Peace Scholar Post: “Norwegian Rennaisance Man: Fridtjof Nansen” by Marit Aaseng

Norwegian Rennaisance Man: Fridtjof Nansen

During the past month in Norway, I have heard this name almost every day. While traveling from Lillehammer, to Oslo, to Tromsø and back again, my appreciation for Nansen has only grown stronger. As a scientist, explorer, artist, diplomat, professor, and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, he was a trailblazer (sometimes literally). He has left an incredible impact on his country, the world, and now on me too.

Of his innumerable achievements, I believe that Nansen’s work on behalf of refugees is the most inspiring. The focus of our Peace Scholar seminar this week is on the politics of asylum and the reception of refugees, particularly in Norway. Millions of people are displaced from their homes each year due to war, oppression, famine and other threats to life and well being. Many of these victims of circumstance end up stateless, with few countries willing to accept them into their borders. This is true today as it was in 1921. That year, Nansen began to administer travel documents known as the “Nansen Passport” to people displaced from the former Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires. He managed to persuade over fifty countries to recognize these documents and accept refugees. Hundreds of thousands of people were repatriated and rehabilitated thanks to his work. Besides this, he managed to raise enough supplies to save millions of people starving in Russia. It wasn’t much of a surprise when he was awarded the Peace Prize the following year.

Today, most prosperous countries are not so open as Nansen would have hoped. Thousands upon thousands of asylum seekers are turned away annually. The world has changed immensely in the past century, but our basic human needs are the same. All people have a right to safety and opportunity. Nansen helped many to regain their rights. This is something I aspire to do as well. The breadth of my interests is almost as wide as Nansen’s, from art to psychology to the environment, and beyond. I can only hope that someday I can reach some level of the depth he achieved in humanitarian work.

Sources:

“Fridtjof Nansen – Biographical”. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2013. Web. 16 Jul 2013. <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1922/nansen-bio.html>

Moorehead, Caroline. Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees. London: Chatto & Windus, 2005. 23-40. Print.

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