x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Norwegians shun xenophobic right-wing party after massacre

Support for the Progress Party fell dramatically in a municipal vote this month, with Norwegians turning to tolerance and equality in the aftermath of Anders Behring Breivik's attack.

OSLO // Anders Behring Breivik may have helped silence xenophobia in Norway as voters shun the anti-immigration party he was a member of before he committed the July massacre that left 77 people dead.

Popular support for the Progress Party, the second biggest in Norway's national parliament, fell by 6.1 percentage points to 11.4 percent in a Sept. 12 municipal vote, the group's worst result in 16 years. The Labor Party of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, which Breivik targeted in the attacks, won 32 percent of the election, its best result in 24 years.

"The Progress Party largely built their base on spreading suspicion, especially against Islam and Muslims," said Thomas Hylland Eriksen, an anthropologist at the University of Oslo, in an interview. The attacks have "been very damaging for them and that will have a civilizing effect on the debate," he said.

Norwegians have spent the past two months working through their horror over the killings and reaffirming Scandinavian principles of tolerance and equality. That may help reverse a pan-Nordic trend that had seen a surge in the popularity of parties seeking to stem the inflow of immigrants from mostly Muslim countries as voters balked at the prospect of sharing their welfare benefits.

In neighboring Denmark, voters toppled a Liberal-Conservative government this month that ruled with the support of the anti-immigration Danish People's Party. Backing for the Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigration party in the largest Nordic country, fell to 5.5 percent this month from 6.8 percent in June, according a poll by TNS-Sifo.

A poll last week in newspaper Vaart Land showed Norway's Progress Party may also lose seats in parliament. The group's support in the legislature fell 5.9 percentage points this month to 13.3 percent, according to the poll by Norstat. That compares with the 22.9 percent it won in 2009.

Breivik, who will remain in solitary confinement for several more weeks as police continue their investigation, went on a shooting rampage on July 22 at a Labor Party youth camp that killed 69, including some as young as 14. A few hours earlier, he detonated a car bomb in Oslo's government district, killing eight.

The attacks were part of a crusade against "cultural Marxism" and the "Islamization" of Europe, according to a 1,500-page manifesto Breivik posted online hours before the killings.

While Breivik's attacks triggered a backlash against anti- immigration policies, they also unleashed calls for better police protection.

"It's made us all a little bit more paranoid, a little more insecure, a little less trusting," Eriksen said. "And that will remain, this loss of trust because we know that it could happen again."

The Norwegian government has proposed to increase this year's budget by as much as $127 million to cover costs related to the attacks. Norway's government has appointed an independent commission to probe why it took police 1 1/2 hours to get to the island where Breivik shot members of the Labor Party's youth faction, himself disguised as a law enforcement officer.

The police blamed inadequate transportation and a shortage of staff.

The Norwegian Police Security Service is under scrutiny for failing to include Breivik on a watch list of suspected terrorists, even after his name appeared on an Interpol list of individuals buying dangerous chemicals over the internet.

"In European countries, as in the U.S., there has been a tendency to introduce all these counter terrorism measures such as profiling," Hammerlin said. In Norway "the immediate response has been less aggressive. We haven't had these broad surveillance measures."

Breivik will be charged with acts of terror and may be the first person in Norway to be indicted for committing crimes against humanity. The offence carries a maximum sentence of