The Hon. Kjell Magne Bondevik (Former Prime Minister of Norway)

26.05.2010 - Interview conducted by Travis Mockler

Q1. You were in power for nearly two decades, be it the foreign minister or the prime minister of your country. How did you see Norway's role in the international community change over these two decades and did these changes to the country’s agenda come from internal dynamics or do you think they were more an acceptance of the changing environment Norway found itself in?

I have over these years seen an increased Norwegian engagement in peace and reconciliation efforts and that comes out of cooperation with NGO's humanitarian assistance and development cooperation in developing countries over many years which has given us confidence in these countries. We are not members of the European Union and there are some disadvantages, but there are also advantages in international politics. We have a more independent and free role and do not need to ask Brussels about everything, so in some cases this has been an advantage. We get very may applications requesting our involvement there and we have to say no to some of them because we have to prioritise because of limits of capacity and in some cases there can be others who can do a better job, maybe they have more competence than we have and so on but I have seen an increased Norwegian engagement and that's an asset that I hope will also be there in future.

Q2. You mentioned the Nordic model which seems to be a sound prescription for benevolent international political action, have you seen it successfully adopted elsewhere or is it something that is unique to Norway?

Maybe it's not so unique but I think we can talk about the Nordic model in that sense because we have very close cooperation between the government and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Norwegian National NGO's. The governement is also generous in funding some of these organisations and in our experiences we have seen some countries where Norway has contributed to peace agreements. It started with an NGO that had been there for many years, they had presence there they got confidence with all parties involved in the conflict and so gradually they engaged the government of Norway in the process. I remember this very well for instance from Guatemala when I was foreign minister we had the first after many years of engagement of the Norwegian Church Aid in Guatemala, they asked the government to facilitate the first peace talks between the guerillas and the government. As foreign minister I opened that meeting in 1990 and then negotiated for six years until they achieved a peace settlement. The peace settlement in Guatemala is still respected, it's working now for fourteen years and has saved many lives. The same situation occurred with North and South Sudan. Norwegian NGO's were working in Sudan and so they asked the Norwegian Ministry for Foreign Affairs to be engaged in peace efforts together with US. This led up to a peace agreement in January 2005 I remember it very well as I was the Prime Minister of Norway at that time. Peace in Sudan is working, although it's fragile as they have problems in Darfur of course but that's another part of Sudan, but the north- south is more or less working.

Q3. What past or present initiative have you been involved with in the Oslo Centre that you are most proud of?

We have three main program fields in the Oslo centre. One is about interreligious dialogue or faith and politics, especially we have been engaged in a project together with the former president of Iran Mohammed Khatami, about Islam and the West. We are finding out what we can do to reduce the stereotypes, to get rid of tensions and misunderstandings and to contribute to reconciliation. That has been very interesting and we are identifying common values, we identify differences and how we can live peacefully with them. We are especially involved now in a project about holy sites developing strategies to protect holy sites from being destroyed during conflicts, we have adopted together with others a code for holy sites which we hope one day can be a UN convention, and are working with UNESCO on that. Our second program field is about democracy and coalition building, because there have been many new democracies over the last years also in Africa which are fragile and weak. They have multiparty systems and even coalition governments in some of these countries and we have been asked to come together with national democratic institutes to share our experiences on how to run the coalition governments so they can be sustainable. We are involved in that project in Kenya, they had a violent conflict two and a half years ago so they got a grand coalition and now we try to assist them as to how it can survive. because the alternative can be a new violent conflict. We are engaged also in Somalia which is a more difficult case but the transitional government is the only chance they have until the election in 2011. We are engaged in Mongolia. The third program field is about human rights where we are involved in North Korea where we have launched two reports about the situation; about Eritrea where we have launched our own report and we are also engaged in advocacy for Burma.