Mayor of Oslo Stian Berger Røsland, in an Exclusive Interview with The Oslo Times
Oslo is one of the fastest growing capitals in Europe. Governing Mayor of Oslo, Stian Berger Røsland, who is dedicated in facilitating Oslo`s growth as a “SMART, SAFE, GREEN” city, has worked extensively with school issues, environmental issues and later transport and urban development issues since 1999. Today Oslo is ranked as one of the ten smartest cities in the world according to, IESE Cities in Motion Index, and it scores particularly well on environment, economy and urban planning.
Governing Mayor Stian Berger Røsland, in an exclusive interview with The Oslo Times International News Network’s Editor -in Chief, Hatef Mokhtar, spoke about the City of Oslo,the future challenges they face, the steps his administration is taking in mitigating political and religious extremism and a whole lot more.
Excerpts below give us an insight into the interesting talk that followed:
Where do you see Oslo, in five years from now?
Oslo is the fastest growing European capital, with an annual population increment of 10 to 15 thousand people. This is a major challenge for the city because we need to ensure that we have schools, kindergartens, and eventually senior citizen facilities to fulfill the needs of the new people moving here. Along with that we have to ascertain that we have urban development plans that allows for building new homes, we need to increase our public transport sector in order to keep up with the population growth and even more important than that we need to decrease our use private cars and have more people using public transport. more people walking, more people using bicycles.
So, the fundamental overall question in Oslo these days is– how do we continue to meet the needs of our growing population? If I might also add the needs of our growing international population because Oslo is growing in a much more diversified fashion as it is now home to people from all over the world. We are more of an international city today.
You just said that Oslo is an international city today, so can you tell us how diverse the population in Oslo is?
We have people from all over the world living in Oslo. though some backgrounds are relatively more common than others. We have large communities of our friends from Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Pakistan, Turkey, Somalia, Afghanistan, among others. I read it somewhere that if we invite any national soccer team to Oslo, they will be welcomed by at least 50 of their home audience.
Today rise of extremism is big phenomena across the world, especially in Europe. How do you see the rise of extremism in Oslo?
Well not too long ago, in 2011 We have suffered immensely from an active extremism attack, when an extremist blew up government buildings and murdered people, especially youths, participating in the Labour Party’s youth camp in Utoya. That was, I think, a real an eye opener–that this small friendly city on the outskirt of Europe is also witnessing the rise of extremism. This was political extremism; we are also worried about religious extremism, where people have an opinion about politics, religion, and history that they are willing to enforce upon others using violence. This is a major concern.
Recently the mayor of Moss expressed concern over the rise of Islamic extremism stating that over 70 people from Østfold joined the IS. Do you see signs of the rise of Islamic extremism in Oslo?
The security police in Oslo says that around 70 people from Oslo have also gone to Syria and Iraq to join the IS and like any other parts of the world, this is also a major concern for Oslo. For some reasons, it seems to be quite strong in the county where Moss lies. We are concerned, monitoring and working on it. Though these numbers are not in thousands, we are of course concerned what will happen, when many of them will return home having experience that they have. Along with that we are also concerned by the fact that people who are born and raised in our communities, could resort to the use of such extreme violence.
Hundreds of human rights activists and people who advocate freedom of expression, human rights and democracy are put behind bars by totalitarian regimes that exist across Asia, South Asia and the Middle East. As the mayor of Oslo, a city that defends and supports human rights, what is your message for those regimes?
Fundamentally such regimes will eventually fall. History has shown us that such regimes are eventually overturned. It can take some time but at the end of the day they will fall. The world people have commonly decided on some fundamental human rights of which the right to express yourself is fundamental. No one should be prosecuted for sharing an opinion whether it is religious, political or a view on how society should or should not be. Freedom of expression is fundamental in maintaining public debate, in reassuring us that the debate in society is open and eventually in making changes in society for the better. You cannot oppress opinions or people’s right to share their opinions. Freedom of expression will, I believe, eventually succeed.
Despite living in Oslo for the past three four decades many people still find themselves not integrated into the Oslo community. What is Oslo’s community policy on integrating people, specially the one who are new here?
The process of integration in Oslo goes much well than many people think. We see that young people with non Norwegian origin and with different background than the typical Norwegian, are successful in education, business, in participating in public debates, and in venturing into different parts of the business community. There are several members of city counselor in Oslo, who are from a
background different than the typical Norwegian one. Groups especially who have been here for over ten years, like the Pakistanis, have higher level of education, higher level of participating in work life, and have higher level of home ownership than the public in general. And one of the most sought after thing in Norway is to own your own house and this has been major policy since end of the Second World War.
