Norway and ‘civil society’ 

The article was originally published on 20 May 1996 in Norwegian, under the title „Norge og det ‘sivile samfunn’ „, in the newspaper Aftenposten. Nils Morten Udgaard(1) was then Aftenposten’s editor for foreign affairs. 

References in the text to three items which are not usually well-known to foreign readers: the Lund Commission’s Report, Arbeiderbladet, and Einar Gerhandsen, are explained below the article. 

The article is translated and published here on 13 November 2016 with the author’s generous consent. The translator, not the author, is responsible for any misrepresentation of the original text of the article, and is also responsible for translations of passages which the author has quoted from other sources. 

Translation: Marianne Haslev Skånland

Consultant: Richard Holton Pierce

• • •

What is most surprising in the Lund Commission’s great Report(2) about the secret services is not that it reveals security agents who acted beyond their authority, but that it documents a complete failure of the Norwegian state’s legal control mechanisms. The punishable activities which the police wish to place under surveillance are as a rule „far from concrete, and unspecified in detail”, the Commission writes, pointing out that „in spite of this there is virtually no instance in which the decisions of the court contain any independent appraisals”. The control carried out by Forhørsretten (the Court of examination and summary jurisdiction) has not functioned as the guarantor of legal security it was intended to be, says the Report. It points to examples – secret control of accounts in the banks – in which „this illegal practice has found support in the decisions of the Court of examination”. 
Much of what the Report refers to from earlier periods calls to mind Eastern Europe and the historian Jens Arup Seip’s essay „Fra embedsmannsstat til ettpartistat” (From civil servant state to one-party state). In his opinion, the Labour Party „has a party machine unequalled in the West outside of the parties calling themselves communistic”. That was in 1963. Last Saturday, Seip was echoed by chief editor of the newspaper Arbeiderbladet(3), Steinar Hansson, who writes about the Lund Report and about „an epoch which was no golden age but a one-eyed and far too dogmatically conformist society; a system with simple and often authoritarian solutions which have been idyllised in many types of political debates in the years following”. The image of Einar Gerhardsen’s(4) Norway is showing cracks.

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