Norway’s Fifteen Minutes

To be a fan of the Eurovision Song Contest — that yearly competition which undermines any notion of European cultural superiority — requires either a complete lack of aesthetic judgment or a strong sense of fun and irony. Just as Europeans can sneer at Super Bowl half-time shows and Las Vegas vaudeville acts, Americans can look on in wonder at sado-masochistic dance routines set to bouncy polka music, with enough smoke and flashing lights to give Donald Rumsfeld’s “shock and awe” a run for its money. Nevertheless, you have to hand it to Norway, which walked away with this year’s honor in Moscow, even though the singer/fiddler/leader of the winning troupe is actually from Belarus. Such is the new Europe.

It could be that Norway is having its fifteen minutes of fame. Just last week, a piece in the NY Times extolled the contrarian economics of the Oslo social democrats, who have managed to buck the worldwide economic collapse with some aggressive growth numbers and a “ledger sheet that is free of debt.” Granted, Norway has benefited from its rich reserves of North Sea oil, but if that were the only reason for its success, then Nigeria and Angola should be sitting right next to them at the head of the development table. What distinguishes Norway seems to be several simple factors: they save, they plan and they share.

The sharing part is actually the most impressive, as Norway has consistently ranked first in terms of per capita foreign aid, as well as total aid as a percentage of GDP. In 2005, Norway led all donors at .92 percent. The United States, at .15 percent, was dead last among major donors.

Oslo may not be the most exciting world capital, and global puritans might be appalled that the government pays for much of the heroin consumed by its 15,000 addicts. But still, you have to hand it to them. While the rest of the world seems to be burning, Norwegians are fiddling along, even if it’s in a slightly Russian accent.

More World Politics Review