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Mutual Relations

Interwar period

The sovereign states of Norway and Czechoslovakia came into existence in a rather short succession (1905, 1918) but, owing to historical legacy, their points of departure at the proclamation of independence were quite different. Thanks to traditional commercial and maritime connections, Norway had close links to important European powers and was better equipped for manoeuvring in global politics. Czechoslovakia at the brink of its existence had to learn how to be an independent state, consolidate the national economy, establish business and cultural relations with other countries and define its position in the world.

Norwegian acknowledgement of existence of a sovereign and independent Czechoslovakia was received in October 1919. In a direct response, Czechoslovakia requested the accreditation of its official envoy to the King of Norway and, in January 1921, the first envoy of Czechoslovakia received the agrément of Norway. The first Norwegian chargé d’affaires a. i., resident in Warsaw, presented his credentials in Czechoslovakia in 1926. By 1930, along with a chancery in Oslo, Czechoslovakia was operating honorary consulates in Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim, while Norway opened honorary consulates in Prague and Brno. In November 1929, Czechoslovakia and Norway signed the visa abolition agreement for the first time.

After the economic downturn in the early 1930s the embassies and consulates strived to open up both new business opportunities and the exchange of scholars, students and journalists. „Travels in the North“, a book by Karel Čapek first published in 1936, has left a great impact on the knowledge of Norway across Czech readers. The years leading up World War II have shown growing mutual understanding between Norway and Czechoslovakia, also due to the similar perception of the reality in which little could be done do against the superpowers and the inclement development in general. Norway was among the countries that disapproved of the Munich Agreement of 1938.

In 1939, President Edvard Beneš and the Czechoslovak cabinet moved to London, and the same move was necessitated in 1940 for King Haakon VII and the Norwegian government. When the war broke up, the Norwegians were asked not to resist, in a similar fashion to Czechoslovaks, in order to prevent unnecessary loss of lives. The war ended in May 1945 and, as the Czech and Norwegian statesmen were leaving London for their liberated countries, they expressed desire to maintain the friendly mutual relations. In December 1945 a monetary management agreement based on the Bretton Woods system was concluded between Czechoslovakia and Norway.

Contacts across the East and West Bloc

In 1947, both countries were interested in the Marshall Plan, designed to provide economic support to European economies after the end of World War II. However, the Czech government, under a political pressure from the East, eventually declined the offer. The February 1948 events in Czechoslovakia met with notable public criticism in Norway and were a blow to those who believed in bridge-building between the East and the West as one of the principles in both Norwegian and Czechoslovak politics. Further developments in Czechoslovakia were reported by hundreds of emigrants who found protection in Norway. The fall of the iron curtain could neither be prevented by the UN, presided at the time by Trygve Lie, former foreign minister of Norway.

In the 1950s Norway showed no ostentatious indifference towards the newly established socialist bloc, yet the cooling of Norway’s relations with the pertinent countries was obvious and the joint relations were limited to trade. The main commodities of Czechoslovak exports to Norway were food (sugar, hops), raw components (heavy chemicals, steel and steel products), machines and machinery (cars, motorcycles), and consumer goods (ceramics, jewellery, textiles, footwear). The deliveries from Norway comprised mainly fish products and strategic materials (aluminium, zinc). The first large-scale deliveries of Czechoslovak energy units for Norwegian turbines and generators at the new hydropower plants took place in 1957.

The 1960s brought respite in global tensions and fuelled Norwegians’ interest in the new political course for Czechoslovakia. The two countries elevated their bilateral relations to the level of embassies and ambassadors in 1966. Protests by compatriots against the August 1968 events in Czechoslovakia were joined en masse by the Norwegian public, including King Olav V. It was, however, possible to conclude the first five-year bilateral commercial treaty in 1969, and the framework of mutually beneficial trading has continuously helped to improve the atmosphere of mutual relations since.

Regular meetings of Czechoslovak and Norwegian cabinet members in the first half of the 1970s also helped to cultivate the political relations. A new long-term commercial treaty was signed in 1973. Originally valid through 1978, it was renewed repeatedly and exercised into the 1980s. While negotiating this treaty, the Czechoslovak side tried to maximise the liberalisation of mutual trade and to ease the access of goods. Over time, some 95 percent of the trade was liberalised. The best-selling exports from Czechoslovakia to Norway in the 1970s included the “Zetor” tractors, low-voltage and electro-technical components, machinery for chemical and food processing industries, blades for gas turbines and water turbines.

A number of persecuted Czech artists visited Norway in the 1970s and 1980s (Pavel Kohout, Milan Kundera). Norwegian theatres staged plays by Václav Havel, and books of poetry by Jaroslav Seifert were released in Norway. The official culture made an impact too, most notably Czech films. The fairy tale movie “Three Wishes for Cinderella” by Václav Vorlíček has been opening the Christmas TV broadcasting in Norway annually since 1975.

