Norse travellers reached every corner of the known world, but they were not tourists. The ‘racially pure’ Vikings of stereotype were, in fact, cultural chameleons adopting local habits, languages and religions.
In January 2018, President Trump expressed a preference for immigrants from affluent nations such as Norway, as opposed to those from what he termed ‘shithole countries’. The indignant response was on a global scale. Photos of beautiful African sunsets and wildlife were posted. One Norwegian woman tweeted: ‘We are not coming. Cheers from Norway.’
Trump was not the first to misuse Scandinavian countries as a poster child for racism. The Nazi ideology of Aryan supremacy rested on the premise of the Nordic race as superior to all others. Particularly disturbing was the ‘Lebensborn’ programme initiated by the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, to secure the racial purity of the Third Reich. The programme was particularly active in Norway, where around 10-12,000 children were born to Norwegian mothers and German fathers. The roots of this ideology lay in Nazi perceptions of Scandinavia’s past. When Norway and Denmark were occupied, SS recruitment posters appeared, featuring Viking warriors and dragon-headed longships. As war raged, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to his son bemoaning ‘that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler’ for ‘ruining, misapplying, and making forever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light’.
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