|Fridtjof Nansen's Humanitarianism and the Media|
|The case in this paper is the famine which hit Soviet Russia in 1921-22. It threatened to kill 30 million people. Fridtjof Nansen, the League of Nations High Commissioner for Repatriation of Prisoners of War, became leader of the European relief work in Russia, while Herbert Hoover led the American operations. While the Americans led a big, government funded and well functioning operation, Nansen had to struggle harder. I shall here focus on the media coverage of his humanitarian projects. I will discuss his and his supporters’ use of the press, as well as the opponents’ attacks on the plan. Nansen’s plan was, quite naively, based on a thought that the relief could be given for credits to the Soviet government. For this reason he encountered great difficulties in European government circles. The operation was especially unpopular in conservative circles. Anticommunist feelings proved very strong.
In France Nansen’s plan was staunchly opposed in Conservative newspapers like the influential le Temps and le Figaro and also the more popular Écho de Paris. He was strongly supported in the Communist newspaper l’Humanité. In France the debate was extremely polarised, and Nansen did not really try to fight the hostile environment there. He focused his media strategy on Great Britain. There Nansen’s plan was attacked perhaps most openly in the Daily Express, but also in the extremely influential the Times. He had however his supporters for instance in the liberal Manchester Guardian.
The research I have done so far has focused most strongly on the Norwegian press. For thios paper I want to investigate more thoroughly the British and French coverage. In Norway Nansen and his advisors used tactics to include people in the process of gathering money for the needy Russians. Drawings and photos showing the famine horrors were printed in large scale, especially in liberal newspapers. Name of donors were published in the papers, letters from supporters were printed. What was especially interesting is that his opponents took use of the same tactics. A huge campaign against him was launched by the leading Conservative newspaper Aftenposten. It did not attack Nansen directly but it said that no funds should be sent out of Norway, since these were needed at home. Aftenposten’s front page was dominated for weeks by its own campaign to help poor Norwegian fishermen. The message was to help “our own people first”. The argument was probably taken from French and British newspapers – for instance the Daily Express, which had written a few months earlier: ”We have already stated our opinion that with so many of our own people in grave distress the moment is ill-chosen for appealing for funds to go outside the country”. The Times is also said to have refused to print advertisments for Russian relief. But the anti-Nansen campaign in Norway was well organised, effective, well timed, and also probably deprived Nansen’s campaign of money.|