Thor Halvorssen has long had a stamp on himself as a suspicious liberal. We interviewed him about dictatorships, his homeland Venezuela, anarchism and meritocracy – consider yourself. 


[Watch video interview at the bottom]


Norwegian-linked Venezuelan Thor Halvorssen launches his ninth Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) – with over 50 lectures and seminars – to mention the anniversary of the military coup in Thailand, as well as authoritarian North Korea, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. He reminds us of the world's crises, wars and conflicts where "65 million people are on the run, about 280 millions are affected by natural disasters, 793 millions lack clean water and 836 millions live in extreme poverty". And adds: “But authoritarian regimes, dictatorships and elected autocracies are affecting more people than all of them, that is, over half of the world's population. This is what this year's OFF is all about. ”

OFF's theme this time is "Defending Democracy". To those around 200 at the Hotel Continental in Oslo, Halvorssen says: "In our view, true democracy requires the following: freedom of expression, an active civil society, distribution of power and free and fair elections."

OSLO 20170522.
Formerly: Antonietta Ledezma, Vladmir Kara Murza, Thor Halvorssen, Mohammed Nasheed, Wai Wai Nu and Kang Chol-hwan during the press conference for the Oslo Freedom Forum.
Photo: Berit Roald / NTB scanpix

The background. Four days later, Ny Tid takes an in-depth conversation with the OFF leader. His motivation for the long-term work for freedom and human rights stems from the experiences his father and mother were exposed to: His Norwegian father was falsely accused and imprisoned as a political prisoner before, among other things, Amnesty got him out. It was worse with his mother. Thirteen years ago, Thor Halvorssen saw her being shot by the Venezuelan authorities, during a peaceful demonstration against President Hugo Chávez and his policies.

Every authoritarian system needs a lie.

"I thought she was dead, so I saw the incident live on the television. It gave me indescribable pain and anguish and a sense of injustice. That is why I know ties to people who experience such violence – regardless of where and with what privileges one is born. Especially when a person you admire or have loved ones is attacked, we understand what it is like to live in countries where the authorities do not follow the law. Even old people who only expressed their opinion in a non-violent demonstration were attacked by the state. My grandparents were there too. ”

After this experience, Halvorssen began to think about establishing the Human Rights Foundation – also because he was frustrated that "Amnesty and International Human Rights Watch did not focus much on Venezuela – when they sympathized with Chávez".

But why an Oslo Freedom Forum here on the other side of the globe? "Because Norway values ​​human dignity and has never started a war." The fact that his father is originally Norwegian does not matter, but the 41-year-old from Venezuela reminds me that here in Norway, born in freedom, "we have a responsibility not to forget those who do not happen to grow up with the same opportunities" .

Individuals. The conference's strategy was, as before, to present a number of testimonies from vulnerable individuals: “We think, although it may sound strange to Norwegians with their collective mentality – that individuals really achieves things, that the truth is that individuals, not the group, are the center of society. Individuals make a difference. The suffering and survival of these people can be liberating examples for others. ”

Another who spoke during the conference was Charlie Chaplin – in a clip from the film dictators (1940). Chaplin makes fun of Hitler's mass suicide, talks about the dignity of life and that soldiers must not bow to violence and blind aggression. Halvorssen started the movie clip by telling us what risk Chaplin had to take, and that he had to fund the film himself – dictators was banned when World War II started. According to Halvorsen, the huge film of success was smuggled into France, where a number of soldiers – when they discovered what they were watching and watched – shot the canvas in rags.

Halvorssen has a special commitment to film. With his company Moving Pictures Institute, he has made many films – all of which should promote freedom: “But OFF is also a mix of politics, research, film and art. Totalitarian movements understood the importance of film early on in terms of influencing people. We who protest also know that truth and good ideas may need the help of the film. That's why we make short films from the speeches here in Oslo that are spread around the world. ”

I ask him about the testimonies of these individuals – whether the organizers are always aware of who, with what values, they are expressing. “We do a series of surveys of every single person we think of inviting; every single tweet or message they have sent out, every book and article they have written is being studied. If someone has defended the use of violence, he or she is out of date as a guest. ”

Venezuela. We come to Venezuela, although Halvorssen insists that he is not actively involved in politics there: "In Venezuela, the authorities are spreading the lie of an imminent coup, that it can happen at any time. This is how Turkish Erdogan recently gained tremendous power after the military "tried". Any authoritarian system needs lies. ”

"Chávez stole as much as the Norwegian Oil Fund possesses."

