Chief Editor of Pravda.Ru Inna Novikova interviewed Irina Bergseth, a Russian woman who accused her ex-husband of pedophilia in relation to her youngest child. Irina fled to Poland in August of this year because her eldest son Sasha asked a Polish detective to take him from Norway to Russia. Pravda.Ru was the first media outlet in Russia that gave Irina an opportunity to speak up.
"Now the video that you recorded, and where you are telling your terrible story, is all over the Internet. The video was both in Russian and English. We have addressed various authorities trying to help you. The public reacted to the situation. The fact that you are sitting in our studio is a miracle. We were involved in making this happen as well. This is our little miracle. Congratulations on the fact that you are in Russia, and that your eldest son Sasha is with you. Could you please tell us what is going on now?"
"First, I would like to thank Pravda.Ru. Thank you - you have supported me in the most difficult period in the very first period of absolute and total disbelief. At that time the most difficult thing for me was to find anyone who even slightly would have believed it. The story was drastically incredible, and even I myself could not believe that this was possible. Inna was the first person who gave me the opportunity to tell it all."
"Let's talk about this now. Is Sasha in Russia with you?"
"Sasha is in Russia, and Misha is in Norway with his dad, which is, of course, a paradoxical result."
"Misha is with his dad based on the decision of the Norwegian authorities, who, despite the fact that he was accused of pedophilia, decided to leave the child with him?"
"I think that the word "accused" is not the right one here. In this case, legally it is just my suspicions.
"And the court ruled that the child should be with his father?"
"It was not exactly the court; this is the decision of the custody services that very delicately turned it so that Misha moved in with his father. The children were taken away for the second time on May 31. A week later, it was decided that that the foster family that originally housed the two of them will be the adoptive family for Sasha, and for Misha it would be better if his father acted as the adoptive family."
"Does he get money for child support from the state?"
"I do not know the details. But, given that the decision to give the child to him is official, I think he does. After Misha has settled with his father, the case was soon closed. Maggie - my Norwegian attorney - and I are trying to go the legal route, looking for the opportunities to return the child to his mother, but it is increasingly difficult. Obviously, if a child lives with his father, if guardianship felt it was necessary, there can be no suspicions.
Maggi and I filed a protest immediately in early June. She was confident that within a week the court will meet and consider the matter. But a closer examination was scheduled for September 21. We were at that time in Poland. Recently, there was a decision of this court. We had hoped that now, when a case has been opened in Russia, when a Polish court has recognized that I was a normal mother, the Norwegian court would issue some sort of a positive decision on our issue.
But the court ruled that Sasha should permanently reside in Norway. He was recognized as a resident of Norway. On this basis, Norway has demanded his extradition from Poland. In fact, Sasha is a Russian citizen permanently residing in Norway. If something prevented us from leaving, then my child would have been deported."
"Well, maybe me too. I am also in quite a difficult situation: the guardianship, after I took Sasha, or rather, left with him, filed a police statement and this statement is being investigated."
"Because you stole a child?"
"Yes, the wording was "Stole the child, now is fleeing to Russia."
"The story that we recorded with you was translated into English. We sent it to your lawyer Maggie to ensure the Norway authorities that this video has nothing terrible in it. I understand that your interview to Pravda.Ru was perceived as something abnormal, too, because if a person goes to the media, this person is considered dangerous for the child and insane."
"The first court sessions, the first meetings with the custody called barnevarn in Norway there were prints of your publications in both Russian and English. They went straight to the file of court cases as evidence against me. Because in Norway, in a society of total secrecy, it is not appropriate to talk about family problems, and children are guarded from getting in the press."
"Had you not addressed Pravda.Ru and had you not made the story public, had you not washed dirty linen in public, what would have happened? Would you live quietly and would your children be with you?
"I would not have lived quietly, I would have lost the children for sure. I think that there would have been a few suicides in our family. The Norwegian system works in a way that the mother should either become a drunk because she is always under pressure, or she should commit suicide. But in any case, the mother must leave because she is biological garbage.
The same pressure is put on children. Sasha was telling terrible things about foster care where he was virtually placed in isolation. He wrote this in his letters to the consul."
"We published these letters, and comments on these letters were: "This cannot be true. The boy made it all up, Pravda.Ru made it all up."
"True, the Norwegian custody had the same reaction. They put the documents taken from Pravda.Ru through the Norwegian Google Translate. Can you imagine? The originals were in good Norwegian. Of course, after Google translate they have turned into bad Norwegian. Then the representatives of custody said: "Well, the mother was the only one who could write this. Sasha studied well in school and wrote well in Norwegian." These are the distorting manipulation they used."
"Is it true that for these letters they nearly promised to put Sasha into a Norwegian prison?"
