Madam Prime Minister: A Life in Power and Politics

Madam Prime Minister: A Life in Power and Politics

by Brundtland

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Madam Prime Minister: A Life in Power and Politics by Brundtland

One of the world's leading woman politicians tells her inspiring story

At forty-one, Gro Harlem Brundtland, physician and mother of four, was appointed prime minister of Norway-the youngest person and the first woman ever to hold that office. In this refreshingly forthright memoir, Brundtland traces her unusual and meteoric career. She grew up with strong role models-her parents were active in the Norwegian resistance and involved in postwar politics. She became known as a pro-choice crusader in the seventies and entered politics as the minister of the environment. She appointed eight women to her second eighteen-member cabinet, to this day a world record, and was the leading figure in the process that led to the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. As director-general of the World Health Organization since 1997, Brundtland is the first woman elected to run a major UN institution. Along the way, she met a host of international politicians, including Margaret Thatcher-who did not share Brundtland's view on feminism-Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Ronald Reagan, and Hillary Clinton.

Brundtland writes candidly and with humor about raising children in the political limelight and about dealing with political opposition and stereotypes about women. Hers is a fascinating story of one person's ability to make a difference-globally.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374167165
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 09/04/2002
Edition description: 1 AMER ED
Pages: 496
Product dimensions: 6.36(w) x 9.28(h) x 1.52(d)

About the Author

Gro Harlem Brundtland, born in Oslo in 1939, served three terms as Prime Minister of Norway between 1981 and 1996. She founded and led the influential U.N. Commission on the Environment and Development, and is currently the Director General of the World Health Organization. She lives in Geneva, Switzerland.

Read an Excerpt

Madam Prime Minister

A Life in Power and Politics


Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2002 Gro Harlem Brundtland.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0-374-16716-8

Love, War, Childhood

The Sailing Trip

Inga Brynolf is twenty years old, blue-eyed and dark-haired. The young Swede is hiking her way from Stockholm to Oslo. It's July 1938. She and her boyfriend, who is leader of the Swedish chapter of Clarté, an international association of socialist intellectuals, are going to spend the summer sailing off the coast of Norway.

She is a radical, a socialist who dreams of a coming era of justice and equality. Her mother, the Stockholm lawyer Margareta Sandberg, is also a politically active radical and was for a time part of the group that formed around Alexandra Kollontai, the Soviet ambassador to Sweden. Like a real-life Nora in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, Margareta left her husband, the barrister Ivar Brynolf, after five years of marriage. Her two small children, Inga and Lennart, were four and two. Margareta was twenty-four. She wanted to be a lawyer herself. In the early 1930s she became the first female solicitor ever to hold public office in Stockholm.

In Oslo Inga and her boyfriend are met by Gudmund Harlem, known to his friends as Gubbe, a young medical student and leader of the Norwegian chapter of Clarté. Gubbe's girlfriend has suddenly taken ill and can't come sailing. But Gubbe feels an obligationto go. Ola Evensen, a friend from Clarté, joins them.

During the day, there is hectic activity on board the sailboat. The twenty-four-foot boat has one cabin and four berths for the three men and one woman. The quiet evenings are spent discussing socialism and visions of the new era dawning. Two pairs of eyes soon establish a powerful contact, just looking, intensely interested in each other.

I was conceived later that thrilling summer. And Inga would stay in Norway She decided to study law at the University of Oslo. She and Gubbe got married in Stockholm in the autumn. "Hurray! We're getting married today!" read Gubbe's telegraph to a friend in Oslo.

I was born on the night of April 20, 1939. At the maternity ward Mamma was referred to as "the dark Swede who screamed so terribly." Her labor was long and difficult. When my proud father came home that evening to tell his friends of the great event, the radio was on. Air Marshal Hermann Goering was speaking in Berlin on the occasion of Adolf Hitler's fiftieth birthday. My life surely started at a most intense moment of history, just four months before war broke out in Europe.

In the summer of 1938 Pappa turned twenty-one and assumed control of a small inheritance from his father, who died when Pappa was an infant. One hundred thousand Kroner (about $11,000) was a lot of money in the late 1930s. Twenty-five thousand Kroner went to the moving spirits behind a workers' encyclopedia, so they could realize their dream. Gubbe provided the capital and even joined the writing team. But he also bought an apartment at Camilla Collett's Way No. 2, "CC2," just behind the Royal Palace. The architect had designed the seventh floor especially for Aase Bye, the most prominent actress at the time, but when the Harlems moved in, it was put to an entirely different use. The large living room was divided to provide an extra bedroom and the dining room was divided in two. Thus the elegant apartment became a seven-bedroom collective.

The Coming War

By Easter 1940, Mamma was pregnant again. But Pappa, determined to show his sporty Swedish wife the beauty of the Norwegian mountains, took her on a holiday to the Jotunheimen. I remained at home in the care of Grandma Margareta, who had traveled from Stockholm to look after me. But the idyll was short-lived.

The German strategic surprise attack on Norway started in the early hours of April 9. One of the women who lived with us in CC2, another new mother, had been a volunteer against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. She decided that her child should be spared future air raids spent in the cellar. As she recalls it, "I try to get the young couple we are living with to dry the baby's diapers, but a future Defense Minister [Pappa] refuses to take the matter seriously. The next morning we dispatch my baby and the young mother [Mamma] with her baby to a cabin outside of Lillehammer in a delivery truck. That other baby, the future Prime Minister, has to travel with a suitcase full of wet diapers."

At the cabin, Mamma was determined to find out what had happened to Pappa. The following day she made the long trip down to Lillehammer and back again. The Germans had already occupied the town and there were soldiers in the streets. She discovered that Pappa was with the Director General of Public Health, Dr. Karl Evang. They were with members of the government as the Norwegian defense campaign began to emerge. The improvised Norwegian defense managed to resist for two months and even gave the Germans their first tactical defeat of the war at Narvik. Mamma decided to go to Stockholm and hand me over for safekeeping to her mother. Shortly afterward she traveled north through Sweden and Finland to join Pappa, who was now already in Tromsø.

At the border she ran into problems—no one could quite make out the purpose of her journey. She had to call Dr. Evang in Tromsø. Once he confirmed her identity, she was allowed to pass.

On June 7 King Haakon and his government were forced to leave Norway. Largely by chance, Mamma and Pappa did not travel with the convoy to England. At the last moment Dr. Evang decided that they should return to Oslo and work for the Resistance at the University.

Several weeks passed while I was left in the care of my grandmother; I even learned to walk. When Mamma opened the door to find me playing on the floor, I rose and ran to greet her. But I did not easily forgive the separation: It took months before I would allow Mamma out of my sight again.

For the first two years of the war, daily life continued in more or less normal fashion, but food was in short supply, and heating proved problematic in the severe winters. My parents continued their studies even as they became involved in illegal activities. Mamma worked on the publication of the newspaper Free Trade Union. At all hours the smell of correcting fluid wafted from one of the two rooms that made up the original dining room in CC2. The typewriter had to be kept hidden. My parents did not even know the names of those to whom they delivered the paper. All precautions were taken to minimize the risk of the networks being exposed.

We froze that winter. The temperature indoors was often as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit. My father sewed sleeping bags for me and my little brother, Erik. Made out of old wool blankets, the sleeping bags itched. After the war they remained on a shelf down in one of the basement lockers for many years. You never know, after all.

Arrest and Flight

In 1942 the occupying forces were tightening their grip. Several of the students active in the CC2 group were instructed to assist a group of Norwegian Jews who needed to go into hiding to avoid being transported to Germany. CC2 was a dangerous address to have. People came and went. Strangers often stayed overnight with us.

In autumn 1943 relations between the Nazi authorities and the University deteriorated and on the night of October 15 the police arrested fifty students and ten professors. This action would have serious repercussions for the CC2 student group.

