I was born in the suburbs of Copenhagen in 1958, and until the age of 18 all my plans for life focused on professional soccer. That changed when I arrived at university and began studying Russian language and literature. I was carried away and didn’t touch a soccer ball for several years.
In 1980 and 1981 I spent a year in the Soviet Union. It was the defining experience of my adult life. I met the woman to whom I am still married, and was deeply fascinated by Russia and its people. I read the great poets of the Silver Age, Osip Mandelstam, Marina Tsvetaeva, Anna Akhmatova and Alexander Blok, enjoyed the novels of Mikhail Bulgakov and Yuri Trifonov, watched the mystifying movies of Andrei Tarkovski, and tried to make sense of what was going on around me in the collective apartment in the historical center of Moscow where I and my wife were living with three elderly people. From this experience I learned more about the ways of the Communist system than through all my years at university, though three books made a huge impression on me, Nadezhda Mandelstam’s %%AMAZON=0689706081 Hope Abandoned%%, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s %%AMAZON=0002626039 The Oak and the Calf%% and %%AMAZON=0060007761 Gulag Archipelago%%.
Upon returning to Denmark I got a job as translator at the Danish Refugee Council helping refugees from the Soviet Union. I established contact with dissidents throughout Europe, and was by now becoming anti-communist by conviction.
Later I taught refugees from all parts of the world Danish, but my mind was still on Russia, and in 1990 I was hired as the first Moscow correspondent for the Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende. At that time I had translated several novels, among them Children of the Arbat by Anatoly Rybakov, and Viktor Astafyev’s The Sad Detective and The Memoirs of Boris Yeltsin. When I arrived in Moscow in 1990 colleagues were leaving and said: You are too late. All the most exciting things already happened. Well, I was of another opinion, and those years – 1990-1996 – were the story of my life. Not even a thousand Mohammed cartoons can beat that one.
In 1997 I published The Catastrophe That Did Not Happen: Russia in Change 1992-1996, and moved to the US, where I spent 2½ years as Washington Bureau Chief for Berlingske Tidende. Then I was approached by Jyllands-Posten to go back to Moscow – there aren’t that many Danish journalist who speaks Russian. And in 2004 after having spent 14 years abroad I and my family settled in Copenhagen.
I took over the job as culture editor with a clear mandate to provide the culture pages with a stronger international profile. I guess I succeeded beyond any expectation. Since the publication of the Mohammed cartoons in September 2005 Jyllands-Posten has established itself as Denmark’s International newspaper. Due to the uproar following the publication of the cartoons in March and April 2006 I was asked to spent some time away from my desk. So I went to the US and talked to a lot of interesting people, Francis Fukuyama, Charles Murray, Richard Perle, Ronald Dworkin, Oriana Fallaci, Sam Harris, Newt Gingrich, Wafa Sultan, Christopher Hitchens, Paul Berman, Fouad Ajami, David Brooks and Bernard Lewis. The interviews were published as a book, American Voices on the anniversary of the publication of the Mohammed cartoons, September 30, 2006.