Norway’s anti-immigration Progress Party is preparing to enter government for the first time as its leader says voters have stopped associating the group with the country’s worst postwar massacre.
Anders Behring Breivik, who in July 2011 killed 77 people in two attacks that targeted members of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s Labor Party, was once a member of the Progress Party, which is led by 44-year-old Siv Jensen.
The group, which has repeatedly condemned the Breivik murders, struggled to articulate its policies in the months that followed for fear of a backlash, Jensen said. Though support has slipped since 2011, polls show Jensen will enter government after Sept. 9 elections in a coalition led by Erna Solberg’s Conservative Party. Jensen still targets curbs on the number of immigrants entering Scandinavia’s richest nation.
“At first we all covered the subject more delicately than we normally have, but now I think the debate climate is back to normal,” Jensen said yesterday in an interview in Oslo. “All political parties decided very early that we were not to be affected by the actions of that crazy guy when it came to fighting for democracy.”
The Progress Party, the second-biggest in Parliament, is now backed by 14 percent of voters, according to a TNS Gallup poll based on phone interviews on July 29 to Aug. 2. The Conservatives lead with support from 31.6 percent of voters, with the Labor Party at 30.1 percent.
Before Breivik’s attacks, the Progress Party had seen its popularity soar as Norwegians -- like their Nordic neighbors in Sweden, Denmark and Finland -- welcomed policies claiming to defend local jobs from foreigners.
In 2009 parliamentary elections Jensen campaigned on pledges to fight what she called the “sneak Islamization” of Norway. Now, she says her party wants to work against “certain aspects of illegal immigration.”
In a 1,500-page manifesto Breivik posted online before the killings he said the attacks were part of a crusade against “cultural Marxism” and the “Islamization” of Europe. He was sentenced last year to 21 years in prison, though his term can be extended if a court decides he still poses a threat to society.
Breivik is now studying mathematics to gain the required high-school course work so he can pursue a political science degree at Oslo University, news agency NTB reported today, citing lawyer Vibeke Hein Baera. Any studies would have to be done from prison.
Support for the Progress Party plunged in a municipal vote less than two months after Breivik’s attacks, delivering the party its worst defeat in 16 years.
“Our election result was not all that good but we’ve recovered well and have normalized the situation,” Jensen said. Continuing the debate is “a much better way of fighting bad ideas than not debating at all.”
The Progress Party started as an anti-tax movement in 1973 and has largely been shunned by Norway’s other parliamentary groups because of its anti-immigration platform.
The Conservatives have pledged to lower taxes and boost spending on roads, railways, education and research and development. Stoltenberg, who heads a three-party Labor-led coalition, has argued Norway needs to extend its welfare model, which is financed by the oil fund.
Jensen started full-time in politics in 1994 and joined parliament in 1997. She also worked as a sales consultant at Radio 1 after getting a degree from the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration in 1992.