This was supposed to be a glorious summer. As Norway finally cast off two years of societal lockdowns, border closures, mask-wearing, and travel restrictions, this was supposed to be a summer to savor. Instead, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine impacting all parts of daily life from the cost of bread to the electricity bill coupled with airline union trouble sparking flight cancellations this may turn into a summer of discontent.
A bitter winter for Europe, especially Ukraine
When Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his army across the border into Ukraine, a series of events has set off – some yet to be realized – that has changed the lives of many worldwide, especially in Norway. Russia’s illegal and aggressive invasion of a sovereign neighbor has seen the emergence of the specter of war in Europe, unseen since the wars resulting from the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early to mid-1990s. All of a sudden, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) – that military alliance which binds many European and the Western Hemisphere countries together is no longer, as former (and still wannabe) President Trump once labeled it, “obsolete”.
Russia’s invasion has seen military preparedness and defense suddenly become the focus of many European governments. Germany has ditched its historical decades-long aversion to military spending and will spend over EUR 100 billion in a special fund to modernize the country’s armed forces. Norway too has boosted defense spending and solidified further its NATO commitments.
To add to this heightened state of insecurity, millions of Ukrainians have flooded westward, escaping the brutal and savage barbarity of war and invasion. In this country, thousands of refugees have been met with open arms but however hospitable Norway is, it is a poor substitute for the homes they left behind.
Suffering from some post-COVID blues
It was not supposed to be like this. After suffering through more than two years of COVID-enforced lockdowns, border closers, and societal restrictions, Norway had – earlier this year – finally resumed “normalcy.” As the country shed away the last of its restrictions, many turned their focus to the warmer months. All was going well – unemployment was at a record low and travel agencies could not keep up with the demand for bookings over the summer. This summer was supposed to be one where the country breathed a huge sigh of relief: we had made it through the worst of the COVID pandemic and emerged battered and bruised, mourning many who we had lost but we survived nonetheless.
Yet Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine destroyed any sense of post-COVID optimism. Russia’s invasion completely changed the paradigm worldwide, not least in Europe. All of a sudden, many European governments, including this country’s, shifted their focus from a post-COVID recovery to splurging on military spending and defense.
War abroad means inflation at home
Little did any of us know, really, when Russia invaded Ukraine what impact it would have on the cost of living. In somewhat of a #firstworldproblem compared to what many Ukrainians are facing, prices of everything – from food to electricity – has skyrocketed over the past 6 months. Ukraine, one of the world’s major (literal and metaphorical) breadbaskets, has seen most of its ports blocked by the Russian Navy thus unable to export foodstuffs and commodities worldwide.
Adding to this rise in inflation is the fact that Norway, despite being a net energy exporter, now has some of the highest electricity prices in Europe. Though this started before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with the government dolling out billions of kroner in energy subsidies, this increase in energy prices has also added to the rising cost of seemingly everything. Rising petrol and gas prices have added to this inflation meaning that the Consumer Price Index has risen 5.7% for the period May 2021 – May 2022. This is the highest increase in the inflation rate in more than a generation, since 1988!
Turbulent times with airline strikes, passport delays, and flight cancellations
Many in this country were, it is safe to say, looking forward to being able to travel and holiday freely again in warmer climes this summer. Despite the fact that many tourism operators have seen a surge recently in bookings, a new survey showed that 2 out of 3 Norwegians will not travel overseas for a holiday this summer. Respondents felt that holidaying at home was best due to the lingering effects of the COVID pandemic, inflation and the war in Ukraine meant that another #norgesferie was best for this summer. This may mean a well-needed cash influx for the domestic tourism industry in crisis which has been devastated by two years of pandemic-related restrictions and losses.
For those who are brave enough to holiday abroad, many have found that they can’t because they are waiting for a new passport. Thale, the manufacturer of Norwegian passports, simply cannot keep up with demand meaning a shortage in production of over 90.000 passports from this April to June. This ‘passport crisis’ has seen many Norwegians who ordered new or replacement passports left stranded at home unable to take a well-deserved holiday abroad. This has led politicians to call for an investigation into the tender process that awarded Thales the right to produce passports. This company was, in fact, regarded as the worst option for the production of passports in 2016 yet was awarded a billion kroner contract in 2019.
And even for those lucky ones that have a passport, negotiations between NHO Luftart and the Norwegian Aircraft Technician Organization (NHO) over salary and working conditions have failed, leading to a strike of aircraft maintenance engineers. Entering its second week, this strike has meant the cancellation of dozens of flights from Norwegian, SAS, and Widerøe with no end in sight.
Yet it is not all doom and gloom here in Norway. All of these troubles pale in significance to the hardships and tribulations that many recently arrived Ukrainians, not to mention Afghans, Syrians, and many other refugees, have endured.
The economy is, despite inflation, ticking along nicely and employment is now at its lowest level since 2008. Compared to many other countries in the region and further abroad, Norway’s post-pandemic recovery is remarkable.
So perhaps many in this country won’t be able to enjoy a summer holiday abroad. This, however, means another summer to explore beautiful Norway and pump some much-needed cash into the coffers of local hospitality and tourism businesses.
Despite all the bad news, just remember that things could be a lot worse. Some perspective is needed. Summer may be different to many before – we are all just to that by now anyway – but it is certainly not ruined.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Norway Today unless specifically stated.
About the author:
Jonathan is a lover of the written word. He believes the best way to combat this polarization of news and politics, in our time, is by having a balanced view. Both sides of the story are equally important. He also enjoys traveling and live music.
Source : #Norway Today / #NorwayTodayNews
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