The Passion of Irina Bergseth

Europe’s role in Russia's discourse of sex, gender, and the family over the last quarter century is conveniently bracketed by two famous Russian women and their unsuccessful romances in (and with) Scandinavia.  In Petr Todorovsky’s scandalous hit film of 1989, Intergirl (adapted from Vladimir Kunin’s novella of the previous year), Tanya Zaitseva is a nurse by day and hard-currency hooker by night who escapes from the Soviet daily grind by marrying a client from Sweden. But her newfound Scandinavian paradise confounds her with its boredom and pushes her towards her inevitable demise.

Fast forward two decades to a woman who, unlike Tanya, is a real person, even if it seems as though she has been trying her hardest to turn her life into lurid fiction.  In 2005, Irina Frolova and her small child move to Norway, where Frolova marries Kurt Burgseth and adopts his last name.  Three years later (coincidentally the exact amount of time necessary for Mrs. Bergseth to gain permanent residency status), Irina leaves her husband.  And this is where her story begins in earnest.

I’ll let Irina Bergseth describe her travails in her own words.  What follows is an excerpt from a speech she gave in her capacitues as coordinator of the “Russian Mothers” movement and organizer of the March 2, 2013 “March in Defense of Children” (an event whose main focus was the plight of Russian children adopted and allegedly abused by American parents): 

My name is Irina Bergseth. I’m a simple Russian mother who was victimized [пострадала ] abroad. I was victimized in Norway. Norway considers itself the USA’s 51st State. All the laws are copied entirely from American laws. So the tragedy that happened to me, it is reminiscent of the tragedy that happened to the children who died as orphans in adoptive families. Two police officers knocked on my door and two social workers, and they said that my children belong to the state, and not to me. They were taken away without any paperwork and put in an orphanage My older son, who was 13, fled Norway to Russia. To the land, the last island where you can live with your biological parents [с родными родителями]. My younger son was given to his pedophile father. The Norwegian system denied a Russian mother all contact [with her children]. I’m not allowed to talk to my children on Skype. I’m not allowed to call, I’m not allowed to see my child, because I’m Russian, and because the 51st American state this I might kidnap my own child and take him to Russia. I don’t want to kidnap him. I want to live with my children here on the last island of parenthood. Today, when this tragedy occurs, when boys and girls die in the USA at the hands of barbarians and sadists, I cannot remain silent. If we parents don’t stand up for the orphans, who will? Children are separated from their parents everywhere but in Russia.

The Fjords of Hell

At this point, Bergseth is trying to Americanize her Norwegian tale of woe, linking it to the then-current transnational adoption controversy.  [1] The connection does not stand up to the slightest scrutiny; in fact, Norway’s laws regarding the treatment of children go far beyond anything seen even on the local level in America.  The common framework Bergseth is invoking here is “ювенальное юстиция” (iuvenal’naia iustitsiia).  Sometimes rendered into English by the false cognate “juvenile justice,” the term  “iuvenal’naia iustitsiia” as it is used in Russia is less about a separate court system for offending minors than it is the network of laws and institutions regarding child welfare or child protection. As such, it is usually painted in the Russian media as an unmitigated evil, a system designed to destroy biological families in favor of an overreaching state.  [2]

To the uninitiated, Norway might seem an unlikely heir to Sodom and Gomorrah, but for years it has been mired in controversy about children, child welfare, and foreign residents.  The strictness of Norwegian child abuse laws (which include a ban on spanking) makes conflicts with residents from different cultural traditions inevitable.  In addition, confidentiality laws forbid Barnevernet, Norway’s child protective service agency, from commenting on a case, thereby ceding control of the narrative to the parents who see themselves as victims.  Media coverage of Barnevernet in India, Poland, Lithuania, and Russia makes Norway look like a terrifying place to bring one’s children, oversimplifying the process by which a child can be removed from the home even while exposing what looks to be, at the very least, overzealousness on Barnevernet’s part.  This coverage often moves beyond the facts of the cases at hand, fitting Norway into a preexisting narrative of a rapacious, underpopulated West:  reports on Lithuanian television, for example, assert that Norway suffers from extreme inbreeding, which Barnevernet exists to combat by seizing Eastern European children in order to improve the gene pool.  

In Russia, Bergseth became the face of such arguments.  While her views are clearly useful for propaganda purposes, they are, sadly, not unusual enough to account for her ubiquity.  Rather, her authority comes from her story of privation and abuse at the hands of an aggressive, totalitarian social service system.  More than simply espousing the ideology condemning Europe as a liberal dystopia, she is dystopia’s poster child.

She was something of a fixture on state television in 2013-2014, and her claims were taken seriously (indeed, championed) by none other than Pavel Astakhov, the Children’s Ombudsman associated with the ban on American adoption.  Bergseth contributes to a narrative the should already be familiar by now; in a 2014 column for the extremist newspaper Zavtra, she casually asserts that Europe is suffering at the hands of a “gay dictatorship, a homo-dicatorship, a sodomite dictatorship” whose main instrument is “tolerance.”  Among its crimes are a ban on the words “boys” and “girls” in schools, and an intensive program to turn children gay.  Even worse, she claims that Europe encourages pedophilia and guarantees sexual access to children. 

After initiating divorce proceedings, Bergseth alleged that her husband had sexually abused their son.  When officials from Barnevernet investigated, doctors found no evidence of physical abuse while social workers determined that the boy’s story was a text he had memorized in advance.  Instead, it was Bergseth’s mental health that was called into question, and she was denied custody and contact with her son.  

Here commences a long, international saga involving Bergseth’s flight to the Russian border with her older child, and Pavel Astakhov’s intervention to get the two of them back into Russia. In part thanks to Astakhov, and in part owing to her friendship with an editor at, Bergseth became a media sensation.  Her assertions are presented (on broadcasts such as Mamontov’s “Special Correspondent” and in Astkahov’s book Our Children ("Наши дети")) as incontrovertable fact, even if she is frequently ridiculed on the Internet and in liberal publications.  


Pedophilia and Putin Cosplay

Bergseth would be more believable if she knew where to stop, but instead, she keeps spinning one absurd story after another.   It turns out that zoophilia has been legal in Europe since 1969, and Germany, Denmark, and Norway have 100,000 zoophiles each (all of whom have access to Europe’s numerous “zoo-bordellos”).  At the “March in Defense of Children,” Bergseth explained:  

I’m a simple person. But I was stupid enough, dumb enough, I don’t know the right word for it, to give birth to a child not in Russia, but in this terrifying land of Vikings, in this white Africa, where children are treated like merchandise. They dress my son in a Putin costume and people line up to rape my four-year-old boy. And here I’m supposed to keep quiet and not go to demonstrations, because if I talk about it, they’ll declare me insane, and I’ll never see him again. And maybe I’ll lose him. But I survive only by helping other people. As of today, dozens of children and families have fled from the West to Russia because they’ve seen my story, because they’ve heard my words, and people are learning what Norwegian and Finnish “juvenile justice” really are.
They dress me up like a Matryoshka doll and put me on TV...

They dress me up like a Matryoshka doll and put me on TV...

The comments on YouTube are, naturally,  merciless: “I’m all aquiver: where can I find a ‘Putin costume’?” “Hello! I’ve just moved to Norway, and I want to rape a four-year-old boy. Can anyone tell me where I can buy a Putin costume?” But setting aside for the moment the implausibility of her claims, it is worth noting her engagement in orientalizing geopolitics whenever she compares Russia to the West: the supposedly “civilized” Norway is equated with its Viking ancestors, while the racism of the phrase “white Africa” speaks for itself. Bergseth handily condenses the discourse of Gayropa and American PC insanity, rendering the clash of civilizations a struggle between morality and vice. 

irina bergset: "my child was raped in a putin costume"

irina bergset: "my child was raped in a putin costume"

And this is where, once again, Bergseth’s story converges with Tanya’s from Intergirl.  In each case, the decision to leave Russia/the USSR for Scandinavia is a terrible mistake that amounts to more than simple homesickness.  The Russian heroine is an open-hearted, inherently good woman lured by material wealth and luxury, recognizing the soullessness of her adopted homeland after it is already too late.  The differences between their two stories only emphasizes how much the narrative of Europe has changed. Tanya fled a Scandinavia whose triviality threatened the soul, while Bergseth’s Norway is aggressively evil. 

Next:  Tolerance as a Social Disease


[1] The adoption controversy is the topic of an article MS of mine, which will eventually be included in a book (probably not this one). 

[2] Until I find a better English equivalent, I will use the Russian word in translations from original texts.