Ah, Norway. Home of cross-country skiing, world-famous fjords, and a black metal scene which makes even the worst excesses of 80s bands such as Van Halen or Mötley Crüe look like Gilligan’s Island. Although technically neutral in World War II, the Norwegian people suffered greatly at the hands of the Nazis. A primary cause was one of their own.
Image credit: David.wintzer
Vidkun Quisling’s career started out innocuously enough, as a respected Norwegian military officer with extensive diplomatic experience. In the early 1930s he served two stints as Minister of Defense in popularly-elected conservative governments. Clearly he would have been much more successful in life had he just left well enough alone. Nevertheless despite being a truly awful politician, Quisling let his ambition get the best of him. As a result he stumbled and bumbled his way to becoming one the most notorious traitors the world has ever seen.
In the 1930s far-right politics were the rage in many parts of Europe. So in May 1933, Quisling and others founded the Nasjonal Samling, or National Unity Party. Clearly inspired by Adolf Hitler’s and Benito Mussolini’s fascist movements, NS attempted to become Norway’s answer to the Nazis, with Quisling establishing relations with the Nazis and the Italian Fascists. He even gave himself the title of Fører. However unlike Hitler’s well-organized machine of evil, the NS proved to be about as effective as the Keystone Kops.
Presumably with “Yakety Sax” playing in the background.
In sharp contrast to Hitler and the Nazis, Quisling and the NS never enjoyed any appreciable popularity among voters. In Norway’s 1933 election, Nasjonal Samling received a mere 2.5 percent of the vote and failed to elect anyone to the Norwegian parliament, the Storting. Rife with factionalization, by 1935 it appeared the party would quietly fade away.
You know, kind of like pogs.
Despite Quisling’s virtually nonexistent PR skills and his penchant for pompous, stupid gaffes, he somehow managed to keep the NS afloat, albeit just barely. In the run-up to Norway’s 1936 elections, Quisling boastfully predicted his party would win at least 10 seats in the Storting. In reality, NS performed worse in the polls than it did three years earlier. At this point neither the Norwegians nor Quisling’s supposed allies in Italy and Germany took him seriously.
Norway tried to stay neutral when World War II broke out in 1939, but shit got real for them anyway in April 1940, when the British mined the channel separating the North and Baltic Seas, including Norwegian waters, in an effort to close Axis shipping routes. In response, Germany invaded Norway the following day.
Meanwhile Quisling, who nobody listened to, tried to get everyone to listen to him. In his usual hilariously bombastic style, on 8 April Quisling burst into the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s Oslo studio and proclaimed himself head of a new government with his buddies as ministers. If you took over your local Top 40 pop station and issued a fatwa against Justin Bieber, you’d achieve similar results.
But now that I think about it, you might get some traction out of that.
The Nazis, recognizing some sort of friendly Norwegian government would be advantageous, supported this. King Haakon VII, however, flatly refused to recognize Quisling’s Norwegian government, and the actual Norwegian government voted unanimously to support the king. Quisling attempted to have the legitimate government arrested, but officers simply ignored his orders. Realizing Quisling didn’t have the juice to pull off a coup d’etat, the Nazis brushed him aside and occupied Norway their own damn selves.
However, in NS the Nazis still found a group of useful idiots to help them run the country. The Nazi Reichskommissar Josef Terboven gradually assimilated NS members into the occupation government. Finally in February 1942 the Nazis agreed to let Quisling become “minister-president” of Norway, ostensibly making him the country’s leader. In practice, however, Terboven retained effective control over Norway.
Quisling did get a sweet office out of the deal, though.
During his three years in “power” Quisling took part in the usual fascist idiom, such as banning Jews from the country and attempting to establish his own cult of personality, going so far as to declare himself a descendant of Odin. He attempted repeatedly to become truly independent from Germany, meeting with Hitler on several occasions for that very reason. As usual, he was ignored. His incompetence as a national leader was further exposed when Norwegian resistance operatives smuggled intelligence on the German V-2 missile from Berlin to Oslo … on Quisling’s own airplane. The intelligence eventually made its way to London.
Deeply despised by his own people, Quisling’s regime, such as it was, came to an end in May 1945. Norwegians responded with unbridled jubilation. King Haakon VII and the legitimate government under Prime Minister Johan Nygaardsvold – who spent the war in exile in London – were restored to power. Quisling was arrested, tried for treason and executed in October 1945. Even before the end of the war “quisling” had become a synonym for “traitor” in several languages. The military officer who just wanted to run the country instead became quite possibly the most hated Scandinavian of the 20th Century.
Today Quisling’s only appreciable support comes from elements of the Norwegian black metal scene. Yeah, he should have left well enough alone.