Tove Bjerkan celebrated his 80 years birthday

A legend in his own time in the Norwegian community in Thailand and a long time resident of Thailand, Mr. Tove Bjerkan on 19th of May 2002 celebrated his 80th year birthday. Mr. Bjerkan was celebrated by the community with among others a splendid dinner at the Oriental Hotel in the evening of the 19th May.
The dinner speech was held by Mr. Steinar R. Paulsen, founder of the Thai-Norwegian Chamber of Commerce. Below is Mr. Paulsen’s tribute to the extraordinary man.
“When I was asked to deliver this evening’s speech, representing your friends, I felt very pleased and honoured. It was naturally tempting to speak on our many common and memorable experiences in Bangkok throughout the 1990s, however, I found it better to summarize a few highlights from your extraordinary experiences to make everybody present aware of who you are over and above the impact you have made on your friends and by-passers during your many years in The Land of Smiles.
You are an educated and trained Army Officer, and you left the Army with the rank of major. In addition, you completed your economic studies at the London School of Economics in the early 1950s. You served in the Army until 1968, the last 8 years in a civilian position on the Security Staff. You have told me that your last job was to study how to protect sensitive information about the Norwegian hydropower stations from the curious eyes of the Soviet Union’s Intelligence Services. Although this type of work was challenging and interesting at the time, you decided that it was time for you to move on to organizations that assisted people in need; people left stranded by wars, conflicts and natural catastrophes.
This choice of a new career didn’t come to you as a coincidence, as you had already had your fair share of international crisis situations to deal with as an officer. You served in the Norwegian Germany Command in the 1940s, in Korea from 1951 to 1953 in support of the Norwegian Field Hospital which Norway contributed to the war effort, and then – after a short period at the NATO Headquarter at Kolsaas outside Oslo – you took your turn as an UN-observer (or peace keeper) in the Middle East. From 1968 until 1970 you worked for the Association of Norwegian UN-observers, before you set course for Geneva, under encouragement of Captain Jan Oehrner of the Royal Norwegian Navy, to devote your energy and work capacity to international relief operations.
That move brought you straight into the wake of the horrible Biafra/Nigeria conflict, where your task was to assist in the repatriation program for stranded children. After that you spent a short period in Norway, before you headed for North Africa as a representative for “Save the Children”. In 1974, the “Lutheran World Service” recruited you to become the Coordinator for the assistance to Bangladesh after a flood disaster that had hit the country.
With this remarkable ballast of extraordinary experiences you arrived Bangkok in late 1974 as a representative for “Norwegian Church Aid”, the “Norwegian Refugee Council”, “Save the Children” and YMCA. Your task this time was to organize – and coordinate aid to the needy in Vietnam. When the Vietnam War ended in 1975, a Coordinating Committee for Refugees was established with YMCA as Secretariat. This committee is still in existence, and you are still a member.
However, you were also appointed the Chief Representative in Thailand for both the “Norwegian Refugee Council” and “Norwegian Church Aid”, a position you held from 1975 until 1982, after which you continued as Chief Representative for the “Norwegian Refugee Council” until 1989. This work brought you in continuous touch with a host of other relief operations, and in very close cooperation with UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees and his organizations.
From 1989 until 1993 you were a Special Advisor to UNBRO (United Nations’ Border Relief Operation), when you devoted your world of experience and know-how to the refugee situation at the border to Cambodia, and to the final repatriation of 300,000 refugees.
While doing all that you also cast your eyes at the border between Burma and Thailand, and brought “Norwegian Church Aid” into the Karen-scenario, the Internally Displaced People (IDP) and more specifically the Committee for the Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKL).
I will never forget the very interesting trips we made together to Trat and northwards along the Thai/Cambodian border to Aranaya Prathet, and a visit to the Karen refugees on the Thai side of the border near Mae Sot. My wife and my youngest daughter took part in the latter, and my wife and her sister in the former. The people we met and the experiences we shared gave us memories for life. Your brilliant insight into the general scenarios at the borders, and of all the stranded people in need, your pragmatic approach to meet their basic requirements, and the enormous respect all these people had for you, warmed our hearts. Your rather famous servant, or “footman” as you called him, accompanied us to Trat. At that time he was eating “smart pills” to improve his general performance. When he did something wrong, you told him gently: “Footman, if you continue like this I will have to administer two “smart pills” per day to you, starting from tomorrow”. It is quite possible that “Footman” took it for the joke it
was meant to be, but his “Yes, sir!” certainly indicated that he had received the message.
During the years following the Vietnam War, Thailand was the generous host nation for thousands of refugees, and still is for many. In this situation, your professional and friendly contacts with senior Thai military – and police officers must always have been very useful.
Tove, you have become a Norwegian institution in Thailand, to the extent that many people I meet who have visited and stayed here for a short time only, are bragging about knowing you. You have time for everybody, you care and take an interest in all important matters of the day, and you use your knife sharp mind to bear on any discussion. You are blessedly free from double talk, and you are a straight shooter!
When I think of you, some verses from the poem Terje Vigen, one of Ibsen’s heroes from Norway’s struggle during the Napoleonic wars before 1814, spring to mind. As the Norwegians present will remember, Terje Vigen was often angered by bad whether, while most of us know that you are angered by stupidity, nonsense and injustice. And while Terje Vigen was joking with the children in the city and uttered niceties to the young girls on the jetty before rowing away in his boat, you would never have dreamt of leaving that jetty.
Tove, you are a man who has done lots of good in your life, and always from a level which has – and is – benefiting thousands of people in need. Your positions as President of the Students’ Rowing Club in Oslo, and your active and creative engagements in Scandinavian Society Siam and the Norsemen’s Association in Bangkok over the years, demonstrate both your loyalty to the society and the society’s faith in you. You have a highly valued quick mind and a sharp tongue, but you are first and foremost a very good friend!
You are now passing 80 and you are in full swing assisting the Karen people of Burma as a representative for the Norwegian organization “Northern Light”. I do not know anybody who are better suited, and better equipped with experience and in-depth knowledge, to do the operational work for “Northern Light” than you are, and I trust that all your friends, including those present here, fully and wholeheartedly support you in your efforts. We hope that you will say as Ship-owner Ugland recently said, he also 80 years old: “I take 5 more years!”
I hereby propose a toast for Tove: May he keep up his excellent work, his strength and his outstanding spirit for many years to come!
Happy birthday Tove!”

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