Norway – the view from Sri Lanka

Utopian Fantasies

Mankind cannot bear too much reality. People who are unhappy in the now of where they live delude themselves that there is a better life  elsewhere. Utopia might be located in an after-life or it might be in a different part of this planet, or another time in history. I recall that in the 1960s Professor Joan Robinson was telling us that Mao  had it all sorted and we  should try to emulate Communist China. C Wright Mills told us capitalism was doomed and  Castro had found a way to make Marxism human- look what a great health service Cuba has! In the 70s, I studied a fat compendium of essays arguing that worker participation in Tito’s Yugoslavia could teach Britain how to solve its industrial problems. For a while, Costa Rica, which does not have a standing army, seemed heaven on earth. Only yesterday, I read in Huffington Post that Bhutan had all the answers, with its concept of Gross National Happiness. Someone commented: “I am Bhutanese, and I think the Bhutanese government has been milking this happines­s thing for all it’s worth. .. The Bhutanese government should realize the special nature of their situation before it goes around promoting resolution­s, or telling other countries how they should  rank happiness in their list of priorities­”.

I recall reading of a survey that said Ireland was the happiest place on earth. That was before the economy went down the toilet and the industrial scale of the Catholic church’s abuses was proved beyond doubt.

Scandinavian Utopias

Scandinavia in recent times has been the promised land. My personal knowledge of Scandinavia is limited to a brief visit to Denmark (another one-time contender for happiest nation on the globe) in the early 80s. It seemed to be entirely populated by sensible teachers and social workers in home-made clothing (apart from the raving drunks on the street). My knowledge of Sweden was gained from Ingmar Bergman films – not much joy there.

When I was blogging on Open Salon, exchanges with a blogger calling himself Norwonk were always pleasant. He was a fan of the great Tommy Cooper and was grateful when I introduced him to the works of Al Read. I was surprised to learn that British comedy was popular in  Norway, with Norwegian versions of Steptoe and Son and Hancock’s Half Hour.

Norwonk was understandably shocked by recent events in Norway: “I suppose I should give you some kind of unique Norwegian insight into the terror attack but I’m sorry: I’ve got nothing. This attack makes no sense to any sane person. There’s a political motive, to be sure, but not one which sane people would identify with. I just hope this is a signal to my country to not change at all. Sure, if there are some simple and sensible measures we can take to improve our security, we should do so. But frankly, I doubt it. “

There is a good deal of delusion about the success of the Scandinavian social democracies. It is true that in Norway women occupy 40% of important jobs.  It is true that justice minister Knut Storberget and children’s minister Audun Lysbakken are able, like ordinary citizens, to take generous time-off for paternity leave.

Domestic Terrorism in USA and Norway

Norway and the USA are nations that had not had much experience of domestic terrorism. Norway did experience war on the home front when it was occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War. “Nothing like this has been seen in the history of the country,” says Kjetil Wiedswang, columnist for the newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv. “There has never been a massacre like this, even in the period of the Nazi occupation. The nation is in absolute shock.”

There has been some discussion on the internet about proportional comparisons between the incident in Norway and America’s experience with 9/11. “In proportional terms Norway has lost more people than America did on 9/11, and most of them are young, between 13 and 19” wrote Neil Tweedie  in the Daily Telegraph.  Daniel Byman writing in Foreign Policy magazine: “This may yet turn out to be Norway’s 9/11 or its Oklahoma City. But the scene of destruction in downtown Oslo does invite the question: why haven’t there been more large-scale terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland?” In 2006, Slate contributor Jordan Ellenberg questioned the logic of such comparisons. “It’s hard for Americans to comprehend what’s happening in the Middle East. That’s why commentators reach for analogies. What event in the United States would be ‘equivalent’ to the terror over there? The answer depends on what you mean by ‘equivalent’. Is it, ‘What crime in America is morally equal to the killing of eight Israelis?’ Or do you mean something more like, ‘What event would have the impact on America that the killing of eight Israelis does on Israel?’ The first question is easier. Unless you truly think Israeli lives are worth more or less than our own, the crime that’s equivalent to the murder of eight Israelis is the murder of eight Americans.”