The Norwegian Nazi police came in the early hours of the morning. They had warrants for the arrest of two of the students. Both were taken. They did not discover my father sleeping in the same room. Nor did they ask for him by name, so presumably his name was on a different list. He at once made his way down the narrow fire escape.

Half an hour later the German police, the Gestapo, came. This time they wanted Gudmund Harlem—a bigger catch than the first two. They failed to find him, so they took his young wife. She protested loudly when they tried to check another room where her sister-in-law Gegga lay sleeping: "She's just a schoolgirl!"

Ola Evensen went out to look for Pappa and by some miracle found him in a nearby side street. Ola told him that Mamma had been arrested, and Pappa's first reaction was that perhaps he ought to turn himself in. Ola disagreed. Pappa was the one they really wanted for his activities as an organizer of illegal resistance work among the students.

Pappa went into hiding in Ola's mother's house. A few hours later my mother was released. She had Swedish parents, and the Germans set store by their good relationship with the Swedish authorities; it was not the first time the accident of my mother's birthright had come to my parents' assistance.

Now they had to make their way to Sweden as quickly as possible.

Earlier that year, my Grandma Margareta had managed to get a diplomat's passport and travel papers that enabled her to retrieve Erik and me and take us on the train from Norway back to Stockholm.

Grandma had her work as a solicitor to take care of, so Erik and I were sent to a children's home just outside the city. We stayed there for almost five months. Erik was just three years old; I was four.

Mamma and Pappa remained in hiding during those cold autumn weeks and had to keep on the move all the time, equipping themselves with forged papers. At one point Pappa's sister Gegga received a message to meet them and bring a backpack with a few of their clothes. As Mamma and Pappa were cycling, they were stopped by a German patrol because Pappa was wearing the backpack. Incredibly, he was not taken in for questioning. A few days later, they were finally able to board the train to Rena, a village close to the Norwegian—Swedish border. Tension was high. Would they be stopped? They were ostensibly going northeast to cut timber.

On the last section of their journey, their guide left them; in the first snowfall of the winter he was afraid the escape route would be discovered. Early in the morning they reached what they assumed to be Sweden and knocked on the door of a little house on the edge of the forest. As the door was opened Pappa whispered, "No, this is still Norway!" Tin cans were being used for flowerpots; this couldn't be Sweden. My parents held their breath, then realized that the people inside were just as afraid as they were. They were given directions and soon they were across the border.

A few days later they arrived at the home to pick us up. Erik ran toward them with a beaming smile; I, however, was tooted to the spot where I stood, profoundly skeptical after having been "abandoned" for a second time. Mamma could never forget it.

Mamma and Pappa rented an apartment outside the center of Stockholm. Mamma worked in the office for refugees; Pappa was the camp doctor for the Norwegian police units, which were recruited by Norwegian refugees and allowed by Swedish authorities to be stationed outside Stockholm. There were many Norwegian families in Stockholm during the war, including the novelist Johan Borgen. Among the non-Norwegians I recall was Willy Brandt, who later became mayor of West Berlin, Prime Minister of West Germany, and chairman of the German Social Democratic Party Another was Bruno Kreisky, who became Prime Minister of Austria. Mamma can remember how unhappy Willy Brandt's wife was. She and Mamma went for long walks to talk about her marital problems.

In spite of everything, those war years in Stockholm were good and safe. Money was tight, but then it was tight for everyone. We went to a nursery school full of the children of Norwegian refugees. Erik and I were inseparable.

Childhood Streets

May 1945: I can remember the excitement and joy, Mamma's keen anticipation—our train was bound for Norway! I waited impatiently, my nose pressed against the compartment window, looking for the exact moment when we would cross from Sweden into Norway There were no houses, just trees and woods the whole way And there had been no marker in the forest when suddenly someone exclaimed, "Now we're in Norway!"

Gradually many of the old CC2 circle returned to join us. There were always many adults at home, and lively discussions at which I was allowed to sit and listen and soak up impressions. From an early age I had strong opinions and a large vocabulary.

