Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Norway: Right-wing parties lose support after massacre

Interest among people to organize has increased
Trond Sverre Kolltveit and Elise Kolltveit

Norway politics tilt left
On 22 July, the extreme right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people, 10 of them with a huge bomb in Oslo city and 67 young political activists in a massacre at the summer camp of the Labour party’s (Arbeiderpartiet, Ap) youth league, AUF. 

Behring Breivik’s motive was his hatred of the labour movement, Marxism and Islam. He was active for many years in the racist Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet), holding positions in the party in Oslo and being on its election slate. In recent opinion polls before local elections on 12 September, the Progress Party is losing support and so is the Conservative Party (Høyre), which before the terror attack was preparing an alliance with the Progress Party.

In the article below, Trond Sverre and Elise Kolltveit report from Oslo.

The mood among people after the terror was marked first by shock and despair. Thousands laid flowers outside the Cathedral in Oslo and the labour movement’s headquarters at Youngstorget. But many have also described the warmth and caring people had for each other in the following days. 200,000 demonstrated against terror, but the demonstration was turned into a square rally; the streets were simply too full of people to march.

The Labour Party has increased its support by 10 percentage points and is now above 40 per cent in the opinion polls. Although sympathy votes for the Ap can go down, it might be enough for the right-wing parties in Oslo to lose power at the elections in September, and stop the rise of the Conservatives. The parties agreed to postpone the start of the election campaign. None of the parties came with any political statements. The parties said that the election campaign should be “non-polemical”. But the major parties and the government itself have a hard immigration and asylum policy and established politicians often present immigrants and Muslims as a problem.

The interest among people to organize themselves has increased. AUF and other youth organisations have had an increase in membership applications. Labour movement youth organisations have said that terror will not scare them from political work. The Socialist Youth held its summer camp just a week after the terror at Utøya. Also, parties of the left are experiencing an increase in membership. The Socialist Left Party (Sosialistisk Venstreparti) in Oslo has increased by around 500 members.

In a survey conducted a few days after the terror one in four said they had a more positive view of immigrants. Many also say that they will no longer accept islamophobic statements and jokes at work or elsewhere. The mood against racism will increase.

The media makes much of the islamophobic and extreme right-wing bloggers and internet debates. Breivik posted several thousand posts on islamophobic blogs. He was also active in a Swedish right-wing website, The major newspapers have now tried to moderate their comment fields, often flooded with racist and islamophobic messages regardless of theme. It has also been discussed about removing them completely. A right-wing blogger, Fjordman, first went into hiding, but has now appeared with an article in a newspaper. But newspapers and TV have for years held ‘integration debates’ where migrants, especially Muslims, are usually portrayed as a problem. They have also printed islamophobic opinion articles.

Both the Conservatives and Progress Party (FRP) poll ratings have gone down after the terror. The Conservative Party leader Erna Solberg has likened Muslim baiting with the persecution of the Jews in the 1930s. At the same time, she wants to sit in government with the racist FRP who have used Muslim baiting to get votes, in the same manner as other right-wing populist parties in Europe. FRP’s leader Siv Jensen has warned of the “stealth islamisation of Norway”. Now the FRP has gone very quiet and has said they will “dampen the tone.” But it has not said that it will change its racist and Islamophobic policies.

Now, with the campaign barely begun, FRP’s former leader, Carl I Hagen, has said that he wants the shortest possible investigation and trial. He has also said that “investigators should not go into details.” This, of course, has outraged the parents of those killed at Utøya. Hagen is candidate for mayor of Oslo and it may seem that he has not understood the mood of the city. But he probably also sends a message to racist and islamophobic voters who feel squeezed now and wish that everything will soon be back to where it was before the massacres. It will not.

While capitalism in Norway does not have the same problems as other countries in Europe, people have experienced downsizing, privatisation and cuts in the public sector. The gap between the richest and the poorest has increased dramatically and the proportion of children in poverty has increased, although the government has promised to “eradicate poverty”. Many immigrants have great difficulty entering the labour market and acquiring housing. Mass mobilisations and socialist policies are needed to fight back against racism.

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