (Ukraine’s Square). It’s recently been the site of protests against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and local city officials are now clearly mounting a protest of their own.
“There’s nothing in our proposal that we want to make a statement (about the invasion), but of course we do,” said Mette Burkeland of the Conservative Party. Her comment came during a Tuesday evening session of the neighbourhood council for Oslo’s fashionable Frogner district, where most of the embassies in Norway are located.
Newspaper Aftenposten had reported over the weekend that an initial proposal from the Greens Party (MDG) called for renaming the actual street (Drammensveien) on which many embassies including Russia’s have their address. Russia’s is located at Drammensveien 74, just across the street from the French and British embassies and up the street from both ambassadors’ residences and embassies from France, Brazil, Croatia, Egypt, Portugal, Iran and South Africa, to name a few.
The Greens wanted to change the name of Drammensveien to “Ukrainas gate” (Ukraine’s Street) over a 1.5-kilometer stretch of the elegant boulevard stretching from Solli plass to Bygdøy allé. “There’s not so much in an international context that we neighbourhood politicians can do,” Maja Rynning of the Greens told Aftenposten, “but this is a small if symbolic and important act.”
The city officials in Frogner stopped short, though, of renaming the lengthy section of the boulevard that initially formed the main road from Oslo to Drammen. That would have forced address changes for many properties, not just Russia’s, and raised some various regulatory issues. In the end, Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) was quick to report Tuesday night, they opted for the Conservatives’ more moderate proposal of simply naming an area near the embassy as “Ukrainas plass” and setting up a sign to reflect that.
Tore Walaker of the Liberal Party also linked the name change to some history from Viking times. “We’re sitting in a city whose founder, (the former Viking king) Harald Hårdråde, found his wife Ellisiv in Kiev,” Walaker claimed, “so the ties between Oslo and Kiev are clear.”
Officials at the Russian Embassy in Oslo were not amused. It warned in a written response to news bureau NTB that setting up a “Ukraine’s Square” sign would be considered “an anti-Russian” act, whether it comes from neighbourhood authorities or the goverment. The embassy also pointed out that “there is no square” where the sign would be posted, and called the sheer idea “very American.”
The new name, which won unanimous approval from a neighbourhood council keen to express its support for Ukraine, follows similar such moves in several other cities around Europe including Vilnius, Prague and London. Local officials in Denmark, meanwhile, has proposed changing the name of the street where Russia’s embassy is located from Kristianiagade to Ukrainagade. “Kristiania” is a former name of Oslo, prompting Russian embassy officials to “remind” Danes of that on social media, and suggest that it may affect relations between Denmark and Norway.