"The child was crying and begging for his mother. They threatened to place him into a special boarding school for mentally ill children. When he began to insist on his return to his mother, the custody staff began to threaten him with a transfer to a high security prison for juveniles, where there will be six security guards and where he would never leave and never see his mother.
When they put him in the car, they just took him away. He also described this in his letters. I was there, and I saw the first part of it, I could not see what was going on in the car. The child was pushed into the car, crying, and was told: "And now you will never in your life see her." He began to scream, tear his hair out because kids believe what they are told by adults. They cannot imagine that tomorrow things will change. He literally tore his hair out and the women laughed. The doors were closed, he could not get out. "Well, kill yourself, and we'll see what happens." I believe that this is the highest form of psychological sadism. This and what is happening in Norway ..."
"The story that Sasha told that he was hungry and that he was left a glass of milk and some cereal on the table early in the morning, and the next meal was at 8pm, is it all true?"
"It is true. This is also true. Sasha was taken on May 31, and the school year ends on June 20-25, every year a little different depending on the weekend, and he was not allowed to go to school. There was practically nothing to do in the house, and he found two books - on cooking and something else. They laughed at him, saying "What kind of activity is it, reading?" When he requested to be taken to the library and given the opportunity to choose books it was perceived as something odd. It is a different mentality, a different world, a different culture. It is difficult to explain, Inna, but it is. The first time I saw books in Norway was at the university, where I worked as a research consultant in Oslo at the Faculty of Journalism.
When we tell this story to people with the Russian mentality, it is hard to believe that the child was starving. They cannot imagine that in the most expensive, rich country in the world children are starving.
Every day Sasha would say: "I want to be with my mom!" For Norwegians to want to be with one's mother is abnormal, it is like a disease, like paranoia.
When my son got on the scales, I saw that he lost five kilos. This was noticed by the guardian, and after that he was strictly forbidden to come close to the scales."
"Did she not understand that she may be asked why the boy had lost weight, why she did not feed him?"
"No one would ever know because these kids are forgotten. These families are not controlled by anyone. Sasha was injured, then his leg was badly swollen. The doctor prescribed crutches, and the lady who watched him refused to buy them. Her refusal was motivated by the reluctance to spend money. The cost of crutches is just some pennies compared with one million krones these families receive monthly for the foster child. Half a million krones is paid as a salary and half a million krones is the aid for clothing and food. I am not even mentioning the fact that the person who takes the child in foster care is exempt from all taxes. This is the only category of the population in Norway that does not pay taxes. Even millionaires and the poor pay."
"So he was sitting in his room all day, would eat some cereal in the morning and that's all?"
"He asked for two pieces of bread, and was told that he would get them only at noon. That is, if the child woke up at 7, he had to wait for bread until 12. Then they saw that he liked skateboarding, they began to send him to a skateboard park from 9am to 8pm, giving him 5 krones for the bus and 5 krones for the pocket money, which in Norway is impossible to buy anything with, even a bottle of water. He was just bumming out there, where he was found by the people we know.
He would leave home in the morning and come back in the evening when his guardian would say: "We have already eaten, I'm not going cook for you, here's some bread and go to sleep." He told me that in this park the boys would chip in to buy a pizza.
I always gave him pocket money, but when he lived in the foster family, he had almost no money, except for those miserable five krones. He would give one krone for the pizza. A pizza costs about 200. The boys chipped in 20 krones each, but Sasha told me: "Mom, I was given 3-4 pieces." The boys felt sorry for him.
My child was virtually homeless. My friends would call me: "Boys in the skateboard park met your Sasha. You know, he looks so raggedy." And this is my intelligent boy, a musician who played Bach concerts and who made it to Norwegian newspapers, he is there homeless, when he was taken into a wealthy family, to the best conditions.
My friends decided to choose a place in the park somewhere under a tree where Sasha could keep coming. They told me that for him to survive he has to be brought food. I said that I could not come near him and that if someone saw that, my son would be transported to the north of Norway, they would change his name, passport, and I would never find any ends. But they convinced me, showed me the tree with GPS coordinates. I would find this tree with a GPS and leave a bag of food for Sasha.
"What was happening to Misha during that time? He was staying with his father, wasn't he? Have you been able to see him?
"Yes, it was all fine in the beginning. I had meetings with Sasha as well. When they take children away, they set up a schedule for such meetings. They let me see Misha only in two months - it was our last meeting before Sasha's escape. Misha was wearing a baseball hat when I came to see him. When I took it off, I saw a five-centimeter scar on his forehead and seven stitches. He said to me: "Mummy, I was walking and fell down and now I head a hole in my head." He forgot how to speak Russian, even though we were learning to read in two languages. All that is banned in Norway. If only someone had found out that we were learning the alphabet at the age of four, they would have taken the kids away from me a lot earlier. This is violence. Reading the alphabet is violence.
