All in the family: Red clans in Norway

Dag Seierstad

Communist cultural dynasties proliferate in Norway. One of the most famous living Norwegian writers, Åsne Seierstad, author of the international bestseller The Bookseller of Kabul, is the daughter of Dag Seierstad, a leading Socialist Left Party politician who, as Bård Larsen notes in his book The Idealists, argued during the Cold War that Norway should be on the side of the Soviets, not the U.S. Pål Steigan (b. 1949) was head of the Workers’ Communist Party (AKP) and, later, of another Communist party, Rødt Valgalliance (RV), and was a leading apologist for the genocide in Cambodia. He also worked as an editor at one of Norway’s three major book publishers, Cappelen, where he was in charge of the Caplex encyclopedia, a standard reference work. His cousin, Finn Aasheim (d. 2008), served as editor of the Communist daily Klassekampen and head of the advisory committee for the charitable fund run in the name of Princess Märtha Louise, daughter of the current king of Norway. 

Tron Øgrim (left) and Pål Steigan meet Mao, 1970

Then there’s the sprawling Øgrim clan. We’ve already met Helge Øgrim, former AKP chief and current editor of Journalisten, Norway’s answer to the Columbia Journalism Review. His father was Kristian Øgrim, sometime head of programming for NRK TV (Norwegian state television). His late cousin, Tron Øgrim, also a Communist and a prolific journalist, was a big fan of Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha. He visited Albania in 1975, when it was, along with North Korea, one of the two most closed societies on earth, and reported in Klassekampen that it was undergoing “enormous progress.” His main concern about Albania was that some of its people were able to pick up Italian channels on their TVs, which exposed them to “bourgeois advertising, pornography, and bourgeois politics”; Tron urged the Albanian government to use “steel-hard discipline” to prevent them from watching these channels.

A Gatas Parlament poster, circa 2007, showing the Norwegian Parliament collapsing, with US and Israeli flags in flames

Tron’s ex-wife, Jorun Gulbrandsen, is a longtime schoolteacher who was head of AKP for nine years and has also been active in RV and another Communist Party, Rødt; their daughter, Liv Gulbrandsen, is a prominent NRK journalist who was deputy chair of RV and a founder of Rødt. Helge and Tron are also cousins of Elling Øgrim Borgersrud and Aslak Øgrim Borgersrud, who are both active in Rødt politics and whose famous rap group, Gatas Parlament, has paid tribute in its music to people like Hugo Chávez and released songs with titles like “Eat the Rich” and “Anti-American Dance.” In 2004, the group set up a website whose professed purpose was to solicit donations to hire a hit man to kill then U.S. President George W. Bush. 

Perhaps the most striking thing about all these people is that they – and their politics – are regarded as thoroughly mainstream. Among the Norwegian cultural elite, it’s those who dare to suggest that Communism is inconsistent with freedom who are viewed as being beyond the pale. 

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