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Useful Notes / Einar Gerhardsen

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Einar Henry Gerhardsen (10 May 1897 – 19 September 1987) was the longest serving prime minister of Norway (post World War II. Prime minister Frederik Stang taking the helm in 1863, actually served even longer), and founder of the post war social democracy in that country. His longevity in office, and afterwards, gained him the label father of the nation, an epithet he bore with pride to his death. Born and raised in humble conditions, he joined the labor party in his youth, and gradually climbed the ranks, becoming party leader, and later mayor of the capital of Oslo, until he turned out to be the logical choice for the position of Prime Minister in post war Norway. He held the office for eighteen years, until a mine disaster made him resign in 1963. To a whole generation of Norwegians, he was the prime minister. To be fair, he had his 10-Minute Retirement in the early fifties, passing the helm to Cabinet Member Oscar Torp for four years, but noone actually remember Torp as prime minister anyway.


It is also to be noted that Gerhardsen probably is the only Norwegian prime minister to have been arrested. In the 1920s he was jailed for insubordination, seven times. When the Labor Party first gained position, he was in prison again, but the new minister of Justice had him pardoned, and Gerhardsen walked from prison to parliament, just like that. He was later arrested again, this time by Nazi Germany, and sent to the Sachsenhausen consentration camp. It has been rumored that he and other politicians encamped there laid the groundwork for post war rule while still imprisoned. Thus, he gained a reputation for awesomeness by having been arrested eight times (and the last of them was acknowledged to be really bad). Gerhardsen never spoke of his experiences for many years, but his children acknowledged that he had some trouble sleeping after the war.


Gerhardsen had originally been elected to the post of Mayor in Oslo prior to the war. When he got home, he took the reins and was Mayor for some weeks before he was handed the task of leading the first post war government, a collection of members from every party available, to rule until a general election could be held in the autumn of 1945. This election was nothing less than a Land Slide Election, giving the Labour Party full supremacy in parliament - but they had to count on support from the communists - who also had a number of votes that year.

The parliamental situation changed dramatically after the coup in Prague in February 1948. Some months prior to this, Norway had been asked to formally join the new North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and Gerhardsen considered this against a Swedish offer of a Neutrality zone in the Nordics. After considering alone for three days in his cabin, he landed on the NATO offer, and Norway joined the Western Bloc. At the same time, Czechoslovakia had a coup d´etat, and Gerhardsen made the communist hunt a top priority. Surveillance and infiltration soon followed, and Norway in The '50s, although a quiet place where the Norwegian Language Struggle and a very explicit novel (when considering Getting Crap Past the Radar) was the only things making headlines, the communists were systhematically crushed, giving the Labour Party even more public support. On a negative note, his government also worked on repression, surveillance, and a close connection to the american government (which was heavily criticized afterwards). Gerhardsen still was the amicable guy he had always been, leaving the nastier business to others (among them his brother).


Although a number of men close to him were pretty hardlined on the surveillance and the internal dissent, Gerhardsen managed to balance his attitude towards the Soviet Union with remarkable ease. Thus, he made a state visit to the Soviets in 1957, and Chruschev himself returned the favor in 1964. His fellow party members scowled him in silence for this (and later criticized him more openly). The state visit of 1964 resulted in a couple of embarassing situations for the Russians courtesy of Chruschev himself - memorized in a famous snapshot of Chruschev during a folk dance session, standing between Gerhardsen and his wife, holding hands with both of them and clearly having the time of his life. A point of note here: Gerhardsen had been to Moscow during the Comintern sessions in 1921, and had actually met with Vladimir Lenin, among others. In 1957, he managed to embarass his Russian hosts by commenting on this: "Last time I was in this room, Lenin sat over there". As this was after The Purge of Stalin, many of the Russian officials who had been present in 1921, were gone forever (either Reassigned to Antarctica, living lives as refugees in the west, or plainly executed). It is commented, from the more critical leftists, that Gerhardsen and his friends in the party actually took some points of Lenin´s teachings to heart and ran the party accordingly later on.

As the fifties marched on, internal dissent in the party made the left wing break out, to found a new party, based on the anti-NATO statement. Gerhardsen also had to cope with pressure from two sides: The US government, who wished for Norway to store up nuclear weapons for them, and the Norwegian public, who sure as heck didn´t want this at all. Great demonstrations took place, the newspapers had debates on the case, and the government decided that, for the sake of public opinion, the US had to be disappointed. Gerhardsen manoevred wisely, and then came the Cuban Missile Crisis, actually giving Gerhardsen a point.

Less than a week after the missile crisis was solved, a mine exploded on Svalbard. 21 miners lost their lives. The aftermath of this incident put the blame all the way up to the government itself, arguing that the men in charge had been sloppy. Gerhardsen suddenly had to be a collective Butt-Monkey, until the vote was cast and the government had to resign. The new Socialist Party, broken off the Labour Party only a few years before this, secured two weeks of conservative rule before Gerhardsen was back in charge. He was again prime minister until the election of 1965, which marked the final end of his long reign. He never got in position again, but remained a popular and respected retired politician for the rest of his life. He died at the age of ninety.

Gerhardsen´s government secured the welfare state, secured pensions, and was known for an affability that made almost everybody love him. In later years, he gained a position as a national father figure (alongside the King), and became something of an old wise man, whose opinions were never questioned.


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