"Sasha was attending sports classes. If the Barnevarn had learned about it before, they would have taken my son instantly. No one cared about the fact that he wanted to become a professional athlete. No one cared that he had to start at this age. This is completely beyond the Norwegian mindset."
"Do child protection services carefully watch all the families whose children they intend to withdraw?"
"They watch 42,000 children. There's also 3,000 more, but they simply come and take them."
"Does the Barnevarn simply take children away? Id that all that they do?"
"Not quite. Children are very big money and the redistribution of children implies the redistribution of state funds. Nowadays, if you want to buy a car or a villa in Norway, you do not have to raise loan in a bank. You simply order yourself a child. You go to the Barnevarn and tell them: "We want to take two kids now. We need two million because we want to build a fountain."
"Russian Ombudsman for Children's Rights Pavel Astakhov said that people have to ask for help as soon as possible in case such situations occur. What mistakes have you made? Is there anything that you regret doing now?"
"I went to the Barnevarn and that was my biggest mistake. One should never go to the child protection services no matter what happens. If you go there, you become a client. A mother is designated a special number, children get such numbers too, and this is the moment when you stop being a full fledged citizen of the country."
"But you did go to police, when your younger child started telling you about the violence?"
"Yes, but they first thing that the police asked was: "Do the child protection services know that?" I came across a strange situation in this system. They fear those who speak about crimes, but they do not fear those who do something to solve those crimes. They need to get rid of the person who dares to speak up. In our situation it was Misha. That's why they handed him over to the father - to silence him."
"So how can his father silence him?"
"He can intimidate or reeducate him."
"What else can you say about your mistakes?
"First and foremost - never go to the Barnevarn. Secondly, try to pack your things and go somewhere - some resort or anywhere else. Use any possibility that may help you take the child out of the country."
"Irina, as soon as I learned about your story, I told you that you had to come to Russia immediately. Why didn't you do that?"
"I know that I've made many mistakes. Misha did not have the passport back then. I didn't notice that his passport had expired. When Misha started telling his stories, my ex-husband used this argument as a weapon against us."
"When Misha started telling you those terrible stories about his father saying that his father threw himon the boot of the car and threatened to run over his mother and older brother - did you go to police? Did you try to talk to your ex-husband at all?"
"We talked a lot. We had a meeting with him - the meeting is required before you want to file for divorce, to get a passport, establish alternating custody. Everything happens in mediator's presence. When I asked them to sign the passport, they asked me to take the statement from the police. The doctor, who came to examine me and who was supposed to conduct the expertise, closed the door and said: "You know, you must take your statement from the police. If you do that, everything will be fine." So I had to say: "Yes, of course, I have a child and I am ready to take it."
"But you didn't take back it eventually, and it's still there?"
"The statement remains in the police department for three months. Afterwards, they close the case due to the absence of evidence. This is exactly my case. Lawyers told me that the situation, in which I found myself, could not be proved. There were a lot of such cases in our village court, they said."
"But there were more than 2,000 residents in your village."
"Yes, but they told me that they hear ten cases every day."
"What would you do now? Would you address to the press or police? You tried to address even the Queen of Norway, but she said that she did not interfere into the Barnevarn."
"Sasha also wrote to the queen and the princess. We addressed to ministers, to the minister for children's affairs. He wrote a letter to the governor in which he asked him to let him go home. But all cases would be sent to the Barnevarn. I weighed a lot and I'd say that being a Russian person, I'd do the same. It is impossible to change anything. This is my way that I have to go, this is my job that I have to do. The Lord gave me this job and made me take this test so that I could take my children home."
"We wrote a lot about your story, and it turned out that you are not alone - there are many people who found themselves in similar situations. All those people did not dare to say a word. They did not dare to file a police report. They did not have the energy to fight, but they heard your story and wrote to us. They wrote to us not only from Norway, but from Denmark and Belgium too. It just so happened that when we wrote about you, we raised a painful subject of the Russian women, who left Russia seeking a better life abroad. They left Russia in spite of the fact that they knew nothing about the countries where they were going.
"We called those women "Russian mothers", although there is a single father among us - Vitaly. He wrote his story down and it has been published, I think it's an achievement."
"Have you established the organization where people could write?"
"Yes, we have. Here in Russia we need to have a Russian website, so that people knew where they could go. There are ways out of the problem, but there is no coordination. Each person is alone. They hit us, and we fall down. Our children have been taken away from us, but we must crawl on that bottom."
"How did you unite and find each other?"
"People saw publications on Pravda.Ru. Afterwards, they started calling me. The authorities do not participate, because they do not want to see or hear anything. Our goal now is to establish a website and to tell others about every step that those people make."
