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(A street artist made it in Bergen, Norway on Easter day. The lady Jesus is the former Justice minister.)

The month of March was quite interesting and happening for Norwegian politicians and everyone abroad. It all started with a Facebook post with a picture of threatening-looking guys with weapons (most-likely Al Shabaab militants), the image text translated as something like: “AP (The Worker’s Party) means that the rights of the terrorists are more important than the security of the nation.” The comment itself was: “We want to withdraw passports and state membership of foreign warriors and terrorists quickly and efficiently! This the Worker’s Party wants to vote down. In the struggle against terror we cannot sit and toe our hands!” The image was supposedly used without permission, which was the reason for the post being deleted.

Although technically it was an illegal use of an image the controversy stems more from what has been conceived unprofessional and humiliating behaviour from the Justice Minister (not the first time she has been provocative in social media), considering the message of the post. The ex-Justice Minister Ms. Listhaug and her right-wing Progress Party, which is a junior partner in a fragile coalition, supported a bill that would have allowed the government to strip Norwegian citizenship from those suspected of joining terrorist or foreign militant groups, without a court hearing. After the bill was defeated earlier this month, she lashed out online.

Oslo is usually a relaxed and peaceful city. You can easily move about either late into the night or during daytime, as the sun sets only for a few hours in summer in general. A city of just 665,000 people, Oslo also hosts some of the most modern sites in the world. Norway, is a sovereign state and constitutional monarchy with the western chunk of the Scandinavian Peninsula plus the remote island of Jan Mayen and the archipelago of Svalbard within its borders. Norway totals an area of 385,252 square kilometres (148,747 sq mi) and is populated by 5,258,317 residents (as of January 2017)

Norway nurtures a close bond with both the United States and the European Union. The kingdom is also a founding member of the United Nations, NATO, the European Free Trade Association, the Council of Europe, the Antarctic Treaty, and the Nordic Council; a member of the European Economic Area, the WTO, and the OECD; and a part of the Schengen Area.

Through the last decades Norway has developed a Nordic welfare model with universal health care and an extensive social security system. The Norwegian Society’s values are rooted in egalitarian ideals and altruism. The petroleum industry accounts for approximately a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Based on per-capita, Norway is the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas outside the Middle East. These resources have skyrocketed Norway from a relatively poor country to a modern and prosperous one.

The World Bank and IMF lists rank Norway as having country has the fourth-highest per capita income in the world. It has the world’s most valuable sovereign wealth fund, with a value of USD 1 trillion. Norway has enjoyed the highest Human Development Index ranking in the world since 2009. It also has the highest inequality-adjusted ranking. Norway ranks first on the World Happiness Report, the OECD Better Life Index, the Index of Public Integrity, and the Democracy Index. Norway also has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.

This is a happy country. One wonders: is it possible to find discontent in such a society? Norway, the Land of the Midnight Sun, is usually known for its high ranking in Human Development Index and the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies. On July 22, 2011 Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old Norwegian man, went on a shooting spree at a youth camp of 600 people, on the beautiful island of Utoeya, 19 miles from Oslo. Later in the afternoon, a massive bomb blast shook Oslo claiming at least seven lives and injuring hundreds. John Samuel, who at that time was working with UNDP Oslo, writes “Norway’s Black Friday (July 22, 2011) points to the paradox of prosperity. Breivik signifies the growing virulence of poisonous rightwing extremism in Europe.” Over a period of time as we lived there for almost three years on and off discussing about Norwegian society and its challenges, we got to understand many other dynamics which are showing their true colors in the present right-wing government, in terms of increasing difficulty in wage market for “outsiders” etc.”

For me, and many others like me, who studied in Norway it is a rather peaceful country and society. It gets difficult at times, but one can find his/her ways to thrive and survive there. On July 22, 2011, with some of the international students I was enjoying a cup of tea in my room situated on the top floor of St. Hanshaugen Students building in Oslo. After the blast the building shook a little and we thought it was a jolt of earth quake. As we started to get ready for a walk around Oslo, we saw the social media filled up with messages, and posts about an attack in Norway. That was Norway’s black Friday.

