She was the sister of a Norwegian prime minister and the daughter of one of the country’s former defense ministers and foreign ministers. Nini Stoltenberg was also a heroin addict who struggled with her own success and that of her famous family’s over the years. On Monday she was laid to rest, after dying late last month at the age of 51.
“You will always be my little sister,” said Jens Stoltenberg, the former prime minister who’s about to take over as secretary general of NATO. “I miss you, dear Nini.”
Stoltenberg, who along with other members of the family spoke movingly of Nini at her funeral in Oslo, said that one of his tasks as her big brother was to braid Nini’s hair when they were young. “I was more than likely a reserve candidate for the job, but I viewed it as a great declaration of her confidence in me, ” Stoltenberg said before a packed Uranienborg Church Monday afternoon. “Nini’s life is braided together with various threads, some dark and some light.”
His daughter Catharina, Nini’s niece, sang at the funeral and their father and grandfather, former defense minister, foreign minister and ambassador Thorvald Stoltenberg also spoke. “This is the worst sorrow I’ve ever had,” said the eldest Stoltenberg, who also lost his wife Karin two years ago. “This is so utterly meaningless, that she would die before me, who was her parent.” He was so crushed by her death that he delayed a public announcement of it for three days.
He had spent many an anguished night worrying about his drug-addicted daughter, even searching for her along with Jens late at night on the streets of Oslo, not least before she went public with her addiction herself in 2001 and underwent drug rehabilitation. She helped put a human face on drug addiction, showing how it can happen in the most successful, resourceful and high-profile families.
“And Nini, you and I knew all through those difficult years how much we loved one another,” Thorvald Stoltenberg said, speaking directly to her flower-draped casket. “That love will never disappear. Thank you so much for that.”
Nini Stoltenberg also became an outspoken advocate of reform of Norway’s drug laws. She maintained that drug addiction was an issue that should be dealt with by the health ministry, not the justice ministry, and she lobbied for heroin-assisted treatment and for the legalization of hash. Her father, one of the most politically connected people in Norway, later took up some of her causes but there’s been no legalization of cannabis, nor was there during her own brother’s eight years as prime minister and when her family’s Labour Party had firm control of both the justice and health ministries. Her older sister, Camilla, is a doctor who heads Norway’s public health institute.
Remembered by many
Nini Stoltenberg was also active in the Labour Party in her youth, and in more radical political movements including house occupations when she was young. She later studied law and worked in the media, including several years at Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). Yet she drifted into drugs, saying herself that heroin made her “feel so good,” until it quickly took command of her life and destroyed her health.
Her funeral was attended by many top politicians, Labour Party officials and former government ministers including Gro Harlem Brundtland, Jonas Gahr Støre, Knut Storberget and Åse Kleveland from Labour. Former Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the US Knut Vollebæk was also there, as was the chairman of Norway’s largest bank, Rune Bjerke, who was Jens Stoltenberg’s best man at his wedding.
“It’s important that Nini isn’t only remembered as a drug addict,” her older brother Jens Stoltenberg told them all at her funeral. “She was so much more.”