This article is part of
our series called "The New Europeans." Ahead of the European elections,
we are visiting people who don't dream of Europe, but who live European
lives. The series focuses on moments of joy and conflict that wouldn't
have happened without the EU.
Silje Garmo took nothing with her. No extra clothes. No toys for her baby. She left everything behind. The authorities were trying to track her down and time was of the essence.
They drove for 21 hours, with Garmo sitting in the backseat and her four-month-old baby in a child seat next to her. In the front were a man and a woman Garmo didn't know. When they crossed the border into Poland, nobody said a word. "I was scared," Garmo recalls.
Garmo fled her home country, a move that thousands of people are forced to make every day. But her case is unique. Garmo, after all, fled from a democratic European country to one that is increasingly exhibiting authoritarian tendencies. From one of the richest countries on the planet to one that is much poorer. Garmo and her daughter fled from Norway to Poland.
The journey took place two years ago, but the consequences are still unfolding today. Garmo's decision hasn't just changed her own life, it has also had a profound effect on diplomatic relations between the two countries. Her flight to Poland is the story of a desperate woman who triggered a significant diplomatic crisis between Norway and Poland.
In late summer 2017, Garmo applied for asylum in Poland. Officials spent months considering her case before finally announcing an astonishing ruling last December: Poland had decided to recognize the Norwegian woman and her daughter as being in need of protection. Their homeland, the Polish authorities ruled, had violated Garmo's human rights, which obligated Poland to accept them. It was a step that Warsaw takes only extremely rarely: In the last two years, only one other person has been granted asylum by the country.
What makes Garmo's case so exceptional? Even if the country isn't a member of the European Union, a person from Norway doesn't normally have to apply for asylum in Poland to be allowed to stay there legally. As members of the European Economic Area, Norwegian citizens enjoy freedom of movement to live and work in the EU.
ZEIT ONLINE is in possession of a substantial number of documents relating to the case. They show how Garmo's decision to leave Norway ultimately escalated into a diplomatic crisis. The conflict essentially focuses on a single question: Does a child's well-being take precedence over traditional family unity? Garmo and her daughter are at the center of that debate.
Garmo is a 37-year-old with a face that makes her look far younger. She can come across as serious and thoughtful one minute only to seem as guileless as a teenager the next. Today, two years after leaving Norway, she lives with her daughter just outside Warsaw. It is an area of houses with low ceilings and pine tree-lined streets. Just in front of her front door is a covered sandbox with a bicycle, complete with a child seat for her daughter, standing next to it.
The home has dark parquet flooring and leather furniture and the mantle is covered with family photographs. And there are toys everywhere: stuffed animals on the floor and a pink play tent in the corner – not to mention the balloons leftover from her daughter's second birthday party. The girl hops through the living room in her socks, laughing so hard that her voice begins to squeak. "Be careful!" Garmo calls to her – in Polish, "uważaj." Garmo's daughter has spent almost her entire life in Poland.
"Her right to live in Norway was taken away from her," Garmo says, claiming that she was driven out of her homeland and that the Norwegian state had blackmailed and threatened her and left her no other choice but to leave. "Norway may seem like the perfect democracy," Garmo says. "But it's not."