As previously remarked as Norway has moved from being a rather low-profile Nordic country, it hit the jackpot with the discovery of oil in the late-1960s and ended up as one of the most prosperous countries in the world. Norway is the fifth largest exporter of oil and third largest exporter of natural gas globally. This is where the paradox of prosperity may evolve.

With the rise of income levels and a relatively small, homogenous population there has been a sizable surge in nationalism. In a certain section, ultra-nationalism is currently coveyed in various shapes, moving from simple social prejudice to various shades of xenophobia. Even though neo-Nazi rightwing factions that target migrants is more obvious in Sweden and Denmark, similar groups have appeared in Norway as well. This makes the name of the most rightwing party in Norway (Progressive Party’) even more paradoxical.  Clad in a social democratic liberal framework, discontent and unease over the growing influence and economic capacity of migrant communities is growing under the surface and is a worry for the authorities.
In 2017, Norway’s immigrant population consisted of 883,751 people, making up 16.8% of the country’s total population. This includes both foreign-born and Norwegian-born with two foreign-born parents, and four foreign-born grandparents. The ten most common countries of origin of immigrants residing in Norway are Poland (97,196), Lithuania (37,638), Sweden (36,315), Somalia (28,696), Germany (24,601), Iraq (22,493), Syria (20,823), Philippines (20,537), Pakistan (19,973), and Eritrea (19,957). Over 10% of people belong to various migrant communities. With facilities available to every citizen, irrespective of race, gender or ethnicity, rightwing politicians view migrants as parasites.

The first-generation migrants were at the lower end of the professional ladder and informal sectors like cleaning and minding small corner shops, whereas the second-generation migrants are educated, smart and compete for jobs with young people.

People of Pakistani origin consist of the largest migrant community in Norway. Most of them migrated here in the late-’60s when it was relatively easy to migrate to Norway. John writes, “First-generation migrants from Pakistan were low-skilled and worked largely in the informal sector. After a couple of generations, Norwegians of Pakistani origin make up one of the most prosperous migrant communities in the country. Their children compete for professional jobs, indeed many of them are economically successful thanks to a coherent family foundation and network.”

In a society that is used to being ‘taken care of’, there is growing irritation about successful second-generation migrants competing for the same economic resources. Also, most migrants in Nordic countries happen to be Muslims from Asia or North Africa, strengthening racial and religious prejudices.  Norway is the most ‘Christian’ of the Nordic countries. The Lutheran church is mainly supported by the state; pastors draw their salaries from the state budget. Liquor is heavily taxed. There is an underlying tension between the old Christian society and new immigrants with a different sociology, theology, colour and culture. In a country with a relatively small population, these issues become accentuated, particularly when the migrant population constitutes more than 10% of the total population.

 

On March 8th this year, the majority of the Parliament turned down a proposal from Høyre (The Conservatives) and FrP (Right-wing party) to withdraw passports of foreign warriors (E.g. volunteers that return from outside and having fought in the Syrian Civil War) without initially proceeding through the judiciary. This provoked the reaction from the Justice minister. However, the post coincidentally surfaced at the premiere date for the drama film based on the Utøya massacre of 22nd July, 2011. This would trigger a chain of events in the following days.

The party Rødt initiated a no confidence motion towards Listhaug, and although the Prime Minister Erna Solberg did not condemn the minister’s behaviour as much as many would have liked, Listhaug ended up voluntarily withdrawing from her post, as did her political advisor who was the actual mastermind behind it.

Listhaug received an overwhelming number of flowers from her “fans” showing their support during the turbulent week. Listhaug remains controversial and polarized.

FRIDAY, MARCH 9th

Justice minister Sylvi Listhaug (FrP) shares a post on Facebook accusing AP of putting terrorists’ rights ahead of national security. The context here is AP (the labour party) – and the rest of Parliamentary opposition – goes against governmental parties Høyre and FrP proposal that there be possible to withdraw national citizenship of persons assumed to do terrorist actions or in another way is damaging Norwegian interests, without going through court treatment. Listhaug’s post creates enormous reactions, much of it because it arrives same day as premiere on Utøya film.

