14 December 2018

Some comments to a speech by Norway's former ambassador to the Czech Republic Siri Sletner
at a seminar about Norwegian child protection, 22 October 2018

By Marianne Haslev Skånland
with a comment by Czech politician Petr Mach included


The government has not published an English version of anything from the seminar. The translations from Norwegian in the following are therefore by myself and not official from the government.


A seminar about the current criticism of Barnevernet?

There are in Norway a lot of seminars and conferences about various aspects of our child protection system Barnevernet, held by different sections of the government or by private groups.

On 22 October 2018, the Norwegian Ministry of Children and Equality held a seminar in Oslo. The program, including a full net-tv film of all the speeches and a list of speakers was published by the government after the seminar had been held:
Seminar om norsk barnevern sett med internasjonale øyne
(Seminar on Norwegian child protection seen through international eyes)

This seminar had been announced by the Department's Minister Linda Hofstad Helleland in some articles and statements to the press previously, in connection with some heavy criticism of Barnevernet, as a seminar which would take up the criticism on a broader basis, Helleland saying that the seminar would give room for the critics.

However, the list of speakers at the seminar included few critics of Barnevernet and even fewer participants from abroad. Regarding the aim of the seminar, the government's announcement stated:

"Det norske barnevernet er stadig tema for debatt, både i Norge og internasjonalt. Barne- og likestillingsminister Linda Hofstad Helleland (H) ønsker en nyansert, informert og kunnskapsbasert debatt om barnevernet.
Derfor inviterer statsråden til seminar der målet er å få fram hva som kjennetegner norsk barnevern og hvilke styrker og forbedringspunkter som finnes."
(Norwegian child protection Barnevernet is often a subject for debate, both in Norway and internationally. Minister of Children and Equality Linda Hofstad Helleland (the Conservative Party) wants a nuanced, informed and knowledge-based debate on Barnevernet. Therefore, the Minister issues an invitation to a seminar of which the aim is to show clearly what the characteristics of Norwegian child protection are and which strengths and points of improvement exist.)

The description hardly signals a basic wish to go seriously into all the criticism against Barnevernet which is voiced and published. Rather, it expresses one of the tactics we are used to from official Norwegian sources: not to change anything material in the way Barnevernet functions but to stop the criticism against it, partly by official silence, partly by official contradiction of critical statements and descriptions.


Comments on some parts of ambassador Sletner's speech

One of the speakers who exemplified the Norwegian way of responding to concern about Barnevernet was Norway's former ambassador to the Czech Republic, Siri Sletner. Her speech turned out to be a criticism of Czech politicians and officials, and of Czech society and people. The speech dealt exclusively with the Michaláková case and the experiences of the Norwegian embassy in connection with it, experiences judged by her to be entirely unreasonably inflicted on Norway by Czech society. Cf
The child protection case in Norway about the Czech children of Eva Michaláková (the article contains further references).

Ambassador Sletner's speech of course expressed completely the position of the Norwegian government, down to detail. Anybody who believes that official Norway has any understanding at all for families broken up and destroyed by Barnevernet, should listen carefully to what former ambassador Sletner says here, and realise that this is the government speaking.

Minister Linda Hofstad Helleland was present at the seminar, joining in the applause after each speech, including that of Siri Sletner.

Sletner's speech took place at 28:25 – 41:11 in the government's video of the seminar. I include references to the places in her speech which I quote and comment on. They are fairly easily found on the film, so that the reader can check with speakers of Scandinavian languages the accuracy of my translations.

Sletner says:

"At the outstart in 2011 and forwards, the mother rejected any contact with Barnevernet. But after a while a contact between Barnevernet and the mother developed, but parallel [with this] she obtained contact with some what I will call ardent souls in Czechia, who grabbed the case for varying reasons, and these also had varying backgrounds. And they established a support group for the mother."

