Gro earns a statue herself

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While Hollywood was awarding an Oscar for actress Meryl Streep’s portrayal of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Norway’s own “Iron Lady” was winning a statue of sorts herself. Former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland is now mounted in bronze on a pedestal outside the board room at her old Labour Party headquarters.

Former prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland makes a point about her new bust to her husband, Arne Olav Brundtland (right) while the current prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, smiles in the background. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

Brundtland, who served a prime minister in three separate periods for a total of more than 10 years, was a contemporary of Thatcher’s as both served during the 1980s. Brundtland was younger and at the other end of the political spectrum, but both women were political pioneers of their time.

“I hadn’t really thought about that,” Brundtland told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), after the bronze bust of herself was unveiled on Monday. “We were prime ministers at the same time. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I certainly will.”

Brundtland quickly started being called “landsmoderen” (an affectionate way of referring to her as “mother of the country”) when she left office in 1996 after a long and barrier-breaking political career. She became both Norway’s and the Nordic region’s first female prime minister in 1981. When she formed her second government in 1986, eight of 18 government ministers were women. She led the Labour Party for 11 years, until 1992, and also had been minister for environmental issues as early as 1974.

The Brundtlands flank the new bronze bust created by sculptor Kirsten Kokkin, with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg at left. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

She was educated as a doctor and also had four children with her husband Arne Olav Brundtland, a political scientist and researcher at foreign policy institute NUPI in Oslo who, much like Denis Thatcher, supported his politician wife and often traveled with her. Brundtland has stayed active and involved in world affairs, first as head of the UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO) and now as one of the UN’s Council of Elders who travel worldwide, advising leaders and helping mediate thorny issues.

Now she ranks alongside former colleagues like “the land’s father” Einar Gerhardsen and Trygve Bratteli at their party’s head office. “You got into politics as a young minister of the environment and you ended as ‘landsmoderen,’ a politician the whole world has a relation to,” said current Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg at the unveiling. He added that the years when Brundtland had his job would be remembered “as some of the most important in our party’s history.”

He said she’ll be most remembered for her work on issues related to the environment, gender equality, funding for day care and helping write Norway’s trade agreement with the European Union (EU). She’s also credited with modernizing the Labour Party “and also the country,” Stoltenberg said.

“You’ll also be remembered for the personality that you are,” Stoltenberg said with a smile. “It’s a quite determined personality, which I have learned to value.”

Brundtland, who said she was glad to get a bust of herself while still alive to see it, clearly values Stoltenberg as well. She backed him as a young government minister in the 1990s and later as party leader.

“I’m thinking about three-quarters of a century, from the time when Gerhardsen was the dominant person in Norwegian politics,” she said. “Then came me. Then came Jens.” She suggested he might get a statue of himself one day, too.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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