Norway ‘occupation’ TV show irks Moscow

A television series about Russia's fictional takeover of Norway's abundant oil and gas resources has vexed Moscow, which says it has had enough of being portrayed as an aggressor.

Norway 'occupation' TV show irks Moscow
The series is based on a screenplay by Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø. Photo: Scanpix

The 10-episode series “Okkupert” (“Occupied”), which is to air in Norway starting next month, has ruffled Russian diplomats' feathers amid already existing tensions between Russia and the West over the conflict in Ukraine.

“It's definitely very regrettable that in the… 70th anniversary of the victory of World War II, the authors of the series — as if they had forgotten about the heroic contribution of the Soviet army in the liberation of northern Norway from Nazi occupants — decided in the worst Cold War traditions to frighten the Norwegian audience with a non-existing threat from the east,” Russia's ambassador in Oslo, Vyacheslav Pavlovsky, told AFP in an email.

Based on a screenplay written by Norway's hugely popular crime writer Jo Nesbø, the series depicts a Norway which “in the near future” plunges the planet into an international crisis by halting its oil and gas production following an environmental catastrophe.

Enter Russia, which takes over production of the black gold with the European Union's blessing, in a world where the US has pulled out of NATO.

The TV show is the most expensive ever made in Norway, at 90 million kroner ($11 million).

“They're commenting on a series they haven't even seen yet,” said director Erik Skjøldbjærg, accusing the Russians of being “opposed in principle”.

“We played a little with the geopolitical reality and we created a fictitious Norway, a fictitious Russia and a fictitious international context,” he added, stressing that the show portrayed “a silk occupation” without a military invasion.

But the Russians aren't buying it.

“Though its authors are consistently emphasising that it is fiction, countries that are shown in the film are quite real and Russia is unfortunately given a role of an aggressor,” said Pavlovsky.

But, he insisted, there would be no “hysterics from the Russian side”.

The series, which premières October 4th on TV2, comes at a sensitive time. The US and Europe have accused Russia of military interference in the Ukraine conflict, which has plunged the former Cold War adversaries into their frostiest relations since the collapse of the USSR.

“The idea was born and production began way before the political situation arose in Ukraine,” Skjøldbjærg said.

“'Occupied' is in no way a commentary on this situation,” he added.

Christopher Haug, head of drama productions at TV2, said: “First and foremost it's about Norway and Norwegians, about what happens in an occupied country where life appears to go on as normal but where some people are ready to sacrifice themselves to fight for freedom.”

The commercial channel said it had met with Russian embassy officials early on in the production phase, but it appears those talks did little to allay Moscow's concerns.

Norway and Russia have generally enjoyed good neighbourly relations, though they have deteriorated over the Ukraine crisis.

Even though it is not a member of the EU, the Scandinavian country had adopted the same economic sanctions as the 28-nation bloc against Russia, which has retaliated with similar measures.

On the military front, Oslo last year observed an uptick in Russian activity off its Arctic coast.

“We don't think Russia poses a military threat to Norway, but we need to continue to keep an eye on what is going on in our proximity,” Norway's military commander-in-chief, Haakon Bruun-Hanssen, said in April.

Weeks earlier, Norway's Defence Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide told US news channel CNN that a normalization of ties with Moscow was impossible, a statement she later softened.