"The majority in Czech society were either indifferent or surprised at what was heard from Norway. But those who protested, the support group for the mother, were, however, very loud and were given much space in the media. This has indeed been both a media campaign and also a civic action. They collected money in order to assist the mother with help of a lawyer from Czechia.
    Many members of the support group for the mother were the mothers and fathers of small children, who reacted emotionally to propaganda against Barnevernet, and conscious – what I call misinformation about the case from people who had different aims. The populists in the first phase got a lot of latitude, .. "

Right from the beginning of her speech, then, Sletner seems to put blame on the mother in the case, Eva Michaláková, and people supporting her – as indeed the Norwegian authorities have done all along. They have blamed her for trying to get her sons back, blamed her for trying to get supporting publicity in Czechia, have heaped contempt on Czechs supporting her and showing her sympathy and have called them 'populists' for trying to collect money to help her get legal assistance from Czechia.

"Quite factually, what happened? Naturally enough, when this reached the media, the first target became the embassy and myself. I was then, at regular intervals, three months after I had taken up my position in 2014, called twice to the foreign minister, once to the prime minister, once to the president, and once to the country's number 2, the president of the Senate. The major purpose was to tell us that the bilateral relationship was very bad."

Sletner seems most of all concerned about herself as a kind of martyr, and about the Norwegian government being 'misunderstood'. She showed some degree of anger at the seminar.

"Of course there was a correspondence between Czechia's prime minister and our prime minister, and between the president and the king. And there was also a meeting between our two countries' prime ministers, it lasted twelve minutes and was only about child protection. As was natural, I had several meetings with the support group to explain how we looked at it from the Norwegian side.
    All of this had my message in common, it was that I presented Norwegian Barnevern in a general, superordinate way. We are of course not going to go into individual cases."

This is the usual way Norway's authorities present themselves as 'superordinately' logical and in the right. They simply demand to be believed without ever giving chapter and verse, without having to account for what they do in practice.

"The tabloids quickly pounced on the case, of course, and in – I have to say – post-communist Czechia, the respect for press ethics is still being developed. For several leading media businesses/publications, many of them I'd say under severe economic pressure – they saw a possibility of increased circulation as a first priority, and then objectivity was usually sacrificed."

Perhaps 'incredible impertinence' is the best description of the Norwegian attitude to the Czech press when it dares to criticise Norway?

We remember that our Norwegian press is, with very few exceptions, heavily subsidised by the state. Every newspaper editor around our country is nevertheless quite concerned about their circulation.

But it goes deeper than impertinence. The extent to which Norway's official representative in Czechia tries to have everybody look down on the host country's 'developing press ethics' and take for granted that Norwegian newspapers are without question objective and of course have top class ethics, is stunning.

"The main problem is of course a heavyweight such as president Zeman, but also less prominent but equally unscrupulous politicians, who used the case cynically as an issue with the voters. We got the last example now in the election to the senate: She who is the leader of the support group she just managed to get in with a majority of five votes."

Surely a rather supercilious 'analysis' of Czech politics and the motives and reasoning of Czech politicians?

"- - eh - who don't understand the issue, or that they have a Christian-traditional outlook on life.
    The president, the first in Czechia's history who was voted in directly, from the first – of course fought to be re-elected, and he used this as part of his election campaign. He talked of "the fight for our boys in Norway", said that Barnevernet is a modern edition of the German Lebensborn and, of course, Norway's ambassador was not welcome at the national day celebration, was de-invited, together with a press release. And in that way this worked very efficiently in the media."

Norway, through what Sletner says, makes it clear that Norway is actually making war on every Czech point of view, despising their every concern about two Czech boys having been taken from their mother and the family destroyed. Some Czechs can be looked down on for not 'understanding'; others have a 'traditonal Christian outlook on life', which is also evidently to be shrugged off.
    It important to take note of the fact, however, that conservative Christians are not at all alone in being attacked by Norwegian Barnevernet and that 'Christianity' is being used by Barnevernet's supporters in both directions. If a family cannot be blamed for being 'too Christian', then Barnevernet will come up with some other accusation, such as 'insufficient eye-contact', 'the mother's low intelligence', 'insufficient ability to care', 'the child's dissatisfaction with the school or the kindergarten' and a real myriad of other 'insufficiencies'. One should furthermore take note of the large number of Norwegian Christians and church officials who join Barnevernet in blaming parents and defending the deprivation of children of their parents, often enlisting with Barnevernet as willing foster parents and working as child protection workers themselves (cf
Norwegian Pentecostalists: Our child protection is so good!). The Norwegian Christian newspaper Dagen has energetically defended Barnevernet's actions for many years. One of their editors, Tarjei Gilje, appears to have a rather superficial attitude about what the content of 'Christianity' should be. In 2016 he defended Christian engagement in favour of Barnevernet against protests from abroad that it is unChristian to deprive children and parents of each other. Gilje said: "Jeg tror det er flere barn som får en kristen oppdragelse i fosterhjem enn motsatt, fordi mange kristne er fosterforeldre." (I think there are more children who receive a Christian upbringing in foster homes than the opposite, because many Christians are foster parents.) – Barnevernssak truer sivilisasjonen, Dagen, 26 May 2016).