April 19 2011, marked  the 16th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people. Timothy J. McVeigh, a decorated army veteran, was executed on June 11, 2001.  David Cole, a professor at Georgetown University’s Law Centre, says that “terrorism”  is normally defined as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.” The Oklahoma attack prompted a broadening of the definition. “If you can brand your foes as terrorists, that’s an important moral and political victory,” says Brian M. Jenkins, a terrorism expert.  “Bombs by their nature are indiscriminate weapons, and the issue is, why is it legitimate to drop a lot of bombs on a city, knowing full well that hundreds of thousands of innocents may be killed, but not legitimate to set off a bomb in a city in which scores may be killed?” The reaction to the Oklahoma bombing set in train a series of encroachments of freedom which led to the Bush regime’s use of torture so eloquently condemned in the writings of Professor Cole.

Sri Lankan View of Terror Attack in Oslo

The front page of the Sri Lankan Sunday newspaper Lakbima News carried  a picture of bloodied Norwegians with the headline: “Talk peace with terrorists? That’s in Lanka!”

Nishanta Sri Warnasinghe, a spokesman for the Sri Lankan JHU (National Heritage) party said: “Norway is known as a peaceful, peace-loving and a democratic country. But, if you look closely, Norway is a country that intervenes in third-world countries with the intention of disturbing their democracy, peace and freedom”. He said that Norway had supported terrorism in East Timor, Indonesia, Sudan  and Sri Lanka and played to the agenda of the US and the west. “We ask them to learn their lesson and not to breed terrorism. Norway is not the only country that deserves peace. Norway should not destroy the peace of the third world”.

The Sunday Island’s political columnist made the point that the ordinary Norwegians who were killed or injured had no idea what their government had been doing in Sri Lanka. “The Norwegian government must at this time of stress abide by the principles they have been promoting overseas and they should firstly refrain from banning whatever organization that has perpetrated the bombings and shootings. They should obviously start negotiating with these disgruntled elements with a view to arriving at a political solution to the problem – whatever it is.”

This might have seemed churlish. Let me explain the background.

Norway’s Role in Sri Lanka

F Rovik, a Norwegian, of the NGO NAT (Norwegians against Terrorism),  wrote in the Asian Tribune:  “Even though the acts of terror lasted only for a day, they should get some idea of what life has been for the Sri Lankans, who lived with the Norwegian-supported LTTE (Liberation tigers of Tamil Eelam) terrorism for more than 25 years. The time is long overdue to issue a complete apology to the people of Sri Lanka and other nations where Norwegian funds have been used to prolong or create conflicts. Why can’t we use some of our wealth to compensate for the damages we were responsible in foreign countries instead of using our money to bomb Libya back to the Stone Age?”

People in Sri Lanka do not necessarily regard Norway in a favourable light. When I first came to live in Sri Lanka there was a fragile truce between government and the Tamil Tigers, who were fighting for an independent homeland in the north and east. The truce was brokered by Norway. During the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA), to the outside world it would have seemed that the Norwegian facilitators were doing a difficult job in trying to bring peace to the war-torn island and getting very little thanks for it.

The leader of the Norwegian team was Erik Solheim, currently Norway’s International Development Minister. He recently called on the UN to investigate charges of war crimes in Sri Lanka, following the screening of a video on Channel 4 purporting to show Sri Lankan soldiers shooting unarmed Tamils. The Sri Lanka government claims that the video is a fake. NAT did a thorough analysis of Eric Solheim’s autobiography, noting that the book was written at Arne Fjørtoft’s house. It is noted that Solheim admits to doing jail time for stealing from the Norwegian Air force. “Arne Fjørtoft is described by Erik Solheim as  his close friend and he thanks Mr. Fjørtoft in the prologue to his book. In his book he describes Arne Fjørtoft as a genius in handling people. Fjørtoft founded Worldview Rights, a human rights organization which was funded with 100 million kroner of Norwegian tax payer’s money. There were reports of bribes, mismanagement, fraud and huge payments to Fjørtoft. Fjørtoft and  Jon Westborg (later ambassador to Sri Lanka) had a decade-long friendship with the LTTE. In 2004, Worldview  was ordered  repay around 2.5 million kroner to Norad (Norwegian Agency for Development Co-operation), after an investigation into the  misuse of aid funds.

NAT published a report in 2007 listing the Norway’s faults in relation to Sri Lanka.[i]

The interrogation of Kumaran Padmanathan, aka ‘KP’, the LTTE’s arms procurer,  helped  to expose an international network that kept the Tigers in fighting trim. It was revealed that the Norwegian government helped the LTTE to establish relations with Eritrea, which allowed the group to purchase arms, ammunition and equipment from China on Eritrean end-user certificates and other documents. Over 90 per cent of the entire Tigers’ heavy equipment, including a range of artillery pieces and 14.5 mm anti-aircraft guns captured by the Sri Lankan army were of Chinese origin.

