Stoltenberg’s odyssey wins fame

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Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg seems to have won his proverbial 15 minutes of fame, after turning a harrowing journey home to Norway into an interesting experiment in political use of social media.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg with his iPad at the airport in New York. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet.no

As Views and News has reported earlier, Stoltenberg was among the millions stranded all over the world when Iceland’s volcano first started halting air traffic. He was in New York, finally got a flight to Madrid and then to Basel.

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that once in Switzerland, the local Norwegian embassy got hold of a car, allowing the prime minister and his aides to drive the rest of the way to Oslo.

It’s a long trip, and Stoltenberg quickly admitted he wasn’t used to being cooped up in a car for hours and hours. He made the best of it, though, making phone calls, sending text messages and fiddling with a new iPad that he’d bought in the US.

Social media savvy

On the road in Germany. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet.no

Both Stoltenberg and his Labour Party in Norway have long made use of social media like Facebook and Twitter, not least during last year’s election campaign. Now, forced to sit in a car for hours on German highways, Stoltenberg used the time to send lots of tweets on Twitter, and communicate with his “friends” on Facebook as well.

Stoltenberg reported, for example, that he’d just been on the phone with Iceland’s prime minister, and learned the International Monetary Fund had agreed to a new loan for the battered country. “That was good news,” Stoltenberg concluded.

He and his aides stopped for gas and “to stretch their legs” at Statoil stations, and Stoltenberg seized the opportunity to write that Statoil, majority-owned by the Norwegian government, was “a well-managed company with good owners.” He also said he was trying to cheer up Statoil chief executive Helge Lund, who was stuck in Munich at the time.

Reminiscing, and tips

Jens in Hamburg. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet.no

While driving through Flensburg, Stoltenberg wrote that his father Thorvald Stoltenberg (a former foreign minister for Norway) had served there with Norway’s “German Brigade” after the war, in 1950. Stoltenberg also asked his followers for tips on spots to stop and eat, after which he could report that he ate a very good dinner of Norwegian salmon at the highly recommended Laxbutiken in Falkenberg, Sweden.

He aired some political thoughts while driving past Trollhättan, home of troubled Swedish carmaker SAAB. Many Norwegians, he noted, have worked at SAAB, and now many Swedes work in Norway. “Common labour markets are good,” he noted.

He also couldn’t resist boasting that his government has doubled funding for the railroad in Norway and is boosting funding for maintenance of Norwegian highways.

Best PR since Lillehammer
All told, the long journey and brainstorming it induced ended up giving Stoltenberg and Norway the most positive public relations since the Olympics at Lillehammer, claimed an aide. American and British media picked up the story of Stoltenberg’s long trip, as have numerous blogs around the world.

One local commentator wrote in newspaper Dagsavisen that perhaps the government should send Stoltenberg out on an Interrail trip at least once a year. Stoltenberg sent a final message to his fellow government minister, Kristin Halvorsen, saying the long trip had been “surprisingly good,” not least thanks to all the nice folks on Facebook.

He said that claims he was running the country from his new iPad, however, were greatly exaggerated.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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