Norway’s controversial government minister in charge of higher education and research wanted to slash the budget for the new museum planned to house the country’s precious Viking ships. Experts feared the cuts proposed by Ola Borten Moe of the Center Party would not only delay construction of the museum but also damage the thousand-year-old ships, and mobilized to change his course.
More than 11,000 people signed petitions to save the ships and proceed with the already long-delayed plans to build a new museum around them. Newspaper Klassekampen reported last week how activists both in and outside Norway took part.
“We must recognize that the ships can disappear between our hands, we’re at a critical juncture now,” Marie Amundsen, an archaeologist at the University of Oslo, told Klassekampen. She was among those initiating the petition to challenge Moe, warning him that “the ships could collapse, and it’s no exaggeration to say that we could be left with a pile of planks on the floor.”
Amundsen calls the Viking ships, excavated more than 100 years ago, “Norway’s answer to Egypt’s pyramids or Britain’s Stonehenge. It’s a cultural heritage that’s enormously important to take care of.”
They’ve also been a huge tourist attraction for decades, but the small museum on Oslo’s Bygdøy peninsula is no longer large enough to handle the crowds wanting to see them or all the other Viking treasures found along with the ships. After years of political quarreling, the university and its Museum of Cultural Heritage responsible for the ships finally got the green light to build a new museum and educational center around the ships, so they wouldn’t need to be moved.
Minister Moe, part of the Labour-Center government that assumed power last fall, thought the plans for the ships were too elaborate, however, and complained that the new museum’s costs were already NOK 1 billion over budget. It’s his latest campaign to trim state budgets, but this one left many aghast, especially since it came after the existing Viking ships museum closed last fall and just before construction is due to begin on its renovation and expansion this fall.
“The government’s and Minister Ola Borten Moe’s warning to lower priorities for the Viking Ships Museum in Oslo is bad politics,” editorialized newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). The paper acknowledged a budget overrun on the project, “like so many others lately,” but that’s been blamed on “complexities” with the building, delays and higher prices in the aftermath of the Corona crisis and the war in Ukraine.
‘A special project’
DN agreed that the government needs to cut “the exploding costs” of public buildings, and questioned why such “complexities” hadn’t surfaced earlier, but claimed “this is a special project” that must be cleared to move forward. “When professionals urgently and strongly warn against further delays and cuts because they fear it can damage the ships, that must be taken seriously,” DN wrote. “This Viking ships are in a class of their own and we have a world heritage to manage.”
Now Moe has relented, reversing his demand for a billion-kroner cut and increasing funding by NOK 700 million instead. “We have now made a total evaluaton where the alternative would be to go back to the starting point,” he conceded. “Then we would lose both valuable time and resources.”
Museum direct Håkon Glørstad is relieved but will miss the other NOK 300 million still needed. He fears the new museum will now need to reduce planned programs and facilities for children and youth, but the ships will be saved along with better exhibition space. Moe said he wouldn’t rule out additional funding coming later: “I’m sure this will be a fantastic facility for Norway, for the tourists and for schools and the local population.”