Norwegian television drama "Okkupert" -- or "Occupied" in English -- doesn't premier until October, but it already has some powerful critics.
In a statement released last week, the Russian Embassy in Oslo criticized the premise of the show, which imagines a Norway that has been invaded by Russia. "[The show continues in the] worst traditions of the 'Cold War,' scaring Norwegian viewers with a non-existent threat from the East," the statement read, adding that it was unfortunate that the show was premiering so close after the 70th anniversary of World War II.
Sputnik News, an international branch of Russia's state-funded news organization, also criticized the show's large budget, writing that Norway was spending an "unprecedented amount of money to portray Russia as an aggressor and intimidate Norwegians with claims of an alleged security threat from the East."
With a budget of $11 million, the show is believed to be the most expensive drama ever produced in Norway. It has an impressive pedigree, having been conceived by best-selling writer Jo Nesbø and developed by the studio behind the Swedish film of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo."
However, while the show might look like a response to the crisis in Ukraine and concern in other Russian neighbor's about Moscow's intentions, it actually predates that situation by several years: Nesbø says he first conceived of it in 2008. Christopher Haug, head of drama at TV2 (the television channel who produced the show after Norway's state broadcaster backed out) has hit back at Russian concerns, telling the Associated Press that "Occupied" is "foremost about Norway and Norwegians, not Russia or Russians."
An outline of the show's plot supports this reading. In "Occupied," Russian forces stage a peaceful invasion of Norway with the full-backing of the European Union after environmentalists seize power in the country and shut down its enormous oil and gas industry. The show appears to question not only the role the energy sector has in Norway, but also deeper worries about how Norway would respond to military pressure. The Russian occupation of Norway also echoes the German occupation of Norway during World War II – an occupation ended with the aid of Soviet forces, incidentally.
"[It's] an engaging character drama about people put under great pressure," Haug told the Associated Press, adding that it "doesn't aim to reflect the current geopolitical situation in a realistic way."
Even so, the show is premiering in a very different context that in which it was conceived. Norway shares a 120 mile long land border with Russia, and as with other Russian neighbors, there has been a degree of high level of concern in the country recently – Estonia recently pledged to build a 70-mile long fence along its border, for example. “Russia has created uncertainty about its intentions, so there is, of course, unpredictability,” Norway’s defense minister, Ine Eriksen Soreide, told the New York Times earlier this year.
Nesbø, the show's creator, admits that the events depicted in the show have taken on a different meaning. "When I presented this idea about two years ago, they said the problem is it's a bit far-fetched," he told the Guardian last year. "I think the feeling we are secure and things can't really change is an illusion ... That is the scary bit, because things can change very fast."
While the show may represent something different in this new context, it also may have to ability to influence that context. For now, however, the Russian government is downplaying its own reaction to the show, with the embassy in Oslo saying there will be "no hysterics from the Russian side in this regard."
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