Nini Stoltenberg dead at 51

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UPDATED: She battled drug addiction for years and then illness. On Sunday, Nini Stoltenberg, the youngest member of one of Norway’s most high-profile and politically active families, died at the age of 51. 

Nini Stoltenberg with her brother Jens (left) when she and father Thorvald (right) received a prize from the Salvation Army in 2002. PHOTO: NTB Scanpix/Arash A Nejad

Nini Stoltenberg with her brother Jens (left) when she and their father Thorvald (right) received a prize from the Salvation Army in 2002. PHOTO: NTB Scanpix/Arash A Nejad

“Nini was a fantastic person, and it’s a great sorrow that she’s now left us,” her father Thorvald Stoltenberg, a former foreign minister and defense minister, told state broadcaster NRK when confirming the death on Wednesday. She was the younger sister of Jens Stoltenberg, the former prime minister who has been named as new secretary general of NATO, and Camilla Stoltenberg, a doctor who also is head of Norway’s state health directorate. Her mother Karin Stoltenberg, who died two years ago, was also a top politician and women’s rights activist.

It was among life’s ironies that a member of such a prominent and highly successful family would become most well-known for being a heroin addict and, later, for playing a role in attempting to reform Norway’s drug laws and treatment. The family and Nini herself went public with her addiction in 2001 and she has described how people from homes full of resources and love can also fall into the trap of narcotics.

‘Disproving how successful I was’
“I smoked my first hash pipe when I was only around 12-13 years old,” she once told newspaper VG. “The first time I sniffed heroin was a few years later.” She said she managed to stay away from drugs for “many, many years” after that, despite youthful rebellion that included her participation in an illegal house occupation while her father was Norway’s defense minister and the family was under police protection because of threats.

“It was my way of being politically active,” Nini Stoltenberg told VG. “I guess I took on the job of offsetting what everyone else in the family was doing. I think I wanted to disprove the image of how successful I was.”

She nonetheless studied law and was working at NRK when, at an age of 27, she became a heroin addict in the early 1990s. “You don’t become addicted the first, second or third time you try heroin,” she said. “But it’s just so good. It replaces food, love and sadness, unfortunately joy also. You don’t need anything else. And because of that, you try it several more times. And then one day you wake up in the morning and you have to have it, not to get that good feeling, but just to manage to get up. Then the good feelings are over, and addiction has developed from drug use to a life-long illness.”

Addict turned activist
After her addiction became known, and she went through rehab programs, she and her live-in partner Karljohn Sivertzen became activists for what they called “more humane” drug policies in Norway. She was part of an expert group formed by the center-right government headed by Kjell Magne Bondevik of the Christian Democrats party through which she proposed access to heroin by prescription and decriminalization of cannabis. The proposals weren’t embraced. Her father called her his “most important adviser” when he also became an adviser on narcotics policies in 2011.

The drug use clearly took its toll. Sivertzen died last year and Nini Stoltenberg fell ill, appearing skeletal at times. Her brother Jens spoke fondly of her in a recent interview when he stepped down as leader of the Norwegian Labour Party in June: “We shared a room as kids,” he told VG. “Nini taught me about Norwegian society seen from below. There has been a lot of pain tied to her problems with drugs, but it never got in the way of a close and good relationship.” Funeral arrangements were set for Monday August 18 at Uranienborg Church in Oslo.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund