Mímir Kristjánsson walks on the quay past a cruise ship that towers over Stavanger’s historic center. In the summer, not a day goes by without a giant holiday ship mooring here and thousands of tourists spreading like a spot through the center with the gulls in their wake. Bicycles and Segways are available on the quay, allowing those on board to experience the city. If you want, you can have your picture taken with a poorly dressed viking.
Not everyone is happy with the visitors. Kristjánsson (35), a Norwegian author and politician, points out the white wooden houses in the historic center. ‘Many residents have been waiting for years for a chance to live here. Now they can not see the sea because of the cruise ships. ‘
The record is on 280 cruise ships in one year; more are expected this year. According to Kristjánsson, it is a symbol of Norway, where dissatisfaction is increasing despite all the prosperity. The Norwegians can be number one on all kinds of country lists, according to Kristjánsson there is something wrong. ‘It’s a process of decay for decades.’
Kristjánsson sits in the Norwegian parliament on behalf of Rødt, a Marxist party that wants to make Norway a classless society. In September 2021, Rødt (Rød) succeeded in crossing the election limit of 4 percent. No new party had succeeded in this for decades. Now the Marxists have eight representatives in parliament.
Kristjánsson, father of two children, is one of the most famous. He was a journalist and news director at the daily newspaper Class camps and wrote nine socially critical books, including the super rich (2011), on the growing number of millionaires in Norway. He achieved national fame when he participated in the reality show in 2020 Farm celebritywhere famous Norwegians discover peasant life.
We talk to Kristjánsson about the riddle that a communist party is gaining a foothold in prosperous Norway, which is seen worldwide as a social democratic mecca. Many Americans believe that the country is already under communist rule.
During the conversation we go through his birth and residence Stavanger. First stop is the oil museum and the playground next door. No seesaws or swings here, but an old pipeline to slide through and a ball pool of orange buoys. According to Kristjánsson, the playground illustrates the importance of oil for Norway. “I have a hard time hating the oil industry. It is so big and we are such a small country with 5.4 million inhabitants. It’s part of our identity. ‘
Before the discovery of the large Ekofisk oil field in the North Sea in December 1969, Stavanger was a small port known for the production of canned fish. Since the government designated the port as the oil capital, it has become the country’s third largest metropolitan region. Mirror offices have risen above the historic wooden buildings. Oil and gas extraction made Norway a ‘dirty rich’ country, says Kristjánsson. A rapidly rising money meter at the museum shows how fast the crowns are flowing in.
One of the reasons for Rødt’s success is that the party has not yet touched on oil extraction. In Norway, a discussion is raging about whether the country should stop pumping up the polluting oil. The Green Party will stop this in 2035. Red had an end date of 2030, but canceled it before the election. The party thus became an alternative for left-wing voters who found the Green Party too radical.
This twist is mainly the work of Kristjánsson, who critics in his party have called an ‘oil populist’. ‘If we stop in 2030, I’ll have to tell four out of five families here that they’ll lose their jobs. It is many other places in the country not aware of. When I lived in Oslo, I noticed that they are not very positive about the oil industry there. It also has to do with the fact that the production of all kinds of goods has disappeared from view. ‘
What is your alternative?
‘I am against the search for and exploitation of new oil fields. It’s pretty radical here. See, the people of Stavanger are really not climate deniers. They know it has to stop at some point. But they are worried about the future of their children. So we need to invest in innovation and green energy to offer perspective to the 250,000 workers in the oil industry. Sure, we’ll be getting less dirty rich, but it’s not that bad. We really must not be Somalia. ‘
We drink coffee on the terrace in the newly renovated harbor district, filled with shops, restaurants and coffee shops. Kristjánsson says that Rødt’s election success came at the expense of the Norwegian Labor Party, which is traditionally the country’s largest. The Social Democrats are Rødt’s favorite opponents because they were founded to help the workers. A role that Rødt has taken over according to Kristjánsson.
What subjects have you been successful in?
“Like elsewhere in Europe, we had a wave of privatization here in the 1990s, combined with tax cuts. Since then, inequality has risen. The percentage of rich people is greater and their wealth is growing every year. At the same time, 115 thousand children live in poverty. There are two big lies in and about Norway. The first is: everyone is rich. The other is: We have no inequality here.
“More and more people are realizing that this is not true. The leader of the Labor Party comes from a family of successful businessmen. He is super rich. When he was young, he applied into a right-wing party. Only later did he become a Social Democrat. His predecessor had a father who was a minister. This is how you get detached from the problems of ordinary people. ”
Some figures show that Kristjánsson is right. Since the early 1990s, the average income of the richest 10 percent of Norwegians has exploded, from 56,000 euros a year to 172,000 euros. In the lowest income groups, income increased from 14 thousand to 27 thousand euros. In return, the country has an extensive social safety net, good facilities and free universities.
“The Social Democratic ideal of equality is that everyone has equal opportunities. Not everyone wins, but it’s part of it. This increases inequality. This is not included in the basic insurance because it would be too expensive. But now it is still expensive, but for people with bad teeth. A new brewery and a new Michelin restaurant open every day in Norway, but dental insurance cannot be arranged. ‘
How do you convince Norwegian voters with a Marxist ideology?
‘You do not have to convince them of the ideology, but it forms the basis of our policy and it is extremely popular. Most people do not like inequality and want more welfare state. They support a greater role for the state. It is not so much about ideological purity, but about the role one plays in society. It is true that people should be on guard against a party that flirted with Mao and Stalin in the 1970s. But the bottom line is that we are fighting inequality. ”
What would Rodt do differently?
»Higher tax on wealth and inheritance instead of on work. The rich obviously hate it. In addition, we are committed to the rights of workers. Many employers get rich by taking advantage of employees. I do not know how much we would expropriate civilians, but all raw materials belong to the state, including oil. The state must buy up all the shares and take companies off the stock exchange. ‘
In another article Jacobins, an online socialist platform, Kristjánsson wrote after the election that “the rich have reason to be afraid.” He told of a Norwegian billionaire, Stein Erik Hagen, who during the campaign had said that he would buy a single plane ticket to North Korea for every Red voter.
‘I got it for my book the super rich interviewed. He is typically a billionaire who presents himself as an average person. In Norway, being rich is still seen as un-Norwegian. Hagen always talks about the ‘so-called kingdoms’. He has benefited greatly from recent decades. At the same time, he complains that Norway is becoming a Soviet state. ”
Between the wooden houses with flower boxes, Kristjánsson tells how his parents met in China. His mother studied language and culture in Beijing. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer when she was 30. If she wanted children, she had to hurry. On the bus home from the doctor’s office, she saw a Western man boarding. She went to him, tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Will you be the father of my child?”
The man, an Icelander, chairman of the Iceland-China Friendship Association, would become Kristjánsson’s father. They are now divorced and his father is back in his homeland. His mother lives in an apartment near Kristjánsson. They have a lot of contact, also because she is still sick. When Kristjánsson was 15, the cancer came back. His mother became incapacitated for work and had to apply for unemployment benefits.
That process proved to have a major impact on Kristjánsson. He wrote a book about it: My mother is on unemployment benefits† »What I saw in her is seen in many European countries. People on benefits not only have little money, they are suspicious in advance because they do not want to work or want to lie about their illness. They come every month to get their benefits. I really have never met anyone like that. Most on services would rather work than me. They are at home, lack socializing and are ill. ‘
What does it say about Norway?
“The classic story is that Norway has grown from a poor country to one of the richest countries in the world. Now we see that not everything is as it should be. My mother sits on the couch, smokes and watches TV and every day she is stimulated by something else. She used to be a teacher and I know how enterprising she could be. But her benefits are declining in value, fixed costs and medicine are becoming more expensive, while her social network is shrinking. The state says: we take care of you until you die, but at the same time it feels as if you are no longer on the social A-list. ‘
Does it make you emotional?
‘Yes, but it does not matter. You know there are too few emotions in politics. Politicians are usually educated from an early age. They must always be rational. But it’s like building a city in the computer game SimCity without worrying about the inhabitants’.
In Norway, ‘Dutch disease’ is a well-known name: the phenomenon that after the discovery of natural gas, the Netherlands began to thrive, so that the value of its currency increased and subsequently priced itself out of the market. The Norwegians therefore decided to put their oil surplus in an investment fund. With over a trillion euros, this fund is now one of the largest in the world. The government may only harvest 4 percent of the fund’s value each year. The investment surplus is often higher – and then the money keeps accumulating.