SATURDAY, MARCH 10th

Ap leader Jonas Gahr Støre reacts strongly on Listhaug’s post and asks prime minister Erna Solberg (H) to come forward. Ap party secretary Kjersti Stenseng refers to the Utøya film premiere and urges her to see the movie and then go be ashamed of herself. Listhaug does not let this affect her and answers that if Ap does not like getting critique for voting down the said proposal they are welcome to turn. The prime minister herself does not take self-critique either, asking Ap to ”look in the mirror” and saying that ”there are a lot of pointed sayings in politics”.

MONDAY, MARCH 12th

Solberg adjusts her communication, now saying that the form of Listhaug’s Facebook post was ”too tough”. She also blames ”polarized debate from both sides”. Frp leader Siv Jensen defends Listhaug, calling it all ”a discussion about words”. Frp accuses Ap of whipping the terror debate and means that Ap itself is to blame for the 22th-July-terror connection. Støre means Listhaug contributes to Ap hatred.

TUESDAY, MARCH 13th

Høyre secondary leader Jan Tore Sanner calls Listhaug’s use of language unacceptable. KrF (Christian People’s Party) demands that the government apologizes in Parliament. Listhaug, refusing to let herself interview about the case, writes on Facebook that it ”was neither my intention nor purpose to hurt anyone”. She writes that she was being sad when Støre said she knowingly nurtures Ap hatred. Listhaug, however, does not remove the debated Facebook post.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14th

Listhaug removes post, referring that the image bureau had protested on its use. Rødt (Red) forwards a distrust proposal against Listhaug. DN (Business Life of the Day [newspaper]) reports that Solberg asked Listhaug to remove the picture on Saturday that was, without her listening. Solberg says she is sorry on behalf of the whole government.

THURSDAY, MARCH 15th

It is clear that the majority vote is for a proposal from SV (Socialist Left Party) to adopt a strong criticism of Listhaug. The prime minister reports that Listhaug will come to the Parliament to apologize. Named Sanner also comes there to repeat the prime minister’s apology. But during a few morning hours in Parliament Listhaug is not able to apologize in a way that oppositions finds credible. Ap leader Støre therefore warns that they will give support to the distrust proposal of party Red. Parliament adopts strong criticism, a so-called ”daddelvedtak” against Listhaug.

FRIDAY, MARCH 16th

Sp (Centre Party) makes it clear that they also will support the distrust proposal. KrF does not conclude, and hints at an extraordinary National Board meeting Monday. Solberg confirms that she still has trust in Listhaug, who on her part arranges a meeting of the press in Justice Department to show a prominent gathering of flower bouqets sent her by supporters. She also refuses to answer critical questions as well as access to journalists not willing to conform. It is clear that several immigration hostile Facebook groups have contributed to the flower event.

SATURDAY, MARCH 17th

Several media report divisive attitudes to the question within KrF. From Ap and KrF there are hints that Listhaug may ”survive” providing she changes department. This is rejected from FrP.

SUNDAY, MARCH 18th

VG (Goings of the world [newspaper]) reports to government sources that Solberg wants to raise cabinet questions  that is, threaten to quit her position – if the majority in Parliament is for the distrust proposal.

MONDAY, MARCH 19th

KrFs National Board discusses the distrust proposal.

TUESDAY, MARCH 20th

Listhaug voluntarily quits her position, saying she has been victim of a witch hunt to strangle freedom of speech, especially pointing her finger at Støre and calling KrF a party ”without a back spine”.

Norway must work harder to maintain its core values of peace and tolerance. The world is changing every day, and it is a rather known fact that a society can progress only when it accepts diversity as one of its primary characteristics. The resignation of Listhaug may be a short-term solution to the existing and growing tone of discontent among the Norwegian society. However, the next time Norwegians vote, they should be more cautious about who they give the power to lead themselves. Peace has never been just a word.

(With inputs from Kristoffer Tangård & Petter Asplin Sørlie)

 

(Ashish Kumar Singh is a Doctoral Candidate at the Political Science department of Higher School of Economics, Moscow. Prior to that he has studied in Oslo, Mumbai and New Delhi. He can be contacted at: ashish.tiss@gmail.com)

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