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The opposite reaction to terror September 22, 2011

Posted by Sverre in : Human rights, Political behavior , add a comment

Norwegian newspapers today report the following: A month after the terror at Oslo and Utøya, a group of researchers from the University of Bergen repeated three of the survey questions they asked Norwegians as part of the International Social Survey Programme, right after the terror in Madrid in 2006.  They were amazed at what they found. Norwegians are more sceptical, not less, towards extending police powers of surveillance.

They asked the following questions (english translations from ISSP documentation):

Suppose the government suspected that a terrorist act was about to happen. Do you think the authorities should have the right to…

This constitutes a clear drop in support for security measures that invade privacy and civil liberties, quite the opposite of what we  would expect. (more…)

Race – an outdated concept? January 29, 2010

Posted by Sverre in : Human rights, language , add a comment

Great controversy has apparently arisen in the US over the inclusion of the word “negro” in a national census. Once again I am reminded of the different reality I live in. Where I come from, Norway, race isn’t a concept we’re familiar with neither in social science nor politics. Nationality (including second and third generation immigrants), religion and cultural heritage are certainly issues, but genetic “race” alone is an alien concept. We do have some dark blotches on our record, most notably treatment of Jews before WWII and the Rom and indigenous Sami peoples until far too recent years. In present day Norway, I perceive the concept of race as one that belongs to the extreme right fringe of society.

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Nonsensical boycott uproar November 13, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Academic matters, Human rights, Norwegian politics , 1 comment so far

My university, The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), has been the centre of an international controversy blown ridiculously out of proportion for the last few weeks. It peaked today with a university board meeting actually attended by reporters from Al-Jazeera(!). I assure you not a common occurence in a Norwegian university.

It all started with a petition by thirty-four academic staff members from NTNU and the regional college HiST recommending an academic and cultural boycot of Israel and Israeli universities. Interestingly enough, at least two of the petitioners have jewish backgrounds themselves. Although I am sympathetic to the cause, I think the idea of academic and cultural isolation is more likely to be counterproductive to the larger goal of improving conditions for Palestinians. My opinion is however beside the matter. For reference, the total number of academic staff at NTNU is about 2700, of which 34 doesn’t seem like an alarming number. This also mobilized a counter-petition by other members of the staff.

Next, three professors at NTNU organized a seminar series about the Israel-Palestine conflict with the endorsement of the university Rector Trond Digernes. They invited international speakers like Stephen Walt, Moshe Zuckermann and Illian Pape in addittion to various Norwegian speakers. They instantly came under attack by “friends of Israel” that critizised them for a biased selection of speakers, accusing them of being inspired by hatred of Israel and jews.

This was eventually picked up by Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. That’s when the ball really started rolling. The usual freak anonymous hate-calls and blog flaming is to be expected. But After the Ha’aretz article, NTNU actually received an official letter from the Israeli ambassador accusing NTNU of “Israel-bashing”. For diplomats to interfere with university seminars, especially with such language, seems rather unusual to me.

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Accusations of anti-Semitism in Norway October 5, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Academic matters, International relations, Norwegian politics , 2comments

It seems to be a recurring trend to accuse Norway of anti-Semitism and hate against Israel. Lately these criticisms have come from Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman over the decisions to divest Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit from the national pension fund stock portfolio and from the Israeli embassy over a seminar series at the Norwegian university NTNU (if you read Norwegian, here’s a blog post from me, and another on the latter).

It seems there are a great number of people out there with an interest in portraying Norway as a country of Jew-haters who wish to see Israel destroyed. From my experience, that couldn’t be further from the truth. With the obvious exception of both the extreme right and the extreme left, there seems to me like there is very little hate of Jews and Israel in Norway. There is, however, much sympathy for Palestinians and much resentment over the actions of the Israeli state. This should not be confused. Critique of the so-called Operation Cast Lead aka. the Gaza Massacre is not equal to hate of Israel. Support for UN resolutions condemning the separation wall is not anti-Semitism. (more…)

Centre-left victory in Norway September 15, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Norwegian politics , add a comment

It now seems more or less certain that Norway will see 4 more years with a centre-left government under Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg from Labour. At the moment the right wing parties are throwing blame around and the centrist liberal party Venstre (Left) lies in shatters. The party president has announced his resignation.

More than a socialist victory, this election is a hard blow to the centrist parties in Norwegian politics. Fighting between the two major blocks seems to have drawn voters especially from Venstre who defended their position in between the two blocks. Infighting and chaos among the right wing parties must probably also account for a major part of the loss.

On the socialist side of the centre, voters appear to be shifting from the more radical Socialist Left (SV) to the more moderate Labour. The centrist coalition partner Senterpartiet (the Centre Party) keeps their members of parliament. What this means for shuffling of cabinet seats remains to be seen.

Norwegian election thriller September 14, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Norwegian politics , add a comment

Votes are being counted in the Norwegian parliament election. At the moment, 78 % of the votes are counted and the official prognosis is at 86 seats to the government centre-left block and 83 seats to the right-wing block. Jens Stolenberg’s cabinet seems to be hanging on by it’s teeth. Getting through the finance crisis so far with the lowest unemployment might be an important reason.

Still, things are far from decided yet. This will be undecided for hours yet.

Norwegian universities opening up to the world June 19, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Academic matters, Norwegian politics , add a comment

The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research today announced its appointment of new external board members for the university boards of seven universities and academic colleges in Norway. In the Norwegian academic system, these boards are the supreme authority on matters both administrative and academic in universities and colleges. Traditionally these positions have been held solely by Norwegian nationals, but this trend has been broken today. Among the new members appointed by Minister of Higher Education and Research, Tora Aasland, Danish and Swedish academics were placed in 6 out of 7 boards.

I see this as an extremely positive development for higher education and research in Norway. I am myself a former university board member, and believe these institutions can benefit immensely from some external views as part of their governance. With the close language culture ties between the Scandinavian countries, it seems very unlikely that it should have any ill effects on the effectiveness of governance at all.

On behalf of my own university, NTNU, I welcome the director of the Swedish elite institution Karolinska Institutet, Mrs. Karin Röding as new board member.

The death of a giant June 3, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Norwegian politics , add a comment

On May 25th a giant in Norwegian politics, passed away. Haakon Lie might not be very well known to foreginers, but he was certainly one of the most influential people in Norway in the 20th century. He was a man of many controversies, but it is hard not to respect his role in building social democracy in Norway.

haakonlieHe was party secretary of the Labour party from 1945 to 1969, a period through which the Labour party was in government for most of the time. The joint leadership between Lie and the most prominent prime minister during the period, Einar Gerhardsen has become famous in Norwegian politics both for its effectiveness in building the country and for its latter days bitter rivalry.

Lie was one of the people who rebuilt the Labour party from a party of class struggle to a broader mass party building the welfare state on a compromise between capitalism and socialism. He was one of the ideologers that formed a new kind of socialism where anti-capitalism was replaced by a modern social democratic quest for liberty for all. In domestic policy he pushed for social reforms along with his comrade in arms Gerhardsen.

In foreign and security policy he was much more controversial. He was driven by a distaste for communism whose anti-democratic tendencies he felt was a corruption of socialism.  He feared its spread and favoured NATO membership and nuclear armament. (more…)

NYT sings the praise of Norwegian economic management May 14, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Norwegian politics, Political economy, Public Policy , add a comment

“As a socialist, I have always said that the market can’t regulate itself,” she said. “But even I was surprised how strong the failure was.”

These are the words of Norway’s Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen from the political party Socialist Left (SV), which is part of the current centre-left government coalition in Norway. The words come from an article in the Global Business section of The New York Times, which praises the economic management of the Norwegian state, among other things  how it has stuck with its social democratic welfare model through boom and bust.

The global financial crisis has brought low the economies of just about every country on earth. But not Norway.

With a quirky contrariness as deeply etched in the national character as the fjords carved into its rugged landscape, Norway has thrived by going its own way. When others splurged, it saved. When others sought to limit the role of government, Norway strengthened its cradle-to-grave welfare state.

And in the midst of the worst global downturn since the Depression, Norway’s economy grew last year by just under 3 percent. The government enjoys a budget surplus of 11 percent and its ledger is entirely free of debt.

The debt free government is of course something the current centre-left coalition can’t take the credit for alone. The Norwegian government has passed between Labour, centre-right and centre-left governments for the last decade.  Since 1990, there has been a broad consensus in the Norwegian parliament for a programme of  national savings in a government pension fund, to preserve value for future generations and avoid “Dutch disease“. I mentioned this policy in an earlier post on this blog.

The description of Norway as always sticking with its welfare model is another issue, though. Norway did go through a phase of privatization of welfare, for example the schooling system, during the last government, but this was abruptly stopped by the centre-left Stoltenberg administration when it came into power four years ago. Of course this didn’t necessarily affect government expenditure.

If the right wing were to come into power in the upcoming parliament elections, we might see another shift in this policy. Although supportive of the need for government stimuli to the economy, their preferred stimuli come in the form of tax cuts rather than the countercyclic government expenditures the current government favours. Last week’s conservative party congress heavily emphasized this.

(Hat tip to Tromp for bringing this to my attention).

Racism paving the way to government? March 1, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Norwegian politics, Political behavior , add a comment

The so called “long campaign” before the Norwegian parliamentary election is well under way, and once again it appears that immigration will be a central topic. In the aftermath of a controversy over whether or not to allow islamic headdress (hijab) with Norwegian police uniforms, the populist right-wing party Fremskrittspartiet has started campaigning about the so called secret “Islamization” of Norwegian society. If they succeed in keeping this a hot topic throughout the campaign, previous experience shows they might gain  much in terms of votes. (more…)