Norway’s Progress Party – A “modern conservative party” or the ideological home of Anders Breivik?

anders-breivik-007.jpgBy Andrew Spooner

They came with knives, military-grade CS gas grenades, petrol bombs and baseball bats. These were the tools of the trade as used by Norway’s far-right in the Oslo of the 1980s as they sought to intimidate, threaten and inflict violence on the extra-parliamentary left that coalesced around the youth centre, Blitz.

I had arrived in Oslo in 1985, an unemployed, 19 year old homeless punk rocker, who had spent his final schooling years in and out of UK children’s homes. I had no qualifications, no money and coming direct from Thatcher’s Britain no “work experience.” Thanks to the friendly Norwegian welcome I received from the mix of sometimes misguided punks, squatters, left-wing activists, anarchists and other ne’er do wells who hung around at Blitz, I soon had a home and, incredibly, a job.

The real shock upon arriving in Norway wasn’t the cold (-26c in my first Winter) but the unflappable humanity of the place. Compared to the brutal monetarism of Thatcher’s Britain I had just retreated from, I was stunned by the generosity, the kindness, the easy access to well-paid work (cleaning in a hospital kitchen in 1989 I was being paid up to £15 an hour – who needs to claim benefits when work actually pays?) and the sense of tolerant cohesiveness focused on democratic socialist values.

By the late 1980s this tolerant atmosphere began to change. Small groups of violent neo-Nazi thugs began to stalk Oslo’s streets, their main target, at that point, being the kind of extra-parliamentary left-wing activist youth that hung out at Blitz. Close friends of mine had their homes petrol bombed, people were beaten with iron bars and threatened with knives while Blitz itself came under repeated attack.

In the same time frame, Carl I. Hagen, leader of the Fremskrittspartiet (FrP or the Progress Party – Hagen, who was partly educated in the UK in the late 1960s, claims to have stood, and lost, to Labour’s very own Jack Straw MP in an NUS election), was fully emerging onto the political scene, soon becoming a pivotal figure in Norwegian politics. The FrP also quickly became the acceptable bourgeois face of the far-right with their shiny suits, fixed grins, slick PR and a fervent belief in Thatcherite free-market policies.

But Hagen was also prone to reverting extremist demagoguery, not least when, during a 1987 election campaign, he knowingly used a fake letter from a Muslim immigrant to stoke fears about the “Islamification” of Norway. The infamous “Mustafa Letter” – penned by an Oslo man who later said he was duped into writing it – included claims that the country’s churches would all be replaced with mosques and that Muslims would outbreed ethnic Norwegians. The matter ended with Hagen facing “Mustafa” in an Oslo courtroom and an undisclosed settlement being made. Unfortunately the seed of the big-lie of Islamoparanoia (the convoluted fantasies of the Islamophobes have now, in my opinion, developed into an extreme form of paranoia that mimics the worst kind of conspiracy theory) was sown. It was only a few years after the Mustafa Letter scandal, that extreme far-right terrorist and author of the recent Oslo massacre, Anders Behring Breivik, joined FrP.

Given all we now know about Breivik it is not surprising he felt so at home as a member of FrP – according to one source he was fully-paid member of the youth wing from 1997 to 2007, and with the main party from 1999 to 2004. In 1999, a year when Breivik was an FrP member, the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism at Tel-Aviv University produced a report that examined FrP’s views. They make reference to the Encarta encyclopedia stating that FrP were “neo-Nazi” and concluded that Hagen and Breivik’s party “have not attempted to dissociate themselves from racist ideas” and that they receive “attention and support from people with racist attitudes, while maintaining its image as a serious party.”

However, any lingering doubts about FrP’s and Hagen’s extremism soon gave way to outright condemnation. In 2004 Hagen delivered a speech at a Christian fundamentalist gathering in Norway that left little open to equivocation:

“They are on par with Hitler in that they have a long-term plan to “Islamify” the world. They are well on their way to achieving this, they have travelled far into Africa and are well on their way in Europe – and we must speak out!”

Hagen went on to say that Muslims don’t seek to care for children the same way Christians do but instead seek to train them as fighters and suicide bombers. The resulting fury drew opprobrium from a host of Ambassadors from Islamic nations and Hagen’s rivals on both the right and left of Norwegian politics. Hagen, with his name emblazoned on news headlines, was likely smugly satisfied with all the attention.

