This is a sad story. The Nordic Institute of Folklore has ceased to exist. Last spring its thousand or more friends received the following letter:

To the readers of NIF Newsletter

Nordic Institute of Folklore to be closed

The decision has now been taken. NIF is to be closed down on 30 April 1997, and one of the oldest Nordic institutes will be a thing of the past. There is no doubt that NIF has been of great significance for Nordic folkloristics, but this is neither the time nor the place to draw up a balance sheet.

There is some comfort to be found in the fact that the Nordic Council of Ministers for the next five years will support a Nordic Folklore Network to be administered jointly by the University of Bergen and Åbo Akademi University. The rest of NIF’s budget for these five years will be transferred to NOS-H and earmarked for folkloristics.

It will be possible to buy recent NIF publications from Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, Box 259, FIN-00171 Helsinki, Finland. The networks will also have a stock of NIF’s publications.

The former director of NIF, Reimund Kvideland, may be contacted from the middle of May at his new address: Birkelundsbakken 25a, N-5231 Paradis, Norway. Gun Herranen can be contacted at: Slottsgatan 47 A 18, FIN-20100 Turku, Finland, tel. +358 2230 8363.

The staff and board of NIF hereby take leave of all those in the Nordic and international networks, with thanks for many years of fine cooperation and inspiring contacts.

24 April, 1997
Marit Anne Hauan
Gun Herranen
Reimund Kvideland
Ingela Ollas

A copy of the minutes of the Meeting of the Nordic Council of Ministers (Education and Research Ministers) in Kalmar, Sweden, on June 13, 1997, confirms (§ 3) that

  1. The Nordic Institute of Folklore will be closed,
  2. The Council of Ministers will support, during the period 1998-2002, with an annual grant of 1,000,000 DKK, a Nordic Network in Folkloristics. The network will be placed at Åbo Akademi and Bergen University, which will create a joint project. All Nordic institutions and researchers in folkloristics must have access to the network, and furthermore,
  3. NOS-H will during the period 1998-2002 administer a pool of research funds of 4,300,000 DKK as project support to Nordic folkloristics.

The interesting thing here is where and when this money will become visible. According to informed sources, no allocation of funds for the network in question has as yet taken place. The steering group for the network has not been appointed. This part of the project is in a bureaucratic limbo with no folklorist involved in taking care of it. It is to be hoped that this situation will not be prolonged, because the steering group should, at least in theory, start its work on 1 January 1998.

NOS-H (the Joint Committee of the Nordic Research Councils for the Humanities) has just announced a pool of 3 million DKK for the period 1998-2000. If a satisfactory number of applications is received, there will be no second round. The problem here is that the funds are meant for planning, not for carrying out projects. Nordic conferences, for example, cannot be supported unless they are are an integral part of a long-term project. Projects again must, for their execution, obvivously seek financing elsewhere. The reduced sum raises a question, too. There is a provision in the decision of the Council of Ministers that any funds needed for NIF in 1997 will be taken from the NOS-H pool, but surely the four months in 1997 which NIF had to continue waiting for the decision could not have cost 1.3 million DKK?

Our foreign readers may wonder why this development took place. During its 39 years NIF did, after all, make a considerable impact on international folkloristics both in and outside the Nordic countries. The institute was administered by professional folklorists from five countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) who continuously organized conferences and projects and published important books to the very end. The five directors represented different countries: Laurits Bødker (D, 1959-66), Brynjulf Alver (N, 1966-68), Bengt Holbek (D, 1968-71), Lauri Honko (F, 1972-90) and Reimund Kvideland (N, 1991- 97). Foreign relations went well beyond Europe, scholars from e.g. China, India and the U.S.A. got used to visiting the Nordic countries.

Despite my long involvement in NIF I cannot offer an easy answer. The first signs of crisis appeared in 1990, when NIF and the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS) in Copenhagen came on the list of four institutions to be discontinued. With broad support from scholars and politicians this threat could be warded off (see NIF Newsletter 3-4/1990: 5-7). The next phase was two consecutive evaluations of Nordic institutions in 1994-95, one professional and the other less so. This time the stakes were higher since no less than half the 40-odd Nordic institutions came on the proscription list. One reason for these convulsions was clearly political: the official reason was that there was a need to reserve funds for cooperation with Europe and the Baltic states.

The negative development began when, thanks to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, Nordic cooperation was reevaluated politically. It was found to be not as indispensable as it had been during the previous two decades. In the early 1970s, an attempt to create a Nordic economic union was thwarted mainly because of suspicions held by the Soviet Union. As compensation for this loss, the cultural cooperation between the Nordic countries was intensified and multiplied. NIF, which had been created (actually thanks to a Danish scholar, L. L. Hammerich) a decade before the Nordic cultural cooperation became a card in politics, could profit from the development. The institute began to launch projects which no single university department in folkloristics could have started.

The latest turn of the tide was the entry of Finland and Sweden (not members of NATO) into the European Union a couple of years ago. This split the Nordic countries, with Norway and Iceland abstaining from the EU but belonging to NATO with Denmark, an old member of the EU. This vivisection continues, as the European Monetary Union (EMU) will see each Nordic country playing a different political role (Finland as an early full member, Denmark waiting for the result of a referendum, Sweden taking a longer political time-out and Iceland and Norway opting out of the process). Despite improved relations with Baltic scholars (the main part of NIF’s library was donated to the Folklore Department of Tartu University) it is possible to speak of an eclipse of Nordic Cultural Cooperation and put the blame for NIF’s closing on the diminishing political interest.

Whether the institute itself could have done any better in the process, is hard for me to say, since I was not informed about its decisions during the last six years. At the end of the 1980s, NIAS was in a worse shape than NIF. I was ordered to chair a reorganizing committee, which made a number of suggestions in order to put NIAS back on its feet after a rather devastating evaluation. The fact is that NIAS sailed through the present crisis with ease whereas NIF was closed. NIAS managed to lift its level of ambition by expanding, despite its Asian focus, to European institutions in the field and by founding a research professorship for top Nordic scholars. Part of its success depended on its very able director.

Not all stories are success stories. The losers are folklorists who may need to work harder to get their travel grants to Nordic conferences. The idea of closing NIF and dividing the funds between scholarly projects is not new. When I first heard about it, I pointed out the obvious risk that, through bureaucratic measures, it is possible to siphon out the money from the Nordic budget without any folklorist really knowing where it went. I sincerely hope I was wrong.

Lauri Honko
University of Turku

(FFN 14, December 1997: 18-19)

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