Interview with Marianne Bremnes, mayor of norvegian city Harstad which is first shelter for musicians refugees


  • Karla Juničić


Zagreb, 080319.
Hotel Esplanade, Mihanoviceva ulica.
Intervju, Marianne Bremnes, gradonacelnica grada Harstad u Norveskoj.
Foto: Ranko Suvar / CROPIX
Ranko Suvar / CROPIX

Marianne Bremnes, gradonačelnica Harstada

On the occasion of the International Women's Day,as part conference  'Women in Politics' dedicated to all female mayors, leaders and all the women on the leadership Positions, we conducted an interview with Marianne Bremnes, mayor of the Norwegian town of Harstad.

Marianne has a rich political experience, both in local and national politics, and a strong voice. During her visit to Croatia she wanted to share the Norwegian experience of the fight for gender equality. Since taking her office in 2011, she has fronted Harstad in many national and international arenas, and she has a wide network within the oil and gas industry, the Norwegian Defence Force and the seafood farming. She also initiated and made Harstad become the first Safe Haven for refugee Musicians in the world.

Norway has tackled seriously the problem of women's unequal participation in politics and since the 1980 s things have become to change when Gro Harlme Brundtland became the first female prime minister. Today, the parliament is comprised of 40 percent of women. Gender equality is one of the important pillars of Norwegian society, but as the society they are still faced with the fact that women's presence in local and regional authorities is lower than at the national level. Currently, of 442 municipalities in Norway  women are mayors of 120 cities (28 percent).

The technique Marianne Bremnes uses in her successful career as a woman in politics consists of a simple slogan that she takes as a pattern. This is the slogan of Pippi's long socks, i.e. Pippi Långstrump in Norway. For Bremnes, she is the most powerful girl in the world, always resolves everything and does not lose her warmth and tenderness, most importantly, she 'does everything with a smile'.

- I've never done that before, but I'm sure I'm going to fix it – is the slogan of fictional character that Bremnes mentions with delight in her speech.

1. Being a woman in politics is often a difficult role because women face many social responsibilities and are forced to fight many prejudices. What would you take as your life example that encouraged you to participate in the politics and which could also encourage other women to follow the same path?

My enrollment in politics began with me wanting to make a difference and i wanted to participate in the public life to make that difference. I was working as a leader for many years before I got into politics and I think being a leader for many years before I got into politics was a great tool to use as a mayor. So when I moved up north with my family in Harstad in 2008., I was not thinking of going into politics because I was doing that before. After two years the Labour party in Harstad asked me to run for a mayor because they needed a female candidate. I told them, after thinking for a while that i will do it if the five most central female politicians will support me. I didn't wanted to step on anyone's toes. At least not the female toes. I got their support. I think building a team around you when you are a political leader is very important. You have to be clear and outspoken leader as a mayor as you have to do when you are a leader in bussines life or else. So, I also thought I will manage to represent and get trust from representative from all the political parties, and that has been very important for me.

2. You are known as the mayor of a positive and warm spirit, which during your term, transformed the city's deficit of 50 million Norwegian Krone into a profit of 52.2 million Krone. What measures did you take to succeed in this developpement in such a short time? Do You agree with a statement that women are better leaders in politics and economy?

It wasn't easy because for the mayor the main task is to provide good service to inhabitants but if a city finances has been in deficits year after year, how has been in Harstad that time, then something had to be done. When I became a mayor,mine main purpose was to turn the financial situation and we had to make unpopular decisions which we did, and I did. I had one thought in my mind and that is, that I'd rather be a clear leader, a clear mayor, that is known for making a difference, or trying to make a difference, than a mayor that had been a coward, trying to save my own political life.

I don't agree necessarily that women are better in politics. I think there are good and bad female leaders and good and bad man leaders, so we have to learn from each other. Well, I don't think that women are better leaders because they are women. Woman have opportunity to be that, and they have to think they are able to be that and that is the challenge. The main challenge we have to do is to make females see that they are in fact abled to become great leaders.

3. During your mandate, Harstad turned into the first safe place in the world for the exiled musicians. Can you tell us something about the project regarding the integration of migrants into society through cultural and especially musical activities?