Halvorssen is not gracious to parts of the Norwegian press's coverage of Venezuela (see separate case, page 7): “In 2010 we went out and warned about the ongoing Venezuela crisis, in which children died of hunger, and about the suffering due to malaria; the death rate in the capital Caracas was the highest in the world. During Chávez's presidency, more than those killed by the Farc guerrillas in Colombia died! "

TOPSHOT – Riot police clash with demonstrators during a protest against the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on June 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Federico PARRA

We come to the corruption charges: “Chávez stole as much money as the Norwegian Oil Fund possesses – more than $ 1000 billion disappeared. But before he came to power, no one was starving, even though the oil price was only $ 7 a barrel. So why did more people become poor under Chávez when oil prices rose to $ 115 at the same time? With Chávez, the country's health service also disappeared. His apology was the economic collapse. The lies of the authorities are obvious and many. ”

Halvorssen asks me how Norwegian journalists "who have defended this regime that has caused so much destruction can see themselves in the mirror". He calls up journalists who have defended Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.

I want to know where Halvorssen is in relation to the Venezuelan opposition, who will now have a new election or remove President Maduro who just tried to run the National Assembly with constitutional amendments. Does Halvorssen support the National Assembly leader Julio Borges and the opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles? "No, I am not involved in Venezuela's politics other than in general. Otherwise, people would immediately respond and say, 'Oh, so you're from Venezuela, you have money there!' I also don't like the candidates or the politics of the ones you mention. No, I rather focus on other countries like North Korea, Ecuador and Singapore, where you can't attack me for investment. My interest is rather to illuminate dictatorships. ”

anarchism. Is not the opposite of totalitarian dictatorship by many considered anarchism, I think. The foundations of anarchism, as with Jens Bjørneboe, are freedom and solidarity / brotherhood. I mention that in today's more pragmatic anarchism, the criticism of an oppressive state is still prominent. So what does Halvorssen think about anarchism? “Freedom has always been the theme of anarchism. But it is asked whether we are really prepared for anarchism, as can be most profoundly understood. Although totalitarianism is its opposite, anarchy is understood as the absence of order, and it would require people to respect others and not hurt or steal. "

So we can not stop locking the door. But Halvorsen suggests that perhaps, in 200 years, we will have a society with less need for government control "because we will have evolved not to be violent – in a time where biology, science and technology have made life easier to live" . "I'm not talking about communism," he says: "The point is that if you eat too much, you get sick. There are limits to what you need ».

I point out that anarchists prefer not to seek state power, but to be at peace for state control and governance. You get together in small communities or networks of like-minded people, affinity groups, less dependent on the nation state.

"Individuals make a difference."

Halvorssen asks why I'm sitting there in a black shirt – am I anarchist? It is typical for critical voices in Norway to wear black clothes, I answer.

But back to anarchism as an idea. Some interest groups and minorities must be protected from the majority and the state today, I say, to which Halvorssen replies: “Any thought crime is committed by those who say they should take care of everyone. I think our best hope is that the nation states will be dissolved and replaced by city states with better opportunities. ” He ends the theme by saying that "states should stop preventing people in their pursuit of a happy life."

Authoritarian regimes
. In an earlier interview with the philosopher Noam Chomsky, I mentioned four types of freedom as essential: freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom from fear and freedom from distress. But he also mentioned a fifth freedom (which he allowed the United States) – the freedom to oppress others. I ask Halvorssen how to abolish authoritarian regimes: Is intervention the way to go, as in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya? "If you really insist on removing authoritarian regimes, the best way is to let their civil society do it. For example, we in OFF work to inform the people of North Korea – by smuggling in small memory sticks with films and other things – so that they can react themselves. " The memorial sticks probably also contain footage of North Korea's recent defector from the embassy in London Tae Yong-ho, where he from his hiding place tells the OFF conference about the country's atrocities. he got his family out before he even jumped off.

