Labour pays its respects to Birkeland

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Two former prime ministers were among those mourning the death of Turid Birkeland, who once headed the Norwegian Labour Party’s youth group AUF and served as a government minister in the mid-1990s. Birkeland, age 53, died on Christmas Eve following a lengthy illness.

The Norwegian Labour Party was mourning the death of former Culture Minister Turid Birkeland on Monday. She was 53. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

The Norwegian Labour Party was mourning the death of former Culture Minister Turid Birkeland on Monday. She was 53. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

Birkeland, who served as Culture Minister during the Labour government headed by Thorbjørn Jagland, was diagnosed with myelofibrose just over five years ago. She underwent stem cell treatment and had counted on a full recovery, even accepting a spot on Labour’s list of City Council candidates for Oslo just this past autumn.

Her brother Roar Birkeland told newspaper VG that her death was thus unexpected, even though she had been seriously ill. He said she died as the result of an infection in connection with her illness.

“The entire Labour Party is in sorrow today after Turid Birkeland’s death,” Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre told VG, after also publishing condolences in most of Norway’s major newspapers on Sunday. “We also feel much gratitude for everything she did, and for all the warmth she spread to people with whom she got involved.”

Jens Stoltenberg, the former Norwegian prime minister who now serves as secretary general of NATO, was also mourning the loss of Birkeland, as was Jagland. “Turid will be sorely missed,” Stoltenberg told VG. “She spread so much joy, and my thoughts go to her son Gabriel.” Jagland, who’d appointed her as Culture Minister in 1996, called her death “a great shock for me, and a great loss for Norwegian cultural life.”

Labour politicians weren’t the only ones paying their respects to Birkeland on Monday. Norway’s new Culture Minister Linda Hofstad Helleland of the Conservative Party said she will remember Birkeland as a “knowledgeable , engaged and sparkling cultural player in many positions. This was a sad message to receive.”

Birkeland, born in Haugesund in 1962,  had worked as a program host and cultural leader at state broadcaster NRK before joining Jagland’s government, and then became leader of the Chamber Music Festival in Risør. She also worked for Telenor in its TV division and then took over as leader of the state concert organization Rikskonsertene, after another former Labour Party minister and entertainer, Åse Kleveland.

“I met her at the Opera just a few weeks ago and was so glad,” Kleveland told VG. “She looked so well and I hoped her treatments had helped. This was a shock.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund