Monday, 25 May 2009

At the end of the road: Haakon Lie (1905-2009), Norway’s oldest politician

Haakon Lie, the Grand Old Man of the Norwegian Labour Party, died today at the age of 103. He was politically active until the very end and was thereby able to claim the unusual distinction of having participated in this country’s politics for nearly 90 years.
Born on 22 September 1905, Haakon Lie first took part in an election campaign in 1919 and joined Labour in 1921. He was elected party secretary in 1945, a position he held until 1969. This made him one of the most powerful figures during the party’s political hegemony and also meant that he came to play a significant role in the development of the welfare society. He was by now the last survivor of the leading Labour politicians of this important era.
Lie was a controversial figure and his almost mccarthyistic fear of Communists, which probably had it roots in the “civil war” within the Labour Party in the 1920s, made him many enemies on the left wing both within and outside his own party. His strained relationship with Einar Gerhardsen, who served as Prime Minister for seventeen years, culminated in a dramatic speech Gerhardsen made at the party’s convention in 1967, criticising Lie for his methods.
Haakon Lie remained an active and influential politician after his retirement and showed a remarkable ability to keep up to date and adapt to changing times. Formerly a staunch supporter of Israel he reached a more nuanced view in later years and many were astonished when he, perhaps the most pro-US and pro-NATO of them all, last year voiced his opinion that Norway should buy new military planes from Sweden rather than from the USA. He also played a significant part in the election campaign in 2005 and was said to have had some influence on the choice of Labour’s new party secretary earlier this spring. In recent years people had taken to saying “If Haakon Lie dies…”
His book Slik jeg ser det nå, which was published last year, dealt more with the present and the future than with the past and was seen as his political testament. He also co-operated on the historian Hans Olav Lahlum’s biography of him, which is scheduled to be published on his 104th birthday in September. Haakon Lie had promised Lahlum he would be there at the book release.

The Labour Party’s announcement and obituary:

Arne Strand, political editor of Dagsavisen, on the passing of Haakon Lie:

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