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From the March 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 3)

Åsne Seierstad

Reporter on the Front Lines


Tekla Szymanski
World Press Review Associate Editor

Don’t call her a war correspondent. Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad, 31, resents the label. “I hate weapons,” she says simply—and continues to report from the world’s battlegrounds.

She has won many awards for her reporting from Kosovo, Chechnya, and Afghanistan. “I won for ‘fearless journalism,’ but I can tell you it was often ‘afraid journalism,’ ” admits Seierstad, who entered her profession “casually,” posing as a reporter in Moscow to interview then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s political rival Ruslan Khasbulatov (who in 1993 led fellow legislators in a coup attempt).

Born to a feminist author mother and a leftist politician father, Seierstad did not stay long in her birthplace, Lillehammer. She lived in France, then went to Mexico after college; she worked for Russia’s news agency ITAR-TASS in Moscow; she spent six months in China studying Chinese, resided in Belgrade in an artists’ collective, then in Venice, and took German classes in Berlin. Fluent in five languages and with good working knowledge in another four, Seierstad is able to cover her subjects as few other war correspondents can.

Last year, Seierstad published a book (With My Back to the World), a portrait of 13 individual Serbians and one family during a decade of war. But she has refused publishers’ offers to write a book on her work that would seem, as she puts it, to be about “Me and My War.”

“I haven’t found the peace inside myself to settle down in any one place,” Seierstad admitted to the Oslo newspaper VG. “I am rootless.” According to Oslo’s Aftenposten, Seierstad recalls sitting in a bunker on the front line near Kabul as the city was liberated from the Taliban. She thought about death but was more concerned about getting shrapnel in her thigh—which would have stopped her from skiing. “Nothing is worth getting shot for,” is her mantra.

The journalist, who declared as a young girl that she would never want to become prime minister because she doesn’t belong to any party, has maintained her independence. If things are not going well for her in Norway, she simply takes off—and might end up riding on a tank with the Northern Alliance on their way to Kabul.


 
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