"After a while it has gained more nuance. It was of considerable help that one of Czechia's foremost child psychologists in a newspaper interview emphasised that Barnevernet in Norway probably had good reasons for their reaction. It is also typical: the mother, her support group, just gave an account of the one side of the case. Positive reactions also came when a group of Czech women living in Norway wrote an article together in which they defended Barnevernet. Since the case has a strong, nationalistic undertone, it was important that just these persons were of Czech origin."

Other nations who object to Norwegian CPS's treatment of their people in Norway, are regularly accused of being nationalistic, most of all if they claim that their own country really has some arrangements or legislation which are better than that of Norway.
    We should perhaps, however, contemplate what kind of nationalism Norway has furnished itself with. It is found in all kinds of areas, but not least regarding Barnevernet, as indeed demonstrated by Sletner's own speech here!

"After the last judgment in the district court, when Czech media had finally taken the trouble of being present, the Norwegian judge communicated easily and in an organised way with the media, and the indirect message was that we stand fully and wholely behind the Norwegian justice system."

'Taken the trouble' – – Norway's representative praising the 'easy and organised' communication of a Norwegian judge, contemptuous of Czech media.

"So after four years with tabloid headlines and articles and populistic moves, general broadcasters like Czech tv and radio, with more press-ethical ambitions, reacted and have made corrections when the embassy has pointed out mistakes which have been broadcast. So we also sense more of a focus on Czech child cases, in that violence against children has become a more general theme in social debate. So it is of use to oppose what is said. Czechs generally have faith in the Norwegian justice system, and they have previously during this case asked for clear reactions from the Norwegian government. It has not helped that I, as a representative of the Norwegian government, have come out with statements.
    So there is of course greater understanding that these are complex, and not black-and-white questions. But it slightly depends on generational differences. Younger Czechs look westward and follow up better."

The 'objective' Norwegians 'pointing out mistakes' – the Czechs being 'populistic' but some of them having 'more press-ethical ambitions' ...

"Last of all: What should we learn from this? We must not - - when such cases turn up, we must not wait too long. Norwegian authorities must then get active quickly. We must have a more offensive dialogue. We must be - - when I say "we" I mean everything from Barnevernet's local office and upwards, be willing to meet the opponent, let us say Czech press, and talk with them. Refusing meetings leads nowhere, it just makes the case worse. One must be available. And I should like to give one small flower to Bufdir. Because they have in fact been active early towards the embassy and helped us in a very good way.
    And now that the Hague Convention has fallen into place – and you are responsible for that, of course – in fact a lot can be done very early. We must remember that any such debate, it is not about facts, it is not about explaining clearly how Norwegian Barnevern functions, it is only about emotions."

Only about emotions? And emotions making the factual content irrelevant? Emotions supposedly hinder people from understanding how Norwegian Barnevern works?

Her mention of the Hague Convention is indeed ominous, and signals the way Norway intends to use it: as an extra tool to reach out into other countries and dictate to families there, too, either how children should live there (not with their families, but in orphanages or foster families supervised from Norway by our Barnevern still, or that the children should be forcibly 'repatriated' to Norway, to similar living conditions here). Cf

Judgment in Poland: a nine-year-old girl NOT to be extradited to Norway
11 December 2015,

On the Hague Convention re international child abduction: Custody demands from other sources than parents
10 October 2017,

The Hague Convention in India? What a pity
8 November 2017


So the opinion of official Norway is that when Barnevernet destroys families, to have and to show emotions is to be irresponsible, to childishly fail to understand facts. At the same time, the authorities claim the privilege of not going into any concrete facts.