Thor Halvorssen lives in both New York and Los Angeles, so I want to know what he thinks about President Trump. "I like to ask people who are concerned about President Trump: Where were you really the eight years before he was elected? It is the government's power that one should fear. They monitor you, so you should also monitor them: see where the money goes, to whom, and what interests they have, ”he says.

Fiat money. Ny Tid has previously written about «state banknote presses», so I mention the fiat system (that central banks are free to print money, editor's note) for Halvorssen: «I can hardly believe that you mention fiat money! How many Norwegians really know what this is about? Fiat money from the authorities is a scary system where the money has no guarantee, but is only based on trust in the system. It will all collapse if the bubble bursts. "

Many have predicted that the financial crisis in 2009 was just a taster of what comes from world economic scenarios: “You just have to look to Venezuela, where this tragedy is happening right now. When I was 12 years old, a dollar in Venezuela cost the equivalent of four Norwegian kroner (in Norway it cost eight). Today, almost 30 years later, a dollar costs almost NOK 400 million in that unit of time. Such terrible hyperinflation is largely due to Chávez's governance. Inflation is the way the government steals from poor people, from unsophisticated people who do not understand themselves about finance. "

At the same time, defending democracy is to fight the authoritarian: “As mentioned, authoritarian regimes live on lies: the Nazis defended the lie about the Jews in order to act as they did. The Soviet Communists had for a long time the lie about Trotsky – that everything wrong that happened was due to him. After he died, they needed a new lie. North Korea's lie is the war, that the South should be able to attack the North – therefore their 'dear leader' must have the support he demands and take from the people the freedom to 'protect them'. But it was originally the North that attacked the South, not the other way around. "

Meritocracy and Heritage. Towards the end of our one and a half hour conversation, I try out some thoughts that are not about oppressive elites. What about meritocracy as a possible non-corrupt system – where different "merits" provide value and position, ie abilities, experience, knowledge and wisdom? Halvorssen agrees: "One can only ask, if your mother was really ill, would you not want an experienced doctor? If someone were to give you advice on economics, should he not know math? In Venezuela, we now have a former bus driver for president, and we see where that leads us. Chávez was a charismatic leader, but with an encyclopedic ignorance – really a dangerous combination. "

Meritocracy is not one-sided about what money you have at your disposal, or where you get your funding from – for which Halvorssen has been attacked. He agrees: “We live in a society where some have extremely good physique and can run faster or lift heavier than the rest of us. Should you put links on them? If someone is more beautiful than average, should they wear a mask? If someone has a perfect vision, should one ruin it a little? Or, to mention money: If you own a lot because you work hard or save diligently, should you be punished for this? Money can be used for things you are passionate about, such as the environment, or to save the whale from predation. You could fight against child marriage, or to promote a vegetarian diet in an unhealthy society – and money helps. "

"Freedom has always been the theme of anarchism."

Similarity. Beyond freedom and brotherhood, I finally address similarity, the third, white color in many states' flags: One does not have equal opportunities, if a few inherit a lot of money, which is not really their own "merits"? Inheritance offers benefits, and I'm not just talking about the housing market in Norway. The temperature is rising; Halvorssen has inherited you. He gets very involved and asks me if I think the authorities are really well-suited to managing people's money. He is skeptical of how government employees spend money, and mentions all those flying around the world in first class: "Just a few days ago, Norwegian media revealed that the World Health Organization spends more on first-class airfare than fighting AIDS."

With OFF, Halvorssen has clearly shown that he is a good capitalist in this way. His golden rule is to give away more than he spends on himself. Still, I ask him again for inheritance, and he replies: "One thing is if you grew up in extreme poverty and worked intensely through your life to make your descendants better. Do you mean that the state should just take away their inheritance? "

Although Halvorssen has inherited, he has also made his own money (see case). He concludes: “Rich people should not give their children more than just enough that they can become free and live real. Bill Gates is an example. My children should receive no more than having to work for themselves. – but enough to get an education, or good help with illness. If you give someone too much money, you will be able to ruin that person as a person. ”

See also our review of the media criticism against Halvorssen.

Watch our 16 minute video interview here:

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