A Norwegian lesson
29 July 2011
The alarm bell came from an unexpected quarter. The attack and the shooting perpetrated by Anders Breivik on July 22 raise questions that resonate throughout Europe, at a time when Norway seemed on the margins of changes occurring in the rest of the continent.
Geographically off-centre, the Norwegians live in a country sitting on oil reserves the management of which ensures them a more prosperous future than that of their neighbours. Absent from the European scene after having refused twice to join the European Union (but it is part of the Schengen Area and of the European Economic Area), Norway was little talked about and one barely noticed that, since 2009, through the Progress Party, the extreme right is the country’s second largest political force.
Breivik’s 76 victims brutally linked Norway to the rest of Europe. In Italy and France, where some elected officials justified the killer, the Northern League and the National Front, until then both on the rise, will have to prove, at least for a while, that their attacks on Islam and on multi-culturalism are not associated with blind violence. In the Netherlands, the very media-friendly leader of the Party for Freedom, Geert Wilders, without whom the government would not hold, is under pressure because Breivik lauded him in his manifesto, published on Internet.
Over the last several years, the rise of populist and extreme-right wing parties was considered a European trend, but one fuelled by national circumstances against which no one was seeking a general response. With the tragedies in Oslo and Utoya Island, these parties are being held accountable, and the threat of extreme-right wing violence is felt everywhere in the same manner. This threat, long neglected by the concerned intelligence services which focused on the threat of Islamic radicalism, must be battled seriously, and by Europe as a whole. Radical and neo-Nazi movements are sufficiently well-known for this to be done rapidly.
But one must be careful not to mix everything up, a method preferred by populists and extremists. Anders Breivik’s actions are due in large part to personal folly, common to extremists and terrorists of all cultures, religions and political tendencies. And if Wilders, Marine Le Pen, Heinz Christian Strache in Austria or Siv Jensen (leader of the Norwegian Progress Party) attract so many voters, it’s because they know how to strike chords sensitive to the voters.
The response, at the European level, can only be political. It requires responding to the unease of the voters with ideas and acts on immigration and cohabitation between cultures, on globalisation, on the crisis and unemployment, as well as on the balance of power between politics and economics.
After the challenge, the response can also come from Norway. As Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said, “the response to violence is greater democracy”.
Translated from the French by Pat Brett