Norway’s former prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, has still been making headlines in his homeland, and not just because of his job as top boss at NATO. It’s his new autobiography that’s raising eyebrows, both because of its content and the lucrative deal Stoltenberg cut to write it.
First came Stoltenberg’s revelations and comments about fellow politicians from his long career at the top of the Labour Party and state government. He has candidly admitted to resorting to back-room dealing in his attempt to take over as both Labour’s prime minister candidate and leader of the party itself, which ended up unseating the former leader, Thorbjørn Jagland, who now heads the Council of Europe.
Then came more evaluations of specific individuals, some of them nice, some of them not so nice, and perhaps the most surprising of all: Stoltenberg’s admission that he’s quite sure he had contact with the former Soviet Union’s KGB officer in Oslo.
Over a period of several years, Stoltenberg wrote in his book entitled Min historie (My story), he regularly met the cultural attaché at the Soviet embassy in Oslo over shrimp sandwiches at one of the city’s oldest restaurants, Stortorvets Gjæstgiveri. Stoltenberg was convinced that the attaché, Boris Kirillov, was really working for the KGB.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that it later was confirmed that Kirillov was a Soviet spy and officer in the KGB who had one main mission: To recruit politicians and other Norwegians as agents and confidential contacts.
Stoltenberg wrote that he and Kirillov had contact through the last half of the 1980s, with Stoltenberg describing Kirillov as “a knowledgeable and interesting conversation partner.” He said he later found out that his contact with Kirillov resulted in the Soviets compiling a file on him, in which he was called “Steklov.” According to NRK’s investigative program Brennpunkt, such files were compiled when a potential recruit had advanced into a higher level of “cultivation” or already was viewed as a “confidential contact.”
Stoltenberg, who grew up with a diplomat father, was used to “the whole world” coming and going in the Stoltenberg family’s homes, often in the old East Bloc. “Thorvald (his father) thought we should talk to everyone, that way we could understand each other better,” Stoltenberg wrote. “And he said ‘the best was to talk with the KGB. They have the smartest people, and the best contacts in Moscow.’ But you of course had to be careful about what you said.”
At the time of his meetings with Kirillov, Stoltenberg held no government office and was not privvy to classified information. “I was never worried about saying too much, because I didn’t know any state secrets,” Stoltenberg wrote. He had also told a top official in the defense department about his meetings and, eventually, Norway’s police intelligence agency (called POT at the time).
“One day a representative of POT came to my office (at the state statistics bureau SSB at the time),” Stoltenberg wrote. “He asked me to meet Kirillov, tell him we knew who he was and find out whether he had any interest in defecting.” So, feeling like he “was a character in a spy novel,” Stoltenberg wrote that he made the requested attempt but was unsuccessful. He never met Kirillov again.
Book selling well, in ‘disloyal’ deal
That story is one of many being highlighted from Stoltenberg’s book, which is selling well in Norway and already into its second printing, even at a price of NOK 449 (USD 54). The terms of Stoltenberg’s book deal with publishing firm Gyldendal have also generated headlines, after newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that Stoltenberg used his wealthy broker friend Knut Brundtland (son of former Labour Party Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland) to negotiate its terms. In the end, Stoltenberg reportedly secured himself a deal that pays him much better royalties than what other Norwegian authors receive through a form of collective bargaining agreement.
Stoltenberg since has been criticized in the Norwegian press for “lacking solidarity” with other authors and even undermining the standard royalty agreement in Norway. Some newspapers have editorialized that Stoltenberg’s deal is at odds with his own Labour Party principles. One veteran publishing executive, former Aschehoug boss William Nygaard, called Stoltenberg “disloyal” towards other authors.
Brundtland won’t comment on the details of the work he did for Stoltenberg, who also has declined comment on the book deal controversy.