At first he laughed it off, but now Thorbjørn Jagland is firing back at what he calls “gross claims” against him in a new book about the people behind the Nobel Peace Prize. Jagland, who led the Norwegian Nobel Committee for five years and remains a member, is furious with the book’s author, the committee’s recently retired secretary Geir Lundestad.
“No one could expect that I would simply stay quiet about this, or not say anything for 10 years,” Jagland told newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday. He claims, in a statement released Wednesday night, that Lundestad has written “lies” and made “injurious” statements in his new book that’s been making headlines in Norway since it was released last week.
Jagland, a former Norwegian prime minister who also heads the Council of Europe, clearly feels a need to defend himself. It’s difficult without breaking the same vows of confidentiality that Lundestad has been accused of violating. Jagland thus mounts, with the blessing of his fellow Nobel Committee members, a careful but forceful defense tied to his two biggest complaints about the book: Lundestad’s claims that Jagland didn’t write his own speeches (which Jagland calls “a lie”) and Lundestad’s suggestion that Jagland dropped hints about who would be winning the Nobel Peace Prize to the press. The latter, Jagland claims, “isn’t just crude, it’s injurious.”
The former leader of the committee, who was demoted earlier this year when the political balance of power on the committee shifted, claims he spent “hours, days and weeks” crafting his speeches. As a former elected official, he said he believed strongly that the Parliament and the people should hear his voice, not that of a secretary. “It was me who had received a mandate from the people,” Jagland said. “I followed the same principle on the Nobel committee.”
As for Lundestad’s suggestion that Jagland “hinted” about potential prize winners, Jagland flatly denied guilt. He said he has “speculated” himself about how Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), for example, happened to be in the offices of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague on the day it won the Peace Prize in 2013. “There have been such examples through the years,” Jagland said. “I have speculated how that could happen. I have no answer, but it wasn’t a consequence for any hint from me.”
Putting Lundestad in his place
The most damning comment made in Jagland’s defense and stated fury against Lundestad touched on something that also has come up repeatedly during the past week of controversy and heavy media coverage of Lundestad’s book. It was “demanding,” Jagland claims, to get Lundestad to understand that he was merely a secretary to the committee and a bureaucrat within the Nobel Institute, not a “sixth member” of the committee itself.
Commentators have suggested the same, that Lundestad often seemed to place himself above the committee he served. He was known for bossing around the media (he often belittled and scolded journalists during Nobel press conferences) and now he’s unleashed a torrent of critical characterizations of committee members themselves, and their work. Several commentators in Norway have written that Lundestad had an unusually high opinion of himself, and that led to his belief that he was entitled to publish his opinions and observations after 25 years at the Nobel Institute.
Jagland called it “shocking” that Lundestad “exploited” an “imbalance” between his interpretation of the secrecy that’s meant to bind both committee members and the secretary’s position. “We (committee members) held open discussions in good faith,” Jagland wrote in his statement. “We never knew that the secretary (Lundestad), who was bound by the same oath of confidentiality, intended to make references from our meetings and conversations. HE violates the oath (to create the impressions he wanted to), but WE can’t correct him because we’re bound by the oath.” Jagland suggested that if all bureaucrats were allowed to freely write about and “slander” their government ministers as soon as they quit, it would “destroy our civilized democratic lives. Everyone would be afraid of everyone.”
The Nobel committee, which released a statement earlier this week accusing Lundestad of breaking his oath of confidentiality, clearly feels that Lundestad has violated their trust. Jagland himself wrote that while it was demanding to remind Lundestad about his role at the Nobel Institute, “I never expected it would end in such fury and scolding.”
‘Very strong words’
Lundestad, who also was kicked out of the office at the Institute that the committee had allowed him to continue to use, has repeatedly denied that he broke his oath of confidentiality. He told Aftenposten, after Jagland released his furious statement, that he had not written anything “injurious,” adding that he thinks Jagland “used some very strong words.”
He distanced himself from Jagland’s reaction. “I tried to draw a balanced portrait of Jagland, but it’s an open conversation,” Lundestad said. “I have to accept that now Jagland is carrying on an open conversation. Folks need to read the book and make their own conclusions.” He later told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that “most of what Jagland is angry about, is not in the book.”
The book’s publisher, Kagge Forlag, also denied any injurious content and said Jagland erred in his reaction. “It’s not written in the book that Jagland failed to work with his speeches,” publisher Erling Kagge told Aftenposten. Nor, he said, is it written that Jagland revealed who would win the prize. “To claim that someone may have hinted is not libellous,” Kagge said.