The Fritt Ord Prize 2023
Julie Wilhelmsen

The Fritt Ord Foundation Prize for 2023 has been awarded to Research Professor Julie Wilhelmsen for the nuanced specialised knowledge she brought to the heated public debate both before and after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In so doing, she has demonstrated the importance of daring to speak out and exercise academic freedom of expression in practice.

Julie Wilhelmsen (53) is a Research Professor at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), where she heads the Research Group for Russia, Asia, and International Trade. For many years, she has contributed novel academic research and publications to the public debate. Moreover, she has provided the broader public sphere with critical analyses of the Russian way of thinking, as well as of its ideology and foreign policy. As Grete Brochmann, chair of the Fritt Ord Foundation Board explained: “In this field of research, she has taken analyses to a higher level, as a voice that embodies independence and integrity. She has been fearless, objective, and resolute in the face of a heated climate for debate, while also showing an aptitude for self-reflection and self-criticism in the wake of Russia’s war of aggression.”
Julie Wilhelmsen is especially renowned for her descriptions and explanations of Russia’s world view, including the importance of the interaction between the West and Russia. Such analyses have been particularly vulnerable to criticism in the light of the brutal war against Ukraine. She has been accused of being Putin’s messenger and running his errands. Rather than go quiet, Wilhelmsen has insisted that we still must deal with how the Kremlin chooses to understand the West: Such knowledge is necessary for informed public debates, and for making political decisions.

Academic freedom of expression is also challenged in times of war and crisis. Independent research is subject to pressures. When the call to close ranks grows louder, divergent voices are maligned, weakening and undermining the supply of conflicting arguments and analyses.

Yet, as Brochmann noted, discussing the grounds for the Fritt Ord Foundation’s choice of prize laureate: “Wilhelmsen has faced the resistance she has encountered, both objective and somewhat less so, not by seeing herself as a victim, but rather by making more statements, offering different perspectives, adding fuel to the debate. Accordingly, she is a role model in a world of academia that is often characterised by retreat when the exchanges get tougher.”

As a society, we rely on researchers who dare to communicate knowledge that goes against the mainstream, not least in the light of an increasingly challenging international situation.


About Julie Wilhelmsen

Julie Wilhelmsen (53) is a Research Professor at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI). She holds a PhD in political science and works with Russian domestic and foreign policy, the radicalisation of Islam in Eurasia, and critical security studies. The two Chechen wars after the demise of the Soviet Union have been central topics in Wilhelmsen’s research, and she has facilitated international networks to build knowledge and dialogue about developments in Russia’s Northern Caucasus. As a researcher at NUPI for more than 20 years, she has had broad engagement with political decision-makers and been a supporter of Norwegian human rights communities that work with post-Soviet states. Wilhelmsen is an active participant in the public debate on international politics. In 2020, she received the Skjervheim Prize for her contribution to the foreign policy debate. In 2022, she was awarded the newspaper Klassekampen’s Rhinoceros Prize for the same reasons. In 2014–2015, Wilhelmsen was a member of the Norwegian government’s expert group for the Armed Forces of Norway. From 2019 to 2021, she was one of the experts involved in the Cooperative Security Initiative (CSI), which was set up to generate new ideas and draw attention to security cooperation and multilateralism through the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Wilhelmsen is on the Board of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and on the Council for the Fridtjof Nansen Institute. She has been denied a visa to Russia since 2015. She lives in Oslo with her husband, and they have five children.