Writer and politician Mímir Kristjánsson in Stavanger, the oil capital of Norway.Statue Andrea Rocha

    Mímir Kristjánsson walks on the quayside past a cruise ship that towers over the historic center of Stavanger. In summer not a day goes by without a huge holiday ship mooring here and thousands of tourists scattering like a patch through the center, the seagulls in their wake. Bicycles and Segways are available on the quay with which those on board can discover the city. If you want, you can have your picture taken with a badly dressed Viking.

    Not everyone is happy with the visitors. Kristjánsson (35), a Norwegian writer and politician, points out the white wooden houses in the historic center. ‘Many residents have waited years for a chance to live here. Now they can’t see the sea because of the cruise ships.’

    The record stands at 280 cruise ships in one year; more are expected this year. According to Kristjánsson, it is a symbol for Norway, where dissatisfaction is increasing despite all the prosperity. The Norwegians may be number one in all kinds of country lists, according to Kristjánsson something is wrong. ‘It is a decaying process of 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 (Red) managed to pass the 4 percent electoral threshold. No new party had succeeded in that in decades. Now the Marxists have eight representatives in parliament.

    Tourists in the port of Stavanger.  Statue Andrea Rocha

    Tourists in the port of Stavanger.Statue Andrea Rocha

    Kristjánsson, father of two children, is one of the best known. He was a journalist and news chief 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 gained national fame when he entered the reality show in 2020 Farm celebrityin which famous Norwegians discover farm life.

    We speak to Kristjánsson about the enigma of a communist party gaining a foothold in prosperous Norway, which is seen worldwide as a social-democratic mecca. Many Americans think that the country is already under communist rule.

    During the conversation we walk through his birth and place of residence Stavanger. The first stop is the oil museum and the playground next door. No seesaw 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 find it hard to hate 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. Mirrored offices have risen above the historic wooden buildings. The oil and gas extraction made Norway a ‘dirty rich’ country, says Kristjánsson. A rapidly rising money meter in the museum shows how fast the crowns are pouring 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 Environmental Party wants to stop using it in 2035. Rødt had an end date of 2030, but canceled it before the elections. The party thus became an alternative for left-wing voters who found the Environmental Party too radical.

    This twist is mainly the work of Kristjánsson, whom 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 will lose their jobs. Many people elsewhere in the country do not realize this. When I lived in Oslo, I noticed that they are not very positive about the oil industry there. That also has to do with the fact that the production of all kinds of goods has disappeared from sight.’

    Cruise ships arrive in Stavanger almost daily.  Statue Andrea Rocha

    Cruise ships arrive in Stavanger almost daily.Statue Andrea Rocha

    What is your alternative?

    ‘I am against the search and exploitation of new oil fields. That’s pretty radical here. Look, the people of Stavanger are really not climate deniers. They know it has to stop at some point. But they are concerned 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. It is certain that we will become less filthy rich, but that is not so bad. We’re really not going to be Somalia.’

    We drink coffee on the terrace in the refurbished harbor district, full of shops, restaurants and coffee shops. Kristjánsson says that Rødt’s electoral success came at the expense of the Norwegian Workers’ Party, traditionally the largest in the country. 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 with?

    ‘Like elsewhere in Europe, we had a wave of privatization here in the 1990s, combined with tax cuts. Since then, inequality has increased. The percentage of rich 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 second is: we have no inequality here.

    ‘More and more people are realizing that this is not true. The leader of the Workers’ Party comes from a family of successful businessmen. He’s super rich. When he was young, he applied to a right-wing party. Only later did he become a social democrat. His predecessor had a father who was a minister. That’s how you become detached from the problems of ordinary people.’

    Some figures prove Kristjánsson right. Since the early 1990s, the average income of the richest 10 percent of Norwegians has exploded, from 56 thousand euros per year to 172 thousand euros. In the lowest income groups, the income rose from 14 thousand to 27 thousand euros. On the other hand, 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 that’s part of it. This increases inequality. This is not included in the basic insurance, because that 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 don’t have to convince them of the ideology, but it does form the basis of our politics 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’s not so much about ideological purity, but about the role you play in society. It is right that people should be wary of a party that flirted with Mao and Stalin in the 1970s. But the core is that we fight against inequality.’

    Mímir Kristjánsson Statue Andrea Rocha

    Mimir KristjanssonStatue Andrea Rocha

    What would Rodt do differently?

    ‘Higher taxes on wealth and inheritance instead of on work. The rich obviously hate that. In addition, we are committed to the rights of workers. Many employers get rich by exploiting employees. I don’t know how much we would expropriate civilians, but all raw materials belong to the state, including oil. The state must buy up all shares and take companies off the stock exchange.’

    In an article for Jacobin, 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 had said during the campaign that he would buy a single plane ticket to North Korea for every Rødt 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 it is still seen as un-Norwegian to be rich. Hagen always speaks of the so-called rich. He has benefited immensely in recent decades. At the same time, he is complaining 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 walked over to him, tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Do you want to be the father of my child?”

    The man, an Icelander, president of the Iceland-China Friendship Association would become Kristjánsson’s father. They are now divorced and his father is back in his native country. His mother lives in a flat near Kristjánsson. They have a lot of contact, also because she is still ill. When Kristjánsson was 15, the cancer came back. His mother became incapacitated for work and had to apply for benefits.

    That process turned out to have a major impact on Kristjánsson. He wrote a book about it: My mother is on benefits† ‘What I saw in her, you see in many European countries. People on benefits not only have little money, they are suspicious in advance because they would not want to work or would lie about their illness. They come every month to get their benefits. I’ve really never met anyone like that. Most people on benefits would rather work than me. They are at home, lack social interaction and are sick.’

    In the harbor of Stavanger.  Statue Andrea Rocha

    In the harbor of Stavanger.Statue Andrea Rocha

    What does this 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 different. She used to be a teacher and I know how enterprising she could be. But her benefits are decreasing in value, the fixed costs and the medicines are becoming more expensive, while her social network has shrunk. The state says: we will 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 that make you emotional?

    ‘Yes, but it doesn’t matter. You know, there’s too little emotion in politics. Politicians are usually trained from an early age. They must always be rational. But it’s like building a city in the computer game SimCity without caring about the inhabitants.’

    Trillion

    In Norway, the ‘Dutch Disease’ is a household name: the phenomenon that, after the discovery of natural gas, the Netherlands began to thrive, saw the value of its currency rise and subsequently price itself out of the market. The Norwegians therefore decided to put their oil profits in an investment fund. With over a trillion euros, this fund is now one of the largest in the world. The government is only allowed to reap only 4 percent of the value of the fund each year. The investment profit is often higher – and so the money keeps accumulating.

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