My first year at school was exciting. But I was really not a very good little girl. Unlike some of my classmates, I was allowed to bring friends home with me. I was so proud and happy to be able to show off my new baby brother, Lars, a child of peacetime born in February 1946. And I had even more to offer: using my father's medical textbooks in gynecology and obstetrics, I would explain to the other girls how the whole business worked!

I was full of ideas and energy and would enlist Erik in all sorts of downright mischief. We tormented the old ladies who lived in our building, hiding and teasing. I remember once in particular, not long after we came home from Sweden, Erik and I stood on the first-floor landing and shouted down to an elderly lady who had scolded us, "You silly old bag!"

I was always the ringleader.

When we lived in Sweden I had a friend named Sølvi. Now her family had moved into one of the new apartment buildings in central east Oslo. Sølvi's father was the caretaker at the Labor House in Oslo. Eventually most communities had such a house consisting of offices and meeting facilities for the movement.

During that first year we visited each other almost every Sunday, riding the trolley across town. It was very exciting to travel by ourselves. That fall we both began at Progress Group, a Labor-inspired organization for children, with branches all over the country. I enjoyed myself in Progress Group's central branch, not least because of our Sunday rambles in forests east and south of Oslo. Prime Minister Einar Gerhardsen and his wife, Werna, lived on a nearby block, and he would sometimes join us.

Their daughter was my group leader; she was a couple of years older than me. Their son and I were the same age and were sweet on each other. Werna was a woman who commanded respect and we children were a little afraid of her. She was an energetic leader with a ready smile, but she was strict. I heard her discussing politics, too, and I understood that she really meant what she said. She had no doubts. Werna was on the Oslo school board, as was my father.

At the National Hospital

Pappa and I climbed the dark, broad stairway to the children's clinic at the National Hospital. Mamma and Pappa had explained that I had to go to the hospital for a few days so they could try to find out what was wrong with my stomach.

It was autumn. I was six and a half years old.

I carried a grown-up briefcase with books, paper, and colored pencils. We entered a large room with big windows and many beds. Halfway along the long wall was a separate room, completely enclosed in glass. Inside was one single bed. That was where I was to be. In isolation.

Pappa escorted me in. A nice nurse welcomed us and talked to me when Pappa left.

I remember needles and blood samples. Someone came and squeezed my stomach, just as Pappa had done many times. I had a stomachache, sharp and painful under my ribs.

Two days later I was home again. It had been a special experience for me. I was small but brave in that big glass case. My books had helped me to behave myself.

Mamma's experience was completely different. She wasn't told why they had to carry out a major examination at the children's clinic. All Pappa would say was that he didn't know what it was but that he thought it ought to be checked. But he was unable to protect her from the pain of fear, for never before had she seen him in the state he was in during those days I was away. He was silent and would lie awake for hours in the middle of the night, staring at the ceiling.

Leukemia was always a fatal diagnosis in those days. No one survived. My liver and spleen were enlarged, and the blood tests looked bad. But the more experienced members of the clinical staff thought I looked too healthy to have cancer of the blood. Once they had examined me my father permitted himself to start hoping again. Might it, after all, be something else?


Excerpted from Madam Prime Minister by GRO HARLEM BRUNDTLAND. Copyright © 2002 by Gro Harlem Brundtland. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

1.Love, War, Childhood3
2.Mother, Doctor, Rebel, Researcher37
3.The New Minister of the Environment67
4.The Woman's Year78
5.Challenges Offshore and Inland92
7.Celebrated and Under Attack130
8.Nuclear Arms and Security--The Big Test160
9.At Home, in Opposition176
10.The Brundtland Commission191
11.Government of Women, 1986-89232
12.Losing and Winning the Government275
13.Safety Net: The European Economic Area293
14.The Long Struggle Toward EU Membership310
15.Cities and Summits, Leaders and Heroes336
17.Stepping Down410
18.My Way to the WHO429
19.Health and Globalization458

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