Erik Solheim had been directly involved in forming the Eritrean-LTTE relationship.[ii] The LTTE had used Eritrean and also North Korean end-user-certificates to procure arms from China which were smuggled in several consignments before the Sri Lanka Navy destroyed eight floating arsenals September 2006 and October 2007. Sri Lanka established diplomatic relations with Eritrea with a view to pursuing LTTE assets in that country. KP  revealed that an LTTE-owned business venture was entrusted with operating the International Airport in Asmara and that during the last leg of the war, it had been planned to smuggle the leader of the LTTE, Vellupillai Prabhakaran to Eritrea.

Many Sri Lankans have long been suspicious about Norwegian influence in their country. Eyebrows were raised when Norwegian People’s Aid, a Norwegian Government-funded NGO said its heavy earth-moving vehicles, trucks & tractors had been “stolen” by the LTTE. NPA had been implicated in smuggling arms to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. When the Sri Lanka Army captured the LTTE’s Stanley Base and other camps they found electricity generators, water pumps, tents, water dowsers belonging to INGOs. The massive bunkers could have been built with the stolen vehicles.

Norwegians were suspected of training LTTE sea tigers in Thailand. Norway provided sophisticated satellite & communication equipment to the LTTE during the 2002 CFA truce.

The SLMM (Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission) , and Norway in particular, was criticised for not being impartial and for appeasing the LTTE, who were guilty of most of the cease-fire violations (the SLMM itself ruled that, as of 30 June 2005, the  LTTE violated the CFA 3006 times, the Government 133 times). At one time the SLMM’s figures shown on its website were: Serious human rights violations committed by the LTTE= 99.89% Serious human rights violations committed by the Sri Lankan Army = 0.11%. This information was later removed.

The Norwegians initially had the support of the then  Sri Lankan president Chandrika Kumaratunga, the government, and the opposition party (UNP). After a Chinese ship was attacked off the northern Sri Lankan coast, General Trond Furuhovde, Norwegian  Head of SLMM, was recorded as  suggesting to the LTTE they  should put the blame on a “third party with stolen uniforms”. SLMM later issued a statement blaming a “third party” without naming who that third party was. On another occasion, an LTTE arms vessel escaped from the Sri Lankan navy after being warned by the SLMM by satellite phone. Even when the EU was considering proscribing the LTTE in 2006, Norway opposed it.

Phillip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, visited Sri Lanka in November 2005 and was scathing in his criticism of the way the Norwegians were handling the LTTE’s deliberately provocative  violations of the CFA.

According to NAT: “Leaders with in-depth knowledge of the LTTE wheelings and dealings accused Norway of  funding the LTTE and for Mr. Solheim for receiving LTTE help with his house purchase in Oslo. The Norwegian facilitation has had its scandals with complaints from the LTTE that the girls working in the Bangkok brothels were too doll-like. This was a major issue in Anton Balasingham Hero’s Day speech at Wembley, London. The Norwegian facilitators forgot to attend to the LTTE delegation’s liquor bill during the negotiations in Tokyo. This sent Anton Balasingham into a furious rage”. Balasingham died of kidney failure.

What were Norway’s motives in favouring and appeasing the LTTE? NAT believes there were three main reasons:

  • Securing work for the Norwegian peace industry
  • Securing votes from the Tamil Diaspora in Norway
  • Securing business for the Norwegian oil industry

Norway, according to the Tamils of the  University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) (UTHR(J)), was allowed  a disproportionately influential role in Sri Lanka,  and employed a strategy which reflected “a continuing disregard for the risks taken by members of the Tamil community struggling against the LTTE’s ruthless bid for asserting total control while demanding a political solution ensuring dignity and fair play.” (UTHR(J) claimed that Norway’s appeasement  strategy was responsible for the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadigarmar (a highly respected Tamil).

Norway began the peace process in 2002 by quite openly sidelining President Kumaratunga in favour of her long-time political adversary, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. Norway facilitated travel abroad for so-called LTTE fact-finding missions, including coaxing European representatives to meet them. Norwegian lobbying of the international community encouraged tacit support for the LTTE’s methods, and diluted or obstructed many initiatives aimed at holding it to account. The  UTHR(J), would find Norway’s benign image risible. To them Norway: “came to respect principally the LTTE’s stunning capacity for violence, which it held together by constantly attacking the humanity of its people. Its mafia-like network, which it wove to continually upgrade its destructive power under the very noses of Western governments, is allowed to go unchecked. Indeed, it was virtually rewarded with sole representation of the Tamil community. “

Norway and Ethics

Norway is not a homogeneously liberal society. The strongly anti-immigrant Progress Party is now the second largest political formation in Norway. Breivik’s voice is not a lone one pining over the fjords.

