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ISSUE 120 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/17/2006

Ambassador praises library

By Andrea Horbinski
Opinion Editor

Friday, November 17, 2006

Last Thursday, Nov. 9, the Danish flag joined the Norwegian colors and the stars and stripes above St. Olaf College in celebration of a mini-convocation commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Howard V. and Edna H. Hong Kierkegaard Library, which featured as its guest speaker Danish Ambassador to the United States the Honorable Friis Arne Petersen.

Thirty years ago the Hongs, both alumni of St. Olaf (classes of ‘34 and ‘38 respectively), who had amassed the core of the collection in their work as scholars and translators of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (the first volume of their edition of his Collected Works won the National Book Award in 1968) donated their library to the college. Today it numbers over 10,000 volumes.

After a piano prelude by Nicholas Klemetson ‘07 and an invocation by Pastor W. Bruce Benson, President David R. Anderson ‘74 gave a brief welcome to Ambassador Petersen, calling the collection’s donation and its anniversary "an important moment in the life of the college."

He noted that the United States has had diplomatic ties with Denmark since 1791, making it the country with which America has maintained unbroken relations the longest. Fittingly enough, he remarked, the largest celebration of the Fourth of July occurring outside the United States takes place every year in Denmark.

After Anderson finished Ambassador Petersen addressed the Chapel crowd. He began by saying that this event meant a lot to him, just as it had meant a lot to the Danish ambassador 30 years before, as he could see from the embassy archives in Washington, D.C. He noted that the Kierkegaard Library is the "greatest collection on Kierkegaard outside Denmark," and said that the dedication of Finholt House for Kierkegaard Scholars would "keep alive and rejuvenate" research on Kierkegaard.

He described Kierkegaard as an "important bridge" between the modern age and the past, noting humorously that the one great love of Kierkegaard’s life left him to marry a diplomat, and saying that he hoped that Kierkegaard would not have disapproved of all members of Petersen’s profession despite that.

The ambassador said that when he received the invitation in February, he "knew right away this would be special," since Minnesota was one of the states that absorbed the greatest number of Danish immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries, and that it was no coincidence that "such firm roots" had been so lovingly maintained at St. Olaf College, confirming again "how deep and strong" U.S.-Denmark ties are.

He also discussed the controversy over one Danish newspaper’s editorial cartoons’ depiction of Mohammed, saying that Denmark had just concluded its most turbulent year on a foreign policy level since World War II. That controversy, Petersen declared, was a sign that Denmark and the West needed to build a "better bridge" between our secular world and the Muslim world.

Petersen closed by expressing his pride that in his country and that it "can make an active contribution" despite its small size:

"Denmark seen from a foreign land/looks just like a grain of sand,/But Denmark as the Danes do see it/is so big you won’t believe it," he rhymed.

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