We’ve been toting up the names of some of the high-profile Norwegian Labor Party politicians who were – or are likely to have been – KGB operatives. But not all of the Cold War-era useful stooges in the land of the fjords were secret spies. Nor were all of them members of the Labor Party, or even politicians. Many of them were cultural figures who belonged to more extreme parties – and who were proud to publicly identify themselves as friends and supporters of the USSR.
In 2011, historian Bård Larsen catalogued some of these eminentos in a book entitled Idealistene (The Idealists). What might be surprising to a non-Norwegian is that these people’s open embrace of Communism didn’t keep them from becoming influential, successful, in some cases even beloved. On the contrary, Larsen notes, apropos of the small Workers’ Communist Party (AKP), founded in 1973 and disbanded in 2007, that in all of Europe, scarely any extreme political group of its size has so many members who’ve had such successful public careers.
One of Larsen’s subjects, poet Inger Hagerup (1905-85), was a member not of AKP but of the Norwegian Communist Party (NKP), founded in 1923. Hagerup’s oeuvre consists largely of crudely polemical verse calling for a workers’ revolution. In one famous work, “Be Impatient!”, she wrote: “Dreams and utopias, say the wise men, / Those who are cold in heart. / Don’t listen to them any more!” Despite – or because? – of her devotion to Stalin and her penchant for pro-Kremlin propaganda, she’s considered a major Norwegian poet.
We consulted two standard anthologies of Norwegian verse and one history of Norwegian literature. Neither anthology mentions Hagerup’s Communism. One of them (Den store lyrikkboken) praises her “awareness of oppression and injustice in the world around her” – never mind that she was utterly indifferent to oppression and injustice in the USSR. The other anthology (Norske dikt i 1000 år) tactfully describes her as having been “involved on the political left,” identifies her poems as being marked by a “clear antifascist tendency,” and says that “Be Impatient!” is “mostly about the dream of a world free of violence and the use of power.” Only the literary history, Per Thomas Andersen’s Norsk Litteraturhistorie, acknowledges Hagerup’s party identification: “She was a communist, but unlike [fellow lefty poet Arnulf] Øverland she clung firmly to her Soviet-friendly attitude after the war.” Andersen makes no judgment, one way or another, about her party affiliation.
Mainstream journalism in Norway is riddled with Communists. Take Sigurd Allern. Born in 1946, he’s served over the years as head of the Socialist Youth League, editor-in-chief of the Communist daily Klassekampen, and leader of the AKP and another Communist party, Rød Valgallianse (RV). All of which, apparently, in the eyes of University of Oslo officials, made him the perfect candidate for the country’s first-ever position as Professor of Journalism – a job he accepted in 2003, and still holds to this day.
Another example: Hilde Haugsgjerd. She was active in AKP, head of RV, and editor of Red Youth’s journal Red Guard – so when Aftenposten, the nation’s purportedly conservative newspaper of record, was looking for an editor-in-chief in 2008, who was hired? Haugsgjerd, natch. Though she claims to have left radicalism behind, she says her time in AKP taught her to esteem reason and question authority – a rather bemusing thing to say about one’s membership in a gang of supremely irrational utopists under strict orders not to question anything.
Then there’s Helge Øgrim. A former leader of AKP and of Red Youth, he’s been editor-in-chief of Journalisten, the professional journal for Norwegian journalists, since 2007. (Even a confession of plagiarism didn’t bring him down.)
Needless to say, the idea that Communists – devoted by definition not to objective reporting but to ideological propaganda – should hold these kinds of positions in a democratic country is ridiculous. In Norway, however, questioning the appropriateness of such hires would be considered to be outrageously offensive.