Tysnes island is a kommune (municipality) south of Bergen, in the Hordaland administrative region. Before our arrival, Vilhelms asks how we are planning to get there, as it impossible to travel around the island without a car. It takes Vilhelms half an hour to get to his job at the fish factory each day. Although Vilhelms has several cars, he finds his electric Nissan Leaf the most economical for daily travel, given the government subsidies, tax relief and range of privileges the owners of such cars receive.
Vilhelms moved to Norway eleven years ago with the help of his sister. At that time, she lived on Sotra island, north of Bergen and Vilhelms moved in with her. Fisheries is the second largest industry in the region, after oil, and soon Vilhelms began working in a fish factory. A few years later, as the company was reducing staff numbers, he began looking for another job. At first, Vilhelms was considering moving up north, because of the lower taxes and better salaries that the government offers to attract people to Norway’s less populated regions. Instead, he found a job in the factory he has now been working at for nine years and is happy to admit that his salary is even better than he had hoped. Vilhelms is a very practical person and often his actions and strategies are guided by economic benefits.
Vilhelms graduated from vocational school as a chef, and, before moving to Norway, worked in several of Riga’s high-class restaurants. He soon got fed up with this work as well as with the Latvian government and society in general, so decided to leave. He lists low income as the main reason, consequently the inability to better himself and his family. But since he has been in Norway, Vilhelms claims that his life has changed by 1 000 %. “Absolutely everything has changed. There are completely different opportunities, a completely different pace of life. There, I had nothing but work and home. Here I have everything – a job, home, politics of course, my bowling team, activities outside work both related to sports and not, relaxation by the water and on the water, all the trips abroad to unusual, exotic countries others think too risky” says Vilhelms.
He always travels with his twelve-year-old son Markuss. They have been in Mexico, Egypt, Malaga, always staying at luxury hotels and taking part in every possible resort activity. Markuss has lived in Norway for most of his life. Vilhelms says, that although according to his passport he is a Latvian, he is actually a born and bred Norwegian. Vilhelms adds: “If the Latvian ice-hockey team is playing Russia or any other country except Norway, I take the side of Latvians, whereas he is always against the Latvian team.”
Vilhelms likes everything about Norway. In the beginning, he thought he would go for a year, but if things turned out well, might stay there to live. A few years after Vilhelms arrived, his mother joined him, to help in the household and to
take care of her grandson. The working day in the fish factory begins at around 5am. In addition, Vilhelms occasionally works at the local grocery shop at weekends. He is the main financial supporter of the family, but after a long day at work, his mother’s cooked dinner awaits him at home. Vilhelms admits that he very rarely cooks himself.
The last one to join the family in Norway was Vilhelms’s father. Although he had wanted to stay in Latvia, he realised that because of the health issues he had, it was better, cheaper and more convenient for him to live in Norway. This issue is of particular importance to Vilhelms. Despite his father having been a hard worker and loyal to the Latvian State for all of his life, the Latvian government was incapable of taking care of him when he needed it most. In contrast, in Norway he is eligible to receive health insurance that covers most of his treatment costs.
Vilhelms has very little interest in Latvia. He goes there once every two years, for formal reasons, to fix a car or to go to the dentist. In 2010, Vilhelms bought a three-apartment house on Tysnes island, by a fjord. He rents out one of the flats, shares the other with his son, but the third flat is for his family – sister and her two daughters, and his parents. He is also considering getting Norwegian citizenship and hopes that being a house owner will make the process easier.
Still, even being in Norway he remains in contact with many Latvians, as his family is there and most of his work colleagues at the fish factory are also Latvian. The former mayor of the island says the same thing, it turns out that the Latvian community is the largest minority on the island, which has given Vilhelms the chance to participate in local politics. The former mayor also expresses his contentment with the Latvian community, being able to identify the economic benefits and their willingness to take part in the life of the local community. Vilhelms has already been actively involved in politics for seven years and this year his name is on the candidates’ list for the second time. Vilhelms explains that the main local issues are the merging of the schools in Tysnes, the building of a new medical centre, and the development of the Bergen-Stavanger route, which includes constructing bridges to connect the island to the mainland.
Given how many different activities Vilhelms takes on, one can only wonder how he finds it all possible. Vilhelms reveals that although he wishes he never got tired, sometimes it is hard to keep going. Appreciating the well-being, security and stability that he has gained in Norway, Vilhelms admits that the only thing missing is a settled private life, but asserts it is hard to find a woman who values family as highly as he does.
Having started a new life in Tysnes, his opinions about Latvia are sceptical. The TV is always on at home and Vilhelms follows the news about Latvia, but admits that he often gets annoyed at what he sees. “There is no stability. As my father says, there is nothing more stable than change in Latvia, instability, even distrust” declares Vilhelms.