You claimed that Oslo practices human right and gender equality but some research and media reports contradict these claims stating that women’s right are still not complete in Oslo for example in holding the post of a director or CEO or in a position like yourself? How do you take these claims?
Well I think we have come quite a way ahead. We introduced women’s voting rights in 1909 and we got full voting rights and universal suffrage in 1913. The first MP was selected in 1911. What we see today is, for example in universities, I am a lawyer myself and a faculty member at the Department of law in UIO, majority of our students are female. In different parts of the education sector, we have more women’s participation in higher education than men. I think it is fair to say that we will see gender gaps closing in the years ahead. We have done things that enable persons to be part of their family, society and work. For example we provide one year paid maternal leave for families, where now both fathers and mothers take a leave of absence. I think it is also one aspect of that. I, for example, took leave of absence when both of my children were born. You see MP’s do it; people in the business societies do it. We are increasing efforts to close gaps that still exist.
Many old people criticize your administration while expressing discontent for what they are served at the senior citizen facilities. How do you take these claims?
First of all I don’t accept these premises. I think it’s the opposite. When we ask both – those who use our services and their relatives – we see increase in the satisfaction level towards our different services. Around 88 per cent of the people and the families living in senior citizens facilities now say that they are satisfied or very well satisfied with our facilities.
Do you visit these facilities yourself?
Yes, all the time.
How many hours a day do you work?
We start here in the morning normally with the office meetings. I guess, I arrive in office at 8: 30 and sometimes I leave at 22:00 in the evening for council meeting. Sometimes I leave at 3 o’clock, it depends, if I need to pick up my children in the school I leave at 3.
This is a question we ask to all our guests, because your opinion on this means a lot to us as well as our readers–What does human rights mean to you?
It means rights that we have as being human being, and which no government and entity can take away from us. The rights to express our opinion, the rights to pursue a good life, the rights to exercise our religion, those rights we are born with, they are granted by our government, they are our fundamental rights and no government can intervene.
Some countries have different meanings attached with big phenomena like secular state and democracy. What do you think about countries like Saudi Arab, where there is still monarchy, where many journalists are imprisoned for writing and where women are still denied to drive or attend parties? Is there hope for developing democracy in countries like these?
I am not an expert on Saudi Arab, but I think it is important for Congress to have a debate to figure out places where you can have different views, where you can perhaps engage in discussions and I think that is case for many of the countries in the Middle East. It’s a case for some countries in South East Asia too. It is important to have relationships, where it’s also possible to express our opinion, to express our concerns, which we do. And I think over time many of this discussions will hopefully improve the status of human rights globally.
What are your achievements since you assumed office as the mayor of Oslo?
It is my fifth year as the head of the city government and I am satisfied with the results so far. We are not done with anything but we have come quite far. It is better to point out three aspects. First of all it’s the improvement in the education sector. We have persuaded a strong education policy that focuses on the fundamental subjects and provisions openness and public debates about results in the schools. Education scientists now tell us that schools in Oslo are better in raising the achievements of all kids including those coming from difficult family structures and from immigrant families.
The second topic is our contribution to what we call the ‘greenship’. We need to be more aware about environmental concern and have high level of environmental concern. We have managed to stop the increasing use of private cars. Actually we have one percent drop in the use of private cars in the overall transport system of Oslo. From 31 percent, now private car transportation accounts for 30 percent of Oslo’s transportation as we have higher level of use of the public transport.
The third aspect is about developing the city. Down in Bjørvika we have built the Oslo Opera house, the Munch museum, the new public library, and we have built the bar called Area where we have new housing and offices for some of the major business companies in Norway. So, education, environment and urban development have been the areas where we have focused our attention.
Your motto for Oslo has been ‘Smart, Safe and Green’, what do you mean by it?
Smart has two parts, of which first is education. We need to be smart in order to compete globally. We need to have world class education system to make sure that the kids in our schools get the best opportunities and can compete with the rest of the world. The second, of the smart aspect is to how do we run the city? How do we operate the city? Can we operate the city smarter than we used to? One of that example is our increasing use of electronic services. When my daughter started the kindergarten we had to fill up the form with a pen and send it to the city. Now, you sit in front of your computer and fill out your details and send it electronically.
