He was being called the “chieftain of the left” but also won respect from opponents on the right. Berge Furre, who helped found Norway’s Socialist Left party (SV) and played a key role in keeping Norway out of the European Union, died this week at an age of 78.
Politicians of all persuasions were paying homage to the man whom Dagsavisen commentator Arne Strand described as “outstanding in many ways:” He was an avowed socialist but also a practicing Christian, Strand noted, an “internationalist with roots firmly planted in the Norwegian farmers’ community.”
He was born in the rural West Coast county of Ryfylke and went on to become an author, researcher, professor and politician. He was among the students in the 1950s who got a majority of the Labour Party’s Members of Parliament to sign a document calling on Norway to veto NATO’s plans to place nuclear weapons in West Germany during the Cold War.
The campaigns for peace and disarmament were among the most important issues to him and he eventually broke with Labour, at odds with the party over his determination to make Norway as independent as possible of the power blocs formed by the US and the former Soviet Union. He helped found both the Sosialistisk Folkeparti SF (Socialist People’s Party) in 1961, which was radically opposed to the war in Vietnam and NATO, and was active in campaigning against joining the European Community (later EU) in the referendum of 1972.
His side won and the anti-EC/EU campaign continued, with the radical breakaway members of Labour, Norway’s communist party NKP, SF and socialists who weren’t members of any party ultimately winning representation in Parliament under the SV banner, formed in Trondheim in 1975.
NKP broke out on its own again just a year later but Furre’s cooperation with NKP was enough to make him a target of massive illegal surveillance carried out during the Cold War years. One of Furre’s triumphs years later was when he headed a commission investigating the surveillance, and found the file compiled on himself.
‘Pillar of SV’
“It was with great sorrow that we received the message on the passing of Berge Furre,” SV leader Audun Lysbakked stated on the party’s website. “A pillar in the history of SV and in Norwegian society and spiritural life is gone.”
He had been suffering from probable Alzheimer’s disease for several years, but was still able to help biographer and editor Frank Rossavik gather information for his book on SV in 2010. “We would meet at the Bristol Hotel,” Rossavik wrote in newspaper Aftenposten on Wednesday. “He wanted to contribute, but it demanded a lot of him. He could answer very concentrated for around 10 minutes. Then he’d eat some cake and carry on for another 10 minutes. Then he’d look at me with a resigned gaze and crooked smile, and we’d arrange another meeting.”
Rossavik is convinced that without Berge Furre, Norway would likely have joined the EU and SV wouldn’t have risen to be a force in Norwegian politics. Furre was only a Member of Parliament for one term, from 1973 to 1977, but made the most of it to influence farming policy and secure farmers income development in line with industrial workers. He was party leader for SV from 1976 to 1983.
Funeral arrangements were pending.