The former leader of Norway’s conservative Progress Party, Carl I Hagen, has never made a secret of how much he missed politics after retiring. The now 74-year-old politician still thrives in the spotlight, grabbing it once again this week in an appearance on Russian TV that brought him more attention and criticism back home.
Hagen’s claim on Russia Today that “NATO should keep off Russia’s backyard,” and stay out of the conflict over Crimea, sparked both simple head-shaking and counter-claims that Hagen was now acting dangerously. “This can damage Norwegian interests,” editorialized newspaper Dagsavisen on Thursday, referring to Russia Today as “a TV channel owned by Russian authorities and described as a propoaganda channel for (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.”
Hagen went on to tell the Russian program’s host that he couldn’t understand why Norway and other NATO and democratic countries around the world can’t accept that Russia has taken over Crimea, where many Russians live and when many living on Crimea “want to be a part of Russia.” He was referring to a highly controversial referendum that’s been condemned by the UN’s general assembly, arguing that it instead should have been respected.
Hagen also thinks it’s wrong that Norway, which shares a border with Russia in the far north, “and the West” have supported Ukraine after Russia’s annexation of its Crimean territory.
Hagen, who made a comeback in Oslo city politics after he retired, has most recently served as a substitute Member of Parliament (MP) for the Progress Party, which is part of Norway’s conservative government coalition. Dagsavisen stressed that Hagen’s statements on Russia Today defy Norwegian foreign policy, and since Hagen is still a member of a government party, that’s “highly problematic.”
Asked by Norway’s TV2 whether he feared a reprimand from Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide, Hagen said “no, not at all. She’ll just shake her head and smile and say ‘this is Carl I Hagen, he utters so much nonsense.'”
Søreide did feel compelled to clarify to Norwegian media that Hagen’s statement’s are purely his own and do not reflect government policy. “No one can doubt Norway’s position on this,” Søreide told TV2. “We have condemned (Russia’s) violations of the rule of law and stand together with our closest allies who have the same view. We do not accept that a country uses military force to try to change borders.”
Anniken Huitfeldt, an MP for the opposition Labour Party who leads the Norwegian Parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee, was clearly angered by Hagen’s remarks, accusing him of “privately practicing foreign policy” and that his party “talks with two tongues.” She likened Hagen’s remarks to those from both right-wing and left-wing extremists in Europe, from which she firmly distances herself.
Hagen’s remarks to TV2 indicated to Dagsavisen how he has no expectations of being taken seriously by the government or in Parliament. “It’s not that simple,” argued Dagsavisen. “Representatives of a government party are responsible for how they express themselves, and to whom, even though they don’t hold a cabinet post.” Hagen was thus viewed as undermining Norway’s foreign policy and trying to create unnecesary confusion.