Ten years ago, a panel of experts concluded that at new museum was necessary in order to preserve and protect the Viking ships. A new museum is in the making, but Norway's current Minister of Research recently warned that the entire project may have to start all over, unless costs are kept within the original budget.

The Viking Ships can’t wait

OPINION: Each day that construction is delayed, valuable time in the race to preserve this cultural heritage is wasted. The government should not mess about at this point - it should guarantee steady progress of the project.

Ten years ago, a panel of experts appointed by the Norwegian government concluded that in order to preserve the Viking ships, it was necessary to build a new museum close to the current museum which could guarantee the protection and sound management of these unique pieces of cultural heritage.

To quote:

"Temporary or provisional measures in the existing museum building would be pointless. A new museum building with high technical standards is a prerequisite in order to preserve the ships and other grave objects from Gokstad, Oseberg and Tune for posterity."

A decision was made and the plans for a new museum were started.

Ten years later, the ships remain as they were and the shovel has yet to break soil.

Time is of the essence

Each day that construction is delayed, valuable time in the race to preserve this cultural heritage is wasted.

Therefore it creates serious concern when the Minister of Research and Higher Education, Ola Borten Moe is now considering calling the project to a halt as he has commented to NTB.

The project’s progress must now be ensured, because ten years have already been lost in Norway’s endeavor to safeguard the ships.

The Viking Ship Museum has already been closed to the public, objects have been packed away and the ships are being prepared for the building process. During the course of this work, it has become ever more evident that the condition of the collection is critical.

As the invested parties now argue over the price tag, the cultural heritage which the project is meant to safeguard is disintegrating.

For every passing hour, funds which were intended for preservation are going to waste over discussions about price tags and who should foot the bill.

The preservation of the Viking Ships is of national concern. The government should not mess about at this point. Instead, it should guarantee steady progress of the project.

The best museum building was chosen

The Museum of Cultural History has no wish for an extravagant building and has not, as has been implied, increased the square footage or requested more expensive solutions than those proposed to Parliament in 2019.

Quite the contrary; the museum building was chosen among 107 submissions because it best guaranteed the conservation of the collection, both after and during the building period, as well as providing cost-efficient solutions which also had potential for generating income.

The museum and the University of Oslo have also obtained significant external financing, over 600 million kroner. The Government now risks losing these funds if the project does not move forward as planned.

In addition, sizable income and benefits to society will be lost by prolonging the period of time the museum is closed. The Government has little to gain but everything to lose by stopping the building project. This must not be the outcome of the process which the government has signaled in the revised national budget.

A lot to lose

It is, however, not difficult to share the Government’s ambition that the state should use our common resources in a responsible manner. This, of course, should apply to the Museum of the Viking Age as well. But it should not overshadow the importance of the project – and not least the importance of guaranteeing continued progress.

In 2019 the media pointed out Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s responsibility for safeguarding this priceless cultural heritage. Jonas Gahr Støre’s government has now taken over this responsibility. It is one of many responsibilities the government must bear, in a situation which is economically demanding. There is a real risk that by being penny-wise, the government will lose more than we can afford.

This comment was originally published in Norwegian in the newspaper Klassekampen.

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