It was Salman Rushdie that gave the idea of dealing with refugee artist because he was prosecuted for his Satanic verses. But there has always been refugee centers for writers and not other kind of artistic forms, so we were the first city to take musicians that are prosecuted for their music. And we had cooperation with two international organisations SafeMUSE and ICORN. They searched for the musician that needed shelter the most. So we agreed that every second year we take the musician to Harstad. He gets a permanent permission to stay in Norway with his whole family. The first two years he gets a decent salary for performing his music, and after two years he has to stand on his own feet. After two years he has to make his own money, because then we have to take another refugee musician. But after two years he has his network, he know the language and the culture, and he learns how to make his own living. And what is the most importat is, that he is safe and abled to perform his music without being prosecute.

Just recently we got a request to take in another musician, before the period of two years ended and we decided to take another one because his life was in danger.

4. Croatian often portrays Norway as a country with a high level of awareness for sustainable development. What measures did you take as the Mayor of the City of Harstad in promoting sustainable development? What kind of advice would you give Croatia and specially Zagreb to boost sustainable development?

Well, there are two different levels here and I will mention them both. Even thought Norway is not member of the EU. We participate in the Smart city programe, EU programe to make future society sustainable and technological. Harstad has a tradition of being oil and gas center, because we have several oil and gas companies operating in our town, for example former Statoil now Equinor. Now we try to turn the city into the bigger energy perspective, going from oil and gas perspective to renewable perspective, with wind power, sea power and sun. So we also participate in another EU programe - that is funny cause we are not the member - called Horizon 2020. That is the project called Decarbonizing energy system on islands, because Harstad is on the island. That is also a really big project that has to do with renewable energy, and building a future with sustainable society.

The other level is making changes in society and in everyday life. We have to do very small steps to change the way people think. And we have to start with the children because children are the best to learn their parents because they are the future. So for example, one children class came to me and suggested that city should be a plastic free city within 2022. So I told representatives from the city council and different political parties that Harstad should be plastic free city until 2022. Representative agreed about that. And this is a small step but it was a huge step because it was educating parents. We made joined competition of designing shopping bags for Harstad. It got a lot of attention in media about not using the new plastic bags when you go to the grocery store. Even my parents started to take their shopping bags to the grocery store because of my children.

And me, as a mayor, i have to be aware of my role to be a role model for inhabitants so I always bring my own bags when I go to the grocery store. That's one small step because children are helping to educate parents. We have to change the way people think.

In Norway anyone who buys a new car buys an electric car, diesel cars are out. My daughter stated yesterday when we arrived here:'think about all the CO2 we are using to arrive here'. I said: well the next has to be electric planes.

The society is changing bit by bit.

5. What do you think is the main problem of women's low participation in Croatian politics and how could this gender inequality in politics be adjusted?

This is quiet a big question all over EU , in many countries, not only here. I think woman think too much. When they are asked to participate i think they think they don't have anything to contribute. They think of all the possible outcomes and any situations, and mostly things that could go wrong. Just think about all the clever woman, all the competence that are present in your country and any country. That's a shame we are not abled to bring a female contribution more than that we do. I also think that women are stepping aside to get other ahead, when they should have taken the stage themselves and show what they are really competent to do. It is easy to say i's all man's fault that there are not many woman but I think it is not only the man fault. Women have to learn a lot of what man are doing because they take the chance whenever they get one even though they necessarily have skills to do it. In many times, they should have one more thought before they jump into it. But they do it, they take the chance. Women just need to get more into it. We have to learn from each other, perhaps man should learn more thinking before acting and women should learn to 'just do it', and go into it. And believe in yourself.

There are so much competent woman around that voices are not heard and not only because man are not letting them to get into the stage but also because the women are not taking the stage, or are not outspoken. They have to speak out and talk clear and loud.


6. And for the end, what advice would you give to Croatian women who participate or want to participate in politics in the future?

If you have a motivation and you have something that you want to say: do it. Because no issues are too small for doing politics. Learn to recognize suppression techniques. The techniques that are used on woman from man to keep them on minor position or make them small.  We are talking a lot in Norway about how to recognize a suppression technique, mockery, and making women invisible.

Stand up for yourself and you have to have faith. If man can do it you can! Finally I will quote Pipi duga čarapa, she is strong and also warm and caring, so she has all the skills that any woman should have, but she also says: "I have never done this before so I am sure I will fix it'. I think that is a good slogan for any woman.