Apartheid fight flares in Parliament

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Norway’s Parliament (Storting) opened its session on Monday with its president, Olemic Thommesen of the Conservatives, making a tribute to the late South African President Nelson Mandela. That ended up setting off a nasty quarrel after the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) was asked to apologize for its earlier alleged support for the apartheid regime that held Mandela as a political prisoner for 27 years.

Bård Vegar Solhjell, outgoing environmental minister, reportedly didn't want any announcement on Mongstad's fate until an alternative carbon capture plan was in place. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Bård Vegar Solhjell of the Socialist Left party (SV) spent time on Monday reminding fellow Members of Parliament about what he sees as the Progress Party’s lack of strong opposition to the former apartheid regime in South Africa. Progress Party members loudly objected. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Accusations flew from the speakers’ podium in the parliament, with MP Bård Vegar Solhjell reminding his colleagues of  the Progress Party’s skepticism at the time towards other Norwegian parties’ condemnation of the apartheid system.

“Nelson Mandela was probably our time’s greatest freedom fighter, and Norway did a lot towards contributing to the end of the apartheid regime,” said Solhjell. “But Frp was skeptical to much of those policies, and Frp went a long way towards supporting the apartheid regime.”

He added that the Progress Party, which now shares government power in Norway for the first time, should admit that they were wrong, demanding from the podium that party officials apologize for the attitudes they had towards South Africa. “Now when everyone is hailing Mandela, it would be appropriate for them to say that it was correct to get rid of apartheid,” Solhjell told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

Solhjell also referred to a book written by a former intelligence agent in South Africa, in which the agent claimed that the Progress Party’s election campaign in 1973 was partially financed by the apartheid regime. “That may be wrong, but Frp should open its archives and let the historians examine these claims,” Solhjell said.

Furious response
Solhjell’s comments infuriated Progress Party officials, with MP Kristian Norheim of Frp calling them “drastic” at best.

“It’s way over the top for Solhjell to bring this up now,” Norheim responded from the podium. “I ask Solhjell to document that Anders Lange’s Party (the forerunner of today’s Progress Party/Frp) accepted support from South Africa, or just shut up. He can’t make these kind of accusations without documentation.”

Norheim, who often serves as Frp’s spokesman on international issues, added that his party already has opened its archives. “And Solhjell is heartily welcome to go into our archive and read until his eyes become wide-open and wet. Maybe he’ll find some good things there, too.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund