Red star over Norway – all over

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.

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Bård Larsen

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.

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Inger Hagerup

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.

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Sigurd Allern

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.

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Hilde Haugsgjerd with former Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg

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.

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Helge Øgrim

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.

More tomorrow.

Silencing Norway’s “political earthquake”

Yesterday we mentioned the Mitrokhin Archive in Britain, which contains 25,000 pages of information about high-profile Western figures who served as KGB spies and contacts during the Cold War. As we noted, some Western officials and journalists have examined these documents with an eye to uncovering the dark side of their own countries’ modern history; in Norway, however, the government and media – knowing that publicizing the facts would cause serious damage to that country’s powerful Labor Party – have essentially collaborated for years to keep a lid on those facts.

HAMAR 196310 Tidligere statsminister Einar Gerhardsen på valgkamp for Arbeiderpartiet foran kommunevalget.Her besøker han Hamar. Gerhardsen på talerstolen, taler og gestikulerer. Foto: Ivar Aaserud / Aktuell / Scanpix
Einar Gerhardsen

So things stood, more or less, until late December 2015, when Norway’s TV2 reported that it had commissioned Åsmund Egge, a professor emeritus at the University of Oslo, to look through the archive. Among the high-ranking Norwegians whose names turned up was Einar Gerhardsen (1897-1987), a Labor Party politician who served as Prime Minister from 1945 to 1951, 1955 to 1963, and 1963 to 1965. It was Gerhardsen, fondly referred to as “Landsfaderen” (Father of the Nation), who oversaw the introduction of Norway’s postwar welfare state. According to the archive, he supplied confidential documents to the KGB, which gave him the code name “Jan.”

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Johan Strand Johansen

Two of Gerhardsen’s cabinet members also worked for the Soviets, both of them as out-and-out KGB agents. One was Johan Strand Johansen, a Communist Party member who spent eight years (1945-49; 1954-57) in Parliament, served as Minister of Labor under Gerhardsen in 1945, moved to Moscow in 1957, and lived there until his death in 1970. The other KGB agent in the cabinet was economist Gunnar Bøe (1917-1989), a top academic and Labor Party member who from 1959 to 1962 served as Minister of Pay and Prices. Norwegian intelligence long suspected Bøe was a Kremlin operative, but wasn’t able to come up with enough evidence to arrest him.

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Einar Førde

Several more Norwegian politicians, journalists, and military officers who worked with the KGB were identified in Mitrokhin’s archive only by code names and thumbnail descriptions. Egge and TV2 have managed to figure out who some of them were, and to make educated guesses at others. One figure who’s been identified as a likely spy is Einar Førde (1943-2004), a Labor Party politician who was Minister of Education and Church Affairs from 1979 to 1981 and director-general of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) from 1989 to 2001. For several years, in other words, the education of children in Norway and then the dissemination of news throughout the country were under the direction of a KGB man.

In December 2015, Hans Rustad wrote at document.no that TV2’s revelations amounted to “a political earthquake.” They were so sensational, in fact, that – once again – most of the country’s mainstream media chose not to report on them at all.

More to come.