Culture minister failed to silence critics

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Thorhild Widvey, Norway’s new Minister of Culture from the Conservative Party, failed to satisfy members of the political opposition in Parliament this week, when she was grilled over a controversial phone call she made to a museum official in Trondheim. Widvey has admitted she shouldn’t have called him, but hasn’t fully revealed what she asked him about.

Minister of Culture Thorhild Widvey inflamed the arts community and politicians in opposition after she made a phone call she herself has regretted. She faces more questions from Members of Parliament who aren't satisfied with answers received so far. PHOTO: Kulturdepartementet

Minister of Culture Thorhild Widvey inflamed the arts community and politicians in opposition after she made a phone call she herself has regretted. She faces more questions from Members of Parliament who aren’t satisfied with answers received so far. PHOTO: Kulturdepartementet

“You learn as long as you live,” Widvey said while under questioning by politicians from the Labour and Socialist Left parties on Wednesday. “I will think twice before I call a board chairman again.”

She has claimed she merely wanted to “assemble the facts” around the text of the spring program for the Trondheim Art Museum. In it, the museum’s outgoing director Pontus Kyander described Norway’s Progress Party (the Conservatives’ coalition partner in the government formed last fall) as a “nationalistic” and “dangerous” group. That prompted the call from Widvey, which set off a wave of criticism and concern earlier this month that she was misusing her position.

On Wednesday she was summoned before Members of Parliament to answer questions about her intentions and what the MPs considered her undue meddling in the museum’s affairs. Widvey denied she’d meant to question the museum officials’ authority.

Widvey stressed that she thinks it’s important that cultural institutions, despite their funding from the state, retain freedom of expression and that she had no intention of hindering that. She declined to answer, though, whether her ministry wanted to know whether the museum leadership supported Kyander’s opinions about the Progress Party.

“That means we’ll have to ask her again, and I’ll send a new written question,” MP Arild Grande of the Labour Party told newspaper Dagsavisen on Thursday. Snorre Valen of SV wasn’t satisifed with Widvey’s answers either, and said he’ll also be submitting new questions for further grilling.

Martin Kolberg of Labour, who head the parliament’s disciplinary committee, wasn’t satisfied either and it remains possible that Widvey will also be called before the committee.

The two top directors of the museums in Trøndelag have both written newspaper commentaries lately that attempted to downplay Widvey’s call, even though one of them earlier accused Kyander of setting off “a hell of a racket.” Widvey remains in political hot water, not least within local arts circles.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund