Thorolf Rafto

Thorolf Rafto was a Professor of Economic History at the Norwegian School of Economics in Bergen. He 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.

Thorolf Rafto was born in Bergen in 1922, and throughout his life was driven by curiosity and a sense of justice. As a professor of economic history at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration (NHH), he brought the whole world into his classroom, and taught that justice was a part of the curriculum.

Contacts with dissidents

Professor Rafto was not satisfied with a quiet and safe academic life. He took an active role in world issues. He had contacts with numerous dissidents from several nations, and was admired for his unshakeable integrity: "He was a moral pillar, a man of truth when truth counted," said Jiri Hajek, former Czechoslovakian Minister of Foreign Affairs, who was closely associated with the Prague Spring and one of the leaders of the Charter 77 movement.

In 1979, Thorolf Rafto was arrested in Prague after holding a lecture for young people who were excluded from the university for political reasons. He was beaten and otherwise maltreated by the security police, and suffered from the inflicted injuries for the rest of his life. He died on 4 November 1986, 64 years old.

'Birds in cages sing of freedom; birds in freedom fly'

Foundation to commemorate Thorolf Rafto

The Rafto Foundation for Human Rights was established in 1986, to commemorate Thorolf Rafto's work and the inspiration it invoked. The charter of the Rafto Foundation is to present a human rights award annually (around 4 November), the Rafto Prize.

Photo: RaftoFoundation/Archive
Photo: RaftoFoundation/Archive