Synthesis/Regeneration 13   (Spring 1997)

The Norwegian Green Party

by Jan Bojer Vindheim, City Councilor, Trondheim, Norway

Norway is a long, mountainous and sparsely populated strip of land in Northwestern Europe, facing the Arctic sea. On the land side there is a long border with Sweden, and shorter borders with Finland and Russia. Farming, fisheries and shipping have been the most important occupations. There has also been a lot of heavy industry connected to the abundant waterfalls. After oil was discovered on the continental shelf in the late 1960s, Norway developed into one of the worlds biggest oil-exporters, at present second only to Saudi Arabia.

. . .the first environmental movement in the 1960s originated among mountaineers. . .

The four million Norwegians have a number of political parties, and thanks to the system of proportional representation there are now eight political parties in the national parliament in Oslo, ranging from the right wing "Progress Party" to the Maoist "Red Voters Alliance." Several other parties are represented at lower levels. The Green Party is one of these. The biggest party in parliament and in most places around the country is the Social Democratic Party. Although the Social Democrats do not have an absolute majority in parliament, they form the government now, as they have for most of the past 50 years. Our Prime Minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland, resigned in October, 1996 after 15 years in office, leaving the job to Crown Prince Thorbjoern Jagland.

Environmental politics in Norway

Many Norwegians love to hike and ski in the mountains, and the first environmental movement in the 1960s originated among mountaineers, the most famous being professor Arne Naess, originator of the concept of "deep ecology." Naess and other academics started an environmental discussion group in the late 1960s, the "SNM." In 1970 SNM staged a nonviolent protest against the development of an electric power plant at a waterfall in the western part of the country. Subsequent years saw hydroelectric plants and their associated dams becoming the main targets of environmental protest. There was also a lively discussion of ecology and a back to the land movement. When the first environmental election group surfaced in Oslo in 1971, Professor Naess was elected to the city council. His name was far down the list of candidates, but many voters gave him supplementary votes. Naess refused to take the seat however, and the next person moved up instead.

These parties were important in the campaign to keep Norway out of the European Union, a campaign that culminated in a referendum in 1992, wherein the Norwegian voters narrowly defeated the proposed membership.

During the following years the environmental cause was taken up by several different parties. The liberal party Venstre (Left), tried to launch a political map based on the ecological thinking of Arne Naess and others, where the blue red axis is supplemented by a third green point, creating a political triangle. However when voter support failed to match liberal ambitions, the green thinking was toned down. Next to try were the Socialist Left Party (SV), and the agrarian Center Party (SP). These parties were important in the campaign to keep Norway out of the European Union, a campaign that culminated in a referendum in 1992, wherein the Norwegian voters narrowly defeated the proposed membership. However Prime Minister Brundtland made sure we became members of the economic part of the Union through the "EES" agreement, leaving us effectively part of the EU economic system, but with no political participation.

Birth of the Green Party

Environmental lists were organized in many places through the seventies and eighties, some places taking names like "Green Party" or "Green List." In 1987 a group of academics presented several lists under the name "The Greens" at local elections, and gained a seat in the district council of Akershus, near Oslo. Encouraged by this moderate success they contacted other local environmental voter alliances, and after innumerable meetings a nationwide party was formed in Fall 1988. The name taken was "Miljoepartiet De Groenne," meaning "The Environmental Party The Greens."

The Green Party held its first official congress in Spring 1989. The meeting was held in an old school building in the countryside, far from the political centers. The 50-odd delegates, mostly young people, slept on the floor, adopted a 50-page political program, and announced their intention of presenting lists in all constituencies in the upcoming elections. The voters did not seem very interested however. At the general elections just 0.5% of the voters used the Green lists. No Greens entered parliament, the environmental votes going instead mainly to the SV. In the world of environmental organizations it seems the new party was considered a competitor, not an ally. Internal splits also became apparent, some personal, some political, and some both.

Some political issues

Internal discussions in the first years were especially heated around the questions of alternative economics. Some Greens were followers of the eccentric theories of the late B. D. Brochmann. These theories blame the practice of charging interest on loans for causing centralization, war, alienation and other social ills. The academics in the party viewed these theories with horror. After heated discussions and much banging of doors, the party adopted a couple of formulations criticizing interest as part of a larger economic program. This compromise (of course) satisfied nobody.

The international campaign against whaling has never been popular among Norwegian environmentalists.

Another bitter debate concerned a proposed system of social service. Since most Greens are anti-militarist and support conscientious objectors, the first program wanted to replace military service with a kind of peace corps for girls as well as boys, to replace the present system of military service for young men. Others saw this as a form of state oppression. Under the present Norwegian system of military conscription, one can apply for alternative service if one is a pacifist. However some refuse the state even this non-military service, and are sent to jail. Most are Jehovahs Witnesses, and a few are anarchists. The Green Party position was seen as hostile to the arguments of the "total resisters," and in later programs the "social service" has been dropped.

The international campaign against whaling has never been popular among Norwegian environmentalists. Popular feeling is strongly pro-whaling. When the Norwegian government decided to restart small scale whaling, hunting of the fairly abundant minke whale, Norwegian environmentalists overwhelmingly were in support, but the Green Party was split. One side claimed whaling is no different from hunting other animals, and the minke whales eat too much fish. The other side said stock estimates are unreliable, and that Norwegian minke whaling, would endanger other , more threatened whales. The Green Party program accepts whaling only in accordance with the International Whaling Commission (IWC). When the Green Party office opposed the government decision to allow whaling, several local party groups attacked the party line in public. The program still opposes Norwegian whaling until the IWC sets a quota.

Some impatient Green Party members think a radical stance on drugs would help the party reach a broader audience. Others are afraid the Party will be "tainted."

Last year saw a discussion on drugs. The draft of the new party program advocates decriminalization of use and possession of illegal drugs, and discusses legalization of cannabis. This line has support among the party members in Oslo and other cities, but is strongly opposed mainly by older members and members in rural areas. Norway has some of the strictest drug laws in Europe, and public discussion of drugs has been very moralistic. During the last year, however, several lawyers and even a public prosecutor called for new policies. Some impatient Green Party members think a radical stance on drugs would help the party reach a broader audience. Others are afraid the Party will be "tainted," and say the voters will be scared away by immoral attitudes.

Growing slowly

At the local elections in 1991 Greens entered a number of local councils, mainly in medium sized cities and towns, but the parliamentary elections in 1993 were downright depressing. Even prominent party members did not vote for the Greens, but for the SP or SV, to strengthen the number of anti-EU seats in parliament. Votes for the Green Party slumped to 0.1% (!) At local elections in 1995, things picked up a bit. The Greens kept their seats in the medium sized cities, and even gained a couple of new seats in places like Tromsoe, but there was no breakthrough in Oslo, which is where political news is made.

So, after eight years the Norwegian Green Party has established itself in a number of local communities, but made no impact on the national political scene. Membership has been constant at about 400, many scattered around the country, but a few clusters of people here and there. These small groups have mostly appeared where some local environmental issue has been ignored by the other parties.

In Trondheim, where the main party office is located, the SV lost their credibility after voting in the city council to close down the local tram lines. In 1997 there is a general election. The new party program will be discussed at the congress in March, and we expect to present candidates in all constituencies. But the chances of entering parliament are decidedly slim. One possibility has however arisen in the southern county of Vest-Agder where our candidate Birte Simonesn may head a list supported not only by the Greens, but also by two other left-wing groups (SV and RV). Last year Birte entered the county council supported by the Maoists of RV. She just might do even better in 1997.

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