Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Prime Minister of Norway and founder of the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights, found time to sit down with the Foghorn for an exclusive interview last Wednesday. Bondevik was on campus to accept an honorary degree at the Mass of the Holy Spirit, awarded due to the social justice values evident in his political career and work thereafter. Bondevik said he was “very honored and grateful” to be a recipient of this degree from the University of San Francisco, and feels he is “in very good fellowship.”
Bondevik began his career in politics when he was elected into Norway’s Parliament in 1973 at age 26, barely older than most USF undergraduates. He was elected prime minister in 1997 and again in 2001. Bondevik said he believes his personal values contributed to winning the elections, and said, “Voters should focus on [politicians’] values. They should know what values they’re voting for.”
The values that have guided Bondevik throughout his political career and beyond stem from his Christian faith. Bondevik, who is ordained as a Lutheran pastor, said, “We saw Jesus live in a way with special care for people who are oppressed. That is my main inspiration.” He also said that traveling the world opened his eyes to how many people are “in need of help.”
While in office, Bondevik increased social services such as healthcare and education. He saw Norway’s economy thrive and personal incomes rise. The United Nations Development Program called Norway the best country in which to live during his office. One of Bondevik’s proudest and most unique accomplishments was being able to offer parents of children under age two a salary simply for staying at home with their children.
After serving two successful terms, Bondevik decided to retire from national politics. In 2005 he decided to focus his energy on international issues of peace, founding the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights. The center is primarily concerned with creating dialogue for peace, promoting democracy, and improving human rights around the world. Based in Oslo, Norway’s capital city, Bondevik said, “We actually have an advantage because no one is threatened by Norway. We have no economic interest, no colonial past. [People] have trust in Norway.”
Bondevik has lived in Norway, one of the wealthiest and most peaceful countries in the world, his whole life. However, this never stopped him from being concerned with the welfare of other citizens of the world, who suffer from the ravages of poverty and war. “I believe in human dignity, that we are all created in God’s image,” he said. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
For USF students interested in a career in politics, Bondevik advised, “Be engaged, and study international politics so you have the necessary knowledge.” He also recommended traveling to developing countries as a way of understanding and sympathizing with the world’s complex problems.