Going to Extremes: Can Norway and Europe Address the Growth of the Far Right?
July 28, 2011
On July 22, 2011, a right-wing extremist, Anders Behring Breivik, attacked a government building in central Oslo as well as a political youth camp on the island of Utøya, killing 76 people including many youth of the country’s liberal political elite. Breivik was contemptuous of Norway’s multiculturalism, which he saw as fraying the country’s social fabric and diluting the values of Norway, and sought to draw attention to the so-called Islamization of Europe, stating that he had to “save Norway and Western Europe from a Muslim takeover.”
Q1: What was the immediate Norwegian reaction to this tragedy?
A1: Norway, a country with a robust economy and a small but unified population, has not witnessed a tragedy of this magnitude since World War II, and yet the nation’s response has been model. In response to the attack, Prime Minister Stoltenberg has emphasized Norway’s commitment to democratic values—to openness, tolerance, and inclusion of all its citizens—and Norwegians have overwhelmingly responded with a resurgence of Norway’s faith in and commitment to these ideals. Restraint is exercised in public discussion of the attacks, partly in deference to Norway’s immigrant communities; however, anger, shock, and disgust color any mention of Mr. Breivik. In a country where prison sentences are mild and serve as a means for rehabilitation, there has seldom been a greater display of revulsion toward one individual.
Q2: What are the long-term implications for Norway?
A2: More than 10 percent of Norway’s 4.8 million population is of foreign origin, with most of these immigrants arriving after 1970. Despite Norway’s wealth and economic stability, national debate has been characterized by concern over the expanding Muslim population—Islam is the country’s second-largest religion. Separating legitimate issues of integration and inclusion from unwarranted racism, however, has long been an issue in homogenous Norway. Prior to the attacks, there was a growing belief that something needed to be done to address the failed assimilation of immigrants and rising crime rates in parts of Oslo. Norway recently made its liberal immigration and asylum policies stricter, emblematic of a growing right-wing sentiment in the country and across Europe.
The attacks will undoubtedly lead to significant introspection and study of the fringe communities that exist, with extra attention given to the threat they might pose. Another implication of the attacks will be a modified security infrastructure. Norway has, up until now, been an open and accessible society. Most government buildings are unrestricted, and access to even the country’s top officials and politicians is possible. As frequently highlighted by the international media, Norwegian police do not carry firearms. Guns were responsible for only three deaths in 2010. The attack has exposed the fragility of this open system, and any response will forever change the internal security posture of Norway as it attempts to balance openness with enhanced security.
Q3: Is Europe succumbing politically to extremism?
A3: Over the past 18 months, Europe’s political response and reaction to its economic crisis and the perceived immigration crisis stemming from the Arab Spring have accelerated the political normalization of populist and nationalist parties across the continent. These fringe parties often blame minorities and immigrant groups for Europe’s economic woes as well as the adverse effects of globalization. These sentiments are compounded by Europe’s challenges in integrating and assimilating these groups, the failure of multiculturalism.
In fact, nationalist parties in surrounding Nordic countries—Denmark, Sweden, and Finland—have increased their role in government as a result of running on anti-immigration platforms. The True Finns, Danish Peoples Party, and Sweden Democrat parties have all won seats in parliament. Although Norway has not been impacted by the economic crisis, it has similarly embraced more right-wing immigration policy.
Anders Behring Breivik is not part of any legitimate populist or nationalist political party in Norway—although he once was a member of the Norwegian Progress Party—and his actions and beliefs go far beyond the tenets of these organizations. However, his participation in a wide array of Internet-based extremist groups does symbolize growing right-wing sentiments that threaten European liberal ideals and its political systems. Thus, Breviek and his views did not develop in a vacuum, but as a product of multiple political, economic, and societal factors in Europe that demand greater scrutiny and research in order to develop appropriate policy and political antibodies to the growing poison of extremism in Europe.
Heather A. Conley is a senior fellow and director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Uttara Dukkipati is a research assistant, and Andreas Østhagen a research intern, with the CSIS Europe Program.
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