"People send us their materials but who writes them, is that you?"
"Yes, it's me who writes them I use my talents."
"Yes, well, you finished the Deparmtent of Journalism of the Moscow State university."
"People told me at first that no one woild be interested in our stories. I told them that I worked as the press secretary of the minister for press so I would be able to make the news from it. No one has published such stories before. The people did not believe at first that they take children away from russians in Norway. They got used to it at some point, they began to believe it. Then Pavel Astakhov supported us. I want to say that it was hard for us to believe that the authorites would eventually interfere.
"We plan to establish the party of Russian mothers. I would establish the news and rescue agency. A person has a problem, they call us and we rescue them. I also have a plan to liberate Misha. I want to get the court system involved. I am not going to stop. There are many ways. My plan is to work in all directions: the police, the media and politics."
"How do the Norwegian authorities feel about the fact that the Russian media participate in this case. Does it annoy them?"
"At every court hearing they would ask me why I went to the Russian press. As if I am not a Russian-speaking person."
"Did you go to the Norwegian media?"
"I did, but it is forbidden to use children's photos in the Norwegian press. It is forbidden to publish the names and everything else. When journalists say something, they defend the interests of the stat у anyway. I agree with Pavel Astakhov when he said that the interests of the state is to observe the rights ofthe people who live in this state."
"Why did you go to Norway? How could you marry the man you met on the Internet and then just leave?"
"That was the biggest mistake that I made. I went there for love. I did not even think that they would ask to give them everything in that country - my life and my children."
"So you went there for love, but love ended very quickly. Is that so?"
"It was probably an illusion that I had about love. I fell in love sincerely. I wanted to have a baby. I was 37 when we met. I gave birth to Misha when I was 40. I did not know the language, I was not familiar with traditions and culture."
"You know, we had a psychologist as our guest here, and he studies the problem of mixed marriages. He said that international families can never be happy. There can be exceptions, of course, when a husband lives in Russia or a wife gets adapted to the new environment perfectly, but such stories are rare. In most of cases, such families fall apart and create personal tragedies. Do you agree with that? Do you know any examples of happy international families?
"Yes, I know such examples. A friend of mine, a woman from Moscow, married a professor. She had a different problem, though, and it was about the job. She is a dentist by profession. She worked in the team of the Russian administration, but it took her seven years to gain recognition in Norway. We all are different. Cultures and traditions can also be very different, but what do my children have to do with it?"
"We had a lot of comments to the video that we made about you к story. The comments from Russian women who got married in Norway were full of anger. Many of them wrote that they live in Norway normally and they raise children normally too. They wrote that such things could not be possible in the country. They also attacked other commenters who tried to argue with them."
"It's because the myth is strong. Here is an example. Everyone knows that two parallel lines never cross. This is how our world works. Let's imagine that the parallel lines are parents and children and they never cross in bed. This is an axiom for Russian people. If we imagine that these two parallel lines cross then it would mean a completely different world. Unfortunately, this can be perceived as a norm there.
"No one moved a facial muscle when I was telling them my story. After all that happened to Misha I began to see victims of pedophilia and incest around me. You can easily find such children - they look inside themselves. Larisa Sazanovich, the psychologist for pedophilia, the only Russian-speaking psychologist of this level in Europe, told me that this is a trauma that will never be healed. Why don't we know anything about it? I think it's about time we should create the website that would be able to help mothers struggle with this plague of the 21st century."
"Where do you plan to live now?"
"Do you plan to return to Norway?"
"I can't, it's forbidden. If they file a criminal case, and they will do it as soon as they can, then it means that I can find myself in a Norwegian jail. That man Breivik, the shooter, who killed 70 people on the island, committed a terrible crime. However, Norwegian child protection services take 3,000 children away from their parents every year. Fifty-nine of those children commit suicide. This information can be found on the website of a Norwegian organization."
"I would like to ask a few questions to Sasha. Do you believe in anything or anyone?"
"Yes, I do. I believe in God."
"Are you a religious person? Are you Orthodox?"
"Yes, I am."
"Do you know any prayers?"
"Yes, I do, but mostly in the Norwegian. I didn't pay much attention to it before."
"Before - you mean before all that happened?"
"Tell me, what did you feel when you saw your mother before your escape?"
"It was a very good feeling. I felt as if I won, that it was all over, all over for me. I will go to Russia. It was very good."
"All of the things that have happened to you - has all of that left you or is it still with you?"
"It's gone, but the things that are connected with Misha are still here. We need to save Misha."
"Sasha, you are a very good boy, you managed to organize your escape. I don't know any other stories like that. I think everything will be ok for you. Thank you Irina and Sasha for coming to us. Pravda.Ru will continue watching your story. We all wish you it all ends very soon."
Interview prepared by Lyubov Golovina