Norway has lost its international ethical niche. Norway got rich because of oil but has somehow managed to avoid the opprobrium attached to other oil explorers and exploiters. The Government Pension Fund is takes  surplus funds from Norwegian petroleum and purports to utilise them sensibly and ethically. The fund accounts for just over one  percent of all global stocks. The Fund’s Advisory Council on Ethics was established 19 November 2004 by royal decree. Companies are excluded from the fund if their conduct  is judged unethical.

Nevertheless, Norway remains one of the biggest shareholders in the controversial Indonesian logging and palm oil group Sinar Mas, with, according to its most recent published accounts, a holding of more than $16m in Sinar Mas’s  palm oil arm, Golden Agri Resources.

The Norwegian government also invests in Burma, gaining profit from the human rights abuses of the totalitarian government which employs slave labour and summary executions.[iii]  According to a report by Earth Rights: “The Norwegian people, through their government’s sovereign wealth fund, have USD $4.7 billion invested in 15 companies – hailing from eight countries – involved in the oil and gas sector in Burma.”

“Apart from direct human rights impacts, the Shwe gas and oil transport pipelines appear to be exacerbating rising ethnic tensions in Burma’s contested borderlands, specifically in the ethnically diverse territories of Shan State.” The Shwe gas consortium and several other companies in the Fund are engaged in onshore infrastructure construction in Burma, an activity that the Norwegian Ethics Council itself determined poses an unreasonably high risk of leading to human rights violations.

Although it has a large aid programme and strongly supports the UN, in reality, it has joined the club of rich nations exploiting the planet for their own benefit. There is a failure to regulate Norwegian corporations. Mark Curtis wrote in the Guardian: “Norwegian weapons sales have tripled since 2000, reaching GBP 336 million in 2007. Norwegian arms were used by the US and Britain during the invasion of Iraq, while a lack of controls have allowed high explosives to be sold to the US and re-exported to Israel. Norway has a presence in Afghanistan and Libya.

National Geographic asks: “Why Is Japan Whaling’s Bogeyman When Norway Hunts Too?” Claire Bass, marine mammals programme  manager with the WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals), says other whaling nations appear to get off lightly compared with Japan. “I think it’s part of the strategy of countries like Norway to stand behind Japan and use them to take most of the flak”. It is strange that, in the face of opposition from around the world, a rich nation like Norway  is one of a small number of countries actively engaged in  commercial whaling, despite the negligible contribution it makes  to the economy, and despite. According to documents released by WikiLeaks, President Obama put pressure on Norway during his Nobel Peace Prize visit.


Breivik had thought about Sri Lanka. Informed sources told The Island newspaper that Breivik could have had a link with LTTE activists in Norway. In his manifesto he said  that Europe should follow Sri Lanka’s  example of expelling the Muslims. In fact, the Muslims were driven out of the north and east by the LTTE and looked after by the government. The killer’s manifesto also referred to the LTTE massacring Buddhists at Anuradhapura temple  in 1985 and the August 3, 30 Tigers attack on  four mosques in the Kattankudi area, where 300 Muslims were prostrate in prayer. The Tigers sprayed automatic fire and hurled hand grenades at the worshipers. Most of the victims were shot in the back or side. Political sources said that while Norway was funding Sri Lankan NGOs to promote the LTTE a section of Norwegian youth drew inspiration from LTTE terrorism.

Professor Rajiva Wijesinha, a Sri Lankan  MP who has been tasked with negotiating with the Tamil National Alliance,  adopts a sympathetic  approach.  “Sadly I fear that there will be a few people in Sri Lanka who see what has occurred as some sort of retribution, for what seemed excessive indulgence to terrorism… We cannot morally fault those who tried to promote solutions based on mutual understanding. There was certainly a failure of intelligence and understanding when indulgence continued long after it was clear that Tiger terrorists were incapable of compromise. The killing of the innocent is not acceptable under any circumstances, and that is what makes terrorism so abhorrent. That is why it is vital that the world works together to eliminate terror, and does not allow it to develop, to flourish, to be revived.”

While one has every sympathy for the innocent Norwegian citizens who suffered in this outrageous act , one is also dismayed by the opportunity it afforded to stoke the national myth and dangerous self-delusion that Norway is usually a paradise on earth and that the nation behaves like a paragon of virtue in the ugly reality of the world.