We should perhaps rather think that not to have any emotions about such ill-treatment of a mother and her two boys shows a dangerous misunderstanding of what life is about.

And this is in fact the road that Norway follows in these cases. For parents, or anybody else, to show desperate unhappiness, fear, longing, upset at the tragedy of children being taken away from their parents without any necessary reason, is interpreted by Norwegian authorities to be illogical, unbalanced, despicable, immature – so that official Norway must "correct" them by "explain[ing] how we looked at it from the Norwegian side", "present[ing] Norwegian Barnevern in a general, superordinate way", and of course "not going to go into individual cases", but telling them that "Barnevernet in Norway probably had good reasons for their reaction". Probably? Trusting in Barnevernet's authority without going into the individual case concretely?

A mechanised hell is what Sletner portrays, a kind of slave existence where the slaves are to be despised and punished for showing despair at the way they and their companions are being treated.

Honour to the Czech support group and the Czech politicians who show natural, positive feelings of alarm at the abuse vented on one of their compatriots!


Czech politician Petr Mach of the political party Svobodní has written a comment on Sletner's speech and has also provided a translation into English, with permission for me to reprint them.

Petr Mach:

"Bývalá norská velvyslankyně v ČR Siri Sletnerová, která je už zpět v Norsku, se na semináři norského Ministerstva pro děti a rovnost nevybíravě opřela do paní senátorky Jitka Chalánková a dalších politiků, kteří se zastávali paní Michalákové proti Barnevertu, který jí děti nespravedlivě odebral a přerozdělil do náhradních rodin. Podle Sletnerové všichni, kdo se zastávali Evy Michalákové a jejího práva starat se o své děti, byli bezohlední cyničtí nacionalističtí politici, kterým šlo jen o zviditelnění. Chalánkové se posmívá, že „byla nyní zvolena o pět hlasů“. Naši zemi popisuje jako zpátečnickou a naše média, která jí nešla na ruku, jako neetická a postkomunistická. Paní bývalá velvyslankyně je zřejmě frustrovaná z toho, že česká veřejnost stála na straně Evy Michalákové a volá do budoucna po „lepším PR“ ze strany Norska v ČR. Neuznává ani náznakem, že jejich organizace Barnevernet může dělat zásadní chyby. Z jejího projevu čiší taková arogance a nenávist k české společnosti, že kdyby byla i dnes velvyslankyní, museli bychom žádat její odvolání. Projev bývalé norské velvyslankyně je děsivý – není v něm ani náznak jejího zájmu o pocity matky a osud jejích dětí, je tam jen úřednická umanutá obhajoba norské státní moci a opovrhování českým prostředím. Je dobře, že tato paní, která pro nás nemohla být partnerem, je z naší země pryč."
Petr Mach, on facebook, 8 November 2018
Link to the original.

English translation, by the author:
The former Norwegian ambassador to the Czech Republic, Siri Sletner, who is back in Norway now, attacked Mrs. Senator Jitka Chalánková and other Czech politicians who supported Mrs. Michalakova against Barnevernet, which unjustly took children from her and put them to foster families. According to Sletner, all those who advocated Eva Michalakova and her right to care for her children, were ruthless cynical nationalist politicians, who were just trying to gain voters on the case. She mocks Chalánkova for being now elected with just a "majority of five votes". Mrs. Sletner describes our country as backward, and our media as unethical. The former ambassador is apparently frustrated that the Czech public was on the side of Eva Michalakova, and calls for a "better PR" in the future from Norway in the Czech Republic. She has not recognized any problem with Barnevernet. Her speech shows only arrogance and hatred against Czech society, so that if she were still today the ambassador, we would have to expel her as persona non grata. The speech of the former Norwegian Ambassador is terrifying - there is no sign of her interest in the mother's feelings and in the fate of her children, there is only a formal devoted defense of Norwegian state power and a contempt for the Czech people. We can be happy that this lady, who could not be a partner for us, does not serve in the Czech republic any more.

Petr Mach's previous very positive efforts in the Michaláková case are referred to
here, here and here.

(the forum linked to, Redd Våre Barn, is currently running only deficiently, and with all links completely invisible, due to some upgrading work being under way, but is expected to be back in order in not too many weeks.)