The Rafto Legacy
Interview with Jostein Hole Kobbeltvedt Executive Director Rafto Foundation for Human Rights.
The Rafto Foundation for Human Rights was established in 1987 in memory of Professor Thorolf Rafto (1922-1986), an iconic lecturer in economics at the Norwegian School of Economics in Bergen, Norway.
Now, a little over 30 years on, one of a new generation of supporters, Jostein Hole Kobbeltvedt, is inspired to continue Rafto’s work. Kobbeltvedt joined the Foundation as Director last year after over a decade of working on international development issues and social activism around the world.
Born in Bergen, he coincidentally met Rafto when he was four years’ old, long before he was inspired by Rafto’s unwavering commitment to support dissidents, the oppressed and the persecuted, but like many working for the Foundation today, he found Rafto’s legacy just as relevant today as it was back then.
As well as running advocacy and education initiatives, the Foundation has awarded the Professor Thorolf Rafto Memorial Prize for Human Rights (the Rafto Prize) to a human rights defender every year since 1987. HRAS spoke to Jostein to see how the Foundation is moving forward and extending its operations into the maritime world.
Tell us about Professor Rafto’s work.
Thorolf Rafto was a Professor of Economic History at the Norwegian School of Economics in Bergen. He was not satisfied with a quiet and safe academic life. Instead, he took an active role in world issues.
He was admired for his unshakeable integrity and devoted much of his life to the promotion of democracy and respect for human rights, especially in Eastern Europe, where he travelled extensively. Rafto was an important spokesman for the persecuted Jews and intellectuals in the former Soviet Union and for political dissidents in other Eastern European countries.
He was arrested in 1979 in Prague after holding a lecture for young people who were excluded from the university for political reasons. He was beaten by security police and suffered from the inflicted injuries for the rest of his life. He died on November 4, 1986, 64 years old.