And it didn’t end there. By the time the 2005 general election campaign began FrP produced a brochure which had a cover photo of a masked man holding a shotgun with the words “The perpetrator is of foreign origin …!”

Norwegian broadsheet Aftenposten quoted a leading Norwegian Liberal Party politician, Olaf Thommessen’s response:

“”This is a low and places the FrP on the outermost right-wing in European politics,” Thommessen said. The prominent Liberal politician compared the brochure’s content with the arguments of Le Pen and Haider and believed the approach would repel voters.”

This was fortunately the last election that Hagen fought as leader of FrP and he stepped down in 2006. His replacement, the present leader Siv Jensen, softened the tone of FrP to an extent but the Norwegian language pages of their website are still stuffed full of anti-immigration rhetoric. Recent pronouncements have included the proposal to deport the parents of children who wear the hijab, to close the border to people from “illiterate” nations such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia and to reduce asylum seekers to 100 a year. That this was considered a “softening” of FrP policy shows how far to the right they previously were.

Even in the days after the Breivik slaughter the FrP website published an English-language defence of the party’s use of “crime” as leverage in the anti-immigrant debate. The irony that a former FrP member, an avowed Christian and a white, ethnic Norwegian managed to unleash three full years of the average number of national murders in a single afternoon seemed to be lost on them.

Rather tastelessly, Siv Jensen also desperately sought to pull the debate back to “Islamists” something which the BBC flagged up in a piece in the days following Breivik’s terror spree.

“Meanwhile, the leader of the right-wing Progress Party has warned that Norway still faces a serious Islamist threat. “All the debates that we had prior to 22 July will come back. All the challenges that Norway was facing and the challenges that the world was facing are still there. Al-Qaeda is still there,” Siv Jensen told the AFP news agency.”

While there is no suggestion that the FrP support anti-immigration violence their dubious post-2006 “move to the centre” signalled by Jensen’s appointment did lead to Breivik’s abandonment of them in 2007 (interestingly, Conservative Party MP Douglas Carswell stated on his website in 2008 that FrP were “everything a modern conservative party should be”). Yet, it is certainly not unreasonable to suggest that by that point Hagen and his FrP colleagues had helped to firmly plant the myth of Islamoparanoia into Norwegian society and the seed of hatred into Breivik.

For Daniel Poohl, editor of Expo – the Swedish anti-fascist magazine created by the author of the best-selling Millenium series of novels, Stieg Larsson – the ideological link between the FrP and Breivik is far from tenuous. In a short interview Poohl gave with me he states that:

“The FrP are clearly not responsible for the violent acts committed by Breivik. But to understand what ideas guided him you have to locate his thinking in the wider ideological framework of which FrP are most certainly a part.”

More worryingly for the UK, the architecture of Breivik’s “wider ideological framework” also included the English Defence League. That Breivik sympathised with the EDL is now firmly established. Back in March, a few weeks before he committed his atrocity, Breivik posted this comment, under the name of a 12th Century Norse King, Sigurd, on an EDL forum:

Hello. To you all good English men and women, just wanted to say that you’re a blessing to all in Europe, in these dark times all of Europe are looking to you in such [sic] of inspiration, courage and even hope that we might turn this evil trend with islamisation all across our continent. Well, just wanted to say keep up the good work it’s good to see others that care about their country and heritage. All the best to you all. Sigurd.”

It has also been revealed in the last week – against a backdrop of the thuggish EDL attempting to foment disorder in London’s East End – that the Norwegian Police are now investigating links between Breivik and several British far-right groups and bloggers, including one of the founders of the EDL, Paul Ray. According to the Guardian an Oslo police press officer, Roar Hanssen, told them:

“A lot of people are mentioned in Breivik’s manifesto and we, of course, want to speak to them and there are some links to the UK. I don’t know if there are specific areas they are from but there are some rightwing groups.”

The “wider ideological framework” of the UK’s anti-immigration, Islamoparanoiac right, which extends from the pages of several national newspapers through to the likes of the EDL, must begin to take responsibility for the myths and falsehoods it perpetuates. Such views are far closer to the extremist anti-Enlightenment position that has inspired fascistic and terrorist elements within the Muslim world than anything approaching the kind of values that uphold the inclusive democratic humanitarianism of a nation such as Norway.

Expo’s website is already reporting that FrP are toning down their rhetoric and rethinking their position – something that should be widely welcomed and applauded. Let’s hope those on the UK right soon follow suit.

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