Safer is related to how people feel inclined to use the city. Are there areas where they are afraid to walk or to be part of? Oslo is a very safe city, probably one of the safest cities in the world but still there are areas where people say that they don’t really want to go or be a part of. It is important for us to work with the police to make sure that all areas in the Oslo are safe. The second aspect of safer is that you should feel a security for, if you need a public service, it will be there. The day you need to go to a senior citizen facility, it will be there. If you lose your job and you don’t know what to live off, there will be some aid from the city. So, you should increase the people’s level of security – both in using the city and also in the field. They should assured that if something upsets their life, the city will be there to help them.The third one, the greener is of course the environmental aspect; we need to be even greener city in the years to come.
Right wing extremism is a big phenomenon in all Europe, including Sweden, Greece, and in Hungary. Is it completely against human rights values, freedom of expression and democracy— values that Norway practices on a daily basis? As a politician what do you think about the rise of the right wing?
I think the problem of the right wing movement was much bigger in the 90’s when I walked around as a young boy than it is today. It was better organized; it had broader appeal to people specially to take part in the more or less Neo Nazi organizations. What happened in 1990’s was that both the national government, city government here in Oslo and also the municipal governments all over Norway, made huge efforts in stopping it. These efforts focused on education, increasing knowledge and developing exit programs that assisted people fallen into this organizations and communities to come out. I think over the years, many of these efforts were quite successful. Today, right wing in Norway is quite badly organized, its more or less individuals, some of course meeting online but it is not the same organizational structure as they had in 1990’s and as you see in many European cities and countries like you mentioned where it seems to be more organized.
We are of course concerned about it. As I mentioned earlier on July 22nd 2011, we saw what some of the right extremist and violent extremist are capable of. I think that also was a wake up call. I think its right to say that if you are or becoming a Neo Nazis in Norway, you will meet a general disregard, you cannot go home to your family and say ‘Hi Mom I have become a neo Nazis’, you will face fundamental issues.
What do you have to say about Janteloven?
It is phenomenal part of Norwegian culture. You shall not think that you are smart, greater or better than others, you shall not anyway seem to promote yourself. This is really a part of Norwegian history.
Do you agree with this or disagree?
I don’t think it is possible to agree or disagree, I think it’s there. I think it exists with Norwegians more or less, all of us except one group, the athletes they are allowed to say how well they do, they are allowed to be extremely happy when they win and they are allowed to be a part of public recognition like no one else.
Do you have some special message for our worldwide readership and for the people who live in Oslo— immigrants and right wing activists?
I think all of the people who live in Oslo feel at home here, take part in cities everyday life. I hope those who have born here and those who have come here from other parts of the world want to contribute to making this city better and to the rest of the world I would like to invite them to visit us – we have lots of things to show.
If the tourists come from Latin America, Canada and others, what facilities do you provide?
If you come to Oslo, you come to a quite different city from most others. You have scenes, enormous forest between the city, and beautiful nature along with very interesting museums, different cultural events, the Munch museum is of course very interesting but one thing that many people don’t know is that Oslo is one of the biggest concert cities in the world. Last year we had 5,000 concerts. We have extremely much different music and concerts available here.
The Oslo Times International News Network considers Stian Berger Røsland, the Governing Mayor of Oslo, as a young, energetic, peaceful and smart leader. These leadership attributes are reflected in his primary focus on education as the core element that can ensure and secure a civilized and modernized future for the nation.
He presents the city as heaven on earth, a place where one can feel and visualize democracy in its every aspect and as a city where one can see smiling faces around that are in harmony with their personal and professional life. Mr Røsland shares that the Oslo Municipality has been executing and taking care of the city’s population and their needs by transcending above the limits of creed, color and race.
As a politician that stands firm against the rise of extremism and undemocratic philosophies in many parts of the globe, Mr. Røsland lays stress on the power of education, knowledge and the willingness to understand each other, as the most important tools for eliminating all kind of inhuman and extremist behavior.
This North Scandinavian city ranks as one of the ten smartest cities in the world at IESE Cities in Motion Index among 135 cities – for its great performance in the environment, economy and urban planning front. He is confident that the peaceful city and its aesthetic character will be loved by every peace, democracy, beauty, music, and nature lovers, as it has always and welcomes all world citizens to it.
According to UN, Oslo is the best place to live in the world. It has the highest Human Development Index, the lowest unemployment rate and is home to some of the best hospitable people in the world. The Oslo Times International News Network congratulates the people of Oslo and Mr. Røsland’s team for these achievements.
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