Fall of the iron curtain and the birth of Czech Republic

The fall of the iron curtain and the return of democracy to Czechoslovakia after November 1989 meant a positive twist in the relations with Norway as well. The friendly relations from the post-war period could finally be fully restored in the early 1990s, yet it was necessary first to increase the general knowledge of the respective countries among the public. In June 1990, a new visa abolition agreement was signed and opened both countries for tourists and businessmen alike. The bilateral agreement on mutual protection and promotion of investments followed in 1991.

The birth of the Czech Republic in January 1993 confirmed the continuity in diplomatic relations. Norway has been represented in the Czech Republic by the embassy in Prague while the Czech Republic operates the embassy in Oslo and honorary consulates in Bergen, Sjøvegan and Trondheim.

Numerous high-level visits took place within years from the declaration of the Czech Republic. State visit by King Harald V of Norway took place in March 1997; President Václav Klaus paid a reciprocal visit to Norway in May 2005. The number of bilateral treaties expanded: an agreement on cooperation in defence from 1995 guaranteed an active participation of Norway in Czech Republic’s accession process to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), completed successfully in 1999. The role of both countries as NATO allies makes for a strong base of the mutual relations today. A new chapter in business cooperation opened in 1997: a 20-year contract on purchase of Norwegian gas became an important, even strategic element in energy security of the Czech Republic.

Modern relations in the 21st century

The early 2000s saw an intensification of the Czech Republic’s integration into the European institutional framework (European Union /EU/, European Economic Area /EEA/). As an EEA member, Norway was an active supporter in these efforts. Czech Republic’s membership in the EU also means that both countries are part of the EEA (since 2005) and of the Schengen Area (since 2007). A Czech ID-card is sufficient for travel to Norway instead of a passport. On the basis of the EEA Agreement the labour market has opened fully to Czechs interested in working in Norway in 2010. Direct flights between Czech Republic and Norway operate year-round.

Cultural and student exchange flourishes. Norwegian studies are popular subject at the Charles University in Prague and Masaryk University in Brno. Bilateral cooperation increased through university partnerships (Charles University in Prague and Oslo University, several technical universities in Prague & Ostrava and in Trondheim & Kjeller). Czech polar research was boosted in 2014 when the University of South Bohemia opened a permanent polar station in Svalbard. Česká Lípa and Molde are twin towns. The Czech Embassy provides consular services to a growing number of compatriots living in Norway and offers financial support to their associations (Czech-Norwegian Forum).

Sports diplomacy develops particularly well with notable events like the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, or the 1999 Men’s Ice Hockey World Championships (Oslo, Hamar and Lillehammer) where the Czech team won the golden trophy. The FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Liberec in 2009 brought the most medals to the Norwegian sportsmen (5 gold, 4 silver, 3 bronze). Czech contestants at the Lillehammer 2016 Youth Olympic Games scored 3 silver and 2 bronze medals.

The core of Czech exports to Norway nowadays consists of Škoda cars and other motor vehicles/parts, automatic data processing equipment, steel and iron products, and furniture. A range of fish and fish products, aluminium and ferroalloy, medicaments and fertilizers constitute the main base of Czech imports from Norway. Norwegian investors have been rather active in the Czech Republic too (Hamé, Jotun, Vitana, or capital and real estate investments of the Government Pension Fund of Norway, the Oil Fund).

A significant part of the mutual cooperation in the 21st century is carried with the financial support of Norway to the EEA Grants/Norway Grants. These grants have been in use since 2004 to cover various investment and development projects in priority areas, e.g. protection and restoration of cultural heritage and the environment, strengthening the judiciary, support for small and medium-sized enterprises, research and innovations, social inclusion, etc. In the current programming period running from 2014, the earmarked amounts for the Czech Republic are 95.5 m € from the EEA Grants and 89.0 m € from the Norway Grants respectively, which means that by 2021, a total of 427.2 m € will have been allocated to the Czech Republic since 2004. Czech partners of the grants contribute by co-financing at least 15 percent of the project costs. The role of the national contact point for the EEA and Norwegian Grants is played by the Czech Ministry of Finance.

It shall be pointed out that, as much as a financial contribution, the EEA Grants/Norwegian Grants represent a valuable tool for communication and deepening the interaction and daily working ties between Czech and Norwegian state institutions, companies, entrepreneurs and NGOs. All these participants have joined the traditional diplomatic efforts to foster the name of the Czech Republic in Norway, and to further the knowledge of Norway in the Czech Republic.

Historical data obtained from: HAJDUŠKOVÁ, Eva: Tradition and development of the Czech-Norwegian relations, Prague, 2008. Thesis. University of Economics (VŠE), Faculty of International Relations.