Knut Storberget, Norway’s recently embattled Minister of Justice, has been on sick leave since late February, when he collapsed after months of severe pressure on the job. Now his sick leave has been extended by at least another two weeks.
Storberget, age 44, was rushed to an Oslo hospital after collapsing at the end of another difficult day. Storberget has been hammered by opposition politicians of late, most recently over an admittedly clumsy proposal to incorporate a head scarf (hijab) into the Norwegian police uniform for those desiring it. Storberget later withdrew the proposal after a storm of protest.
Storberget (photo at right) has also been sharply criticized for proposing to extend the maximum term for the country’s police chief to 12 years, a move that would allow current Police Director Ingelin Killengreen to continue. Storberget, who as justice minister functions as the head of Norway’s state police, has furthermore fund himself in a heated conflict with the union representing police officers over issues ranging from pay to work hours.
A former member of parliament for the Labour Party, Storberget has even been under pressure from fellow members of Norway’s Labour-led coalition government. In January he had to front a proposal from the small Center Party that dealt with criminalizing blasphemy. The Center Party ended up dropping the proposal when even religious groups opposed it, and party leaders have since regretted what amounted to an embarrassment for the government.
It apparently became too much for Storberget, who was released from an Oslo hospital on February 27 and ordered to rest. He has stayed out of the public eye but reportedly has sent messages to government colleagues that he was in good spirits and feeling better.
Storberget, married with two children, follows a long line of Norwegian politicians who have collapsed and even died on the job. Foreign ministers Knut Frydenlund and Johan Jørgen Holst both suffered fatal strokes, former Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik suffered a bout of much-publicized depression, and the current president of Norway’s parliament, Thorbjørn Jagland, collapsed in the midst of a struggle over the Labour Party’s leadership.
“I would advise Storberget to take the time necessary to relax,” Jagland told newspaper Dagsavisen. “It’s entirely up to the individual what’s needed. The most important thing is that he gets some peace.”
Minister of Culture Trond Giske will continue to oversee the justice ministry during Storberget’s absence.