Public revulsion at the massacre in Norway committed in the name of combating “Islamization” may not be enough to check the rise of anti-immigration parties across the Nordic region.
Anders Behring Breivik, who admitted to carrying out the July 22 shooting rampage on Utoeya island and car bombing in central Oslo, is a former member of Norway’s Progress Party, which campaigns for curbs on immigration. While the party may suffer at Sept. 12 local elections, any wider political fallout is unlikely, said Anders Todal Jenssen, a politics professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.
“My guess is that this is something so unthinkable for most people in the Nordic countries that, even though it happened in a neighboring country, they can’t imagine it happening in their own,” Todal Jenssen said in an interview. “Most people will regard it as very unique” and “see this as a Norwegian situation and a Norwegian problem.”
The rise of globalization and open borders has seen a surge in support for nationalistic movements across the Nordic region, as uncertainty and fear of the unknown grip sections of society in some of the richest countries in Europe. Parties that press for restrictions on immigration or over Islam’s influence have won seats in parliament in Denmark, Norway, Finland and, since September, Sweden.
Police in Oslo began releasing the names yesterday of the 76 people killed by Breivik as anti-immigration parties in Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands dashed to condemn his actions. Breivik’s defense lawyer, Geir Lippestad, said that his client “has a view on reality that is very, very difficult to explain.”
Parties such as the Sweden Democrats, which want to reduce immigration by as much as 90 percent, need to hammer home the message that Breivik’s actions are abhorrent to avoid any voter backlash, said Ulf Bjereld, a professor of political science at Gothenburg University.
Elements of the population have witnessed “a mobilization against Islam and what people perceive as a multicultural society in the Scandinavian countries, and of course a certain type of lunatic is being inspired by these types of ideas,” said Bjereld. Yet “if the party leadership clearly distances itself from what’s happened, it’s very possible that it won’t have any consequences at all” on voter support.
Breivik, who railed against multiculturalism and Islam in a 1,500-page manifesto posted online hours before the attacks, mentioned some of those parties in the document.
Contempt for Democrats
His references to the Sweden Democrats should not be “confused with sympathetic views for us as a party,” Jimmie Aakesson, the party leader, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “The mass murderer clearly describes his contempt for all democrats, including critics of immigration and Islam.”
Soeren Espersen, foreign-affairs spokesman for the Danish People’s Party, Denmark’s third-largest party, said Breivik, the Red Army Brigade, al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Taliban are all “evil forces that, with the help of terror and violent means, want to kill democracy,” according to a July 25 posting on the party’s website. “The result, if they obtained power, would be the same -- communism, Islamism, Nazism.”
Sweden, Denmark and Finland all rank in the top 10 richest countries per capita in the 27-member European Union as measured by purchasing power. Norway, a non-EU member, was the second wealthiest country in the world after Luxembourg last year.
Coupled with traditions of equality and stability, that may account for the relative attraction of the Nordic countries to foreigners. Of 44 countries surveyed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees last year, Sweden received the most applications from asylum seekers per head of population. Norway was fourth, Denmark 10th and Finland 13th.
Even though Norway boasts Europe’s lowest jobless rate and biggest budget surplus, it must now acknowledge a threat of violence more usually associated with less stable societies, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said.
Across the region, “people are uncertain, insecure,” Pasi Saukkonen, a political scientist at the University of Helsinki, said by phone. “Society has changed too fast” for many people. “These parties portray established politicians as corrupt and dishonest and their own policies as offering a real, simple alternative.”
The strategy, helped by an electoral system that grants representation to smaller groups, is proving successful across the Nordic arc. The Sweden Democrats entered parliament for the first time at national elections in September, a result predicted a decade earlier by Stieg Larsson, the author of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy.
In Finland, the True Finns boosted support fourfold in April elections, making them parliament’s third-biggest party. Even in opposition, they have wielded that power to press for a more skeptical stance to bailouts for indebted euro-area nations. True Finns leader Timo Soini said in his blog yesterday that Breivik had committed “a terrible crime against humans, humanity and life.”
The Nordic anti-immigration party that’s had most success is the Danish People’s Party, led by Pia Kjaersgaard. It’s ensured a majority in parliament for the minority government since 2001 in return for the imposition of stricter immigration laws. They include measures in 2002 that barred Danes from marrying and bringing in to the country non-European Union citizens under the age of 24.
Denmark, an EU member, tightened border controls this month at the behest of the People’s Party amid an influx to Europe of refugees from the North African uprisings, prompting a letter from European Commission President Jose Barroso in which he cited “important doubts” about the move.
In Norway, the Progress Party, originally an anti-tax movement that now campaigns for a “strict immigration policy,” increased spending on the elderly and the scrapping of a rule limiting spending of Norway’s oil revenue, has finished second in each of the last two elections, in 2005 and 2009. Under the leadership of Siv Jensen it took 22.9 percent of the vote two years ago, its best ever result, cementing its position as the largest opposition party. Jensen has said that Norway is in danger of “sneak Islamization” because of an influx of immigrants.
Breivik, who became a Progress Party member in 1999 and paid his membership fees until 2004, said in his manifesto that he had lost faith in the party’s ability to halt Norway’s “rapid disintegration.”
“He has nothing to do with our party, he hasn’t been a member for many years and whatever he believes in has nothing to do with our party,” Himanshu Gulati, vice-president of the Progress Party youth organization, said by phone today.
All political parties in Norway have agreed to postpone campaigning for September’s local elections by about two weeks, a spokesman for the ruling Labor Party said yesterday. Breivik told a July 25 court hearing that his attack on a Labor youth camp on Utoeya island and on government buildings in Oslo was aimed at inflicting the “greatest possible loss” to Labor.
The Progress Party will “have to keep a low profile on the immigration issue in the upcoming election campaign simply to avoid being associated with the terrorist attack,” said Todal Jenssen.
The national outpouring of grief in Norway, shared across the Nordic region in a minute of silence held two days ago, is now turning to introspection as the authorities step up their search for clues to the motives for the attacks.
The region-wide empathy is unlikely to extend to political change, said Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Centre for International Political Economy in Brussels.
“National traumas tend to breed cultural fears, which project onto immigrants or the unknown,” Erixon said by phone. “The fantastic show of support for open society and the values of democracy will inevitably fade away and be overshadowed by suspicion of the unknown.”
For now, Prime Minister Stoltenberg is urging Norwegians to come together and engage in the democratic process to defeat the aims of people like Breivik. Norway, at least, won’t be the same again, Raymond Johansen, the Labor Party’s general secretary, told reporters yesterday.
“There is no doubt that this will impact Norway and the political debate in Norway for many years,” he said.