The Norwegian model
20 April 2012
In recent days, in Room 250 of the Oslo courthouse, democracy and the rule of law are being tested. The trial of Anders Behring Breivik, which opened April 16, is indeed a double challenge, and an example.
A challenge for the Norwegians first of all, who have had to relive the trauma of the attacks of July 22 (77 victims in Oslo and on the island of Utøya) and to put up with Breivik’s defiant attitude since the start of his trial. Breivik has not only expressed no remorse for his actions but has declared he would do it again; yet he was also given 75 minutes to read the 13 pages of text he had written to explain why he had done what he had.
For his fellow citizens, starting with the survivors and families of the dead, the trial is about resisting the temptation to take revenge, to trust to justice and to build up the antibodies to ensure that Breivik has no emulators.
It is thus a challenge for Europeans, since the media coverage of the Anders Breivik trial and the nature of the procedure (advertising the hearing, freedom of speech for the accused) have offered his ideas a soap box – "a trial is a golden opportunity,” Breivik wrote in the manifesto he posted on the internet before the attacks – that extend well beyond Norway.
However, a significant number of Europeans share these ideas – Islamophobia, xenophobia, hatred of the elites, of social democrats, of liberals and of muliti-culturalism. And it has been rare in Europe to see them displayed without censorship or limitation in a court and retransmitted urbi et orbi – to the city and to the world. In many countries, in fact, statements such as those of Breivik are criminalised because of their character – hateful, violent or inciting to hatred and violence.
Following the attacks, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, from the same Labour Party as the teenagers slaughtered on Utøya, had argued that the answer to Breivik was "more openness and more democracy." For his part, Eskil Pedersen, one of the survivors of Utøya, wrote on the eve of the trial: "It's good to see that the rule of law is working and that society is moving forward.”
And therein lies the Norwegian example: a democratic society, confident and built around an effective rule of law, fears neither those who want to question the principles on which it is based nor their words, because it has the legal tools – and especially the cultural tools – to protect itself. This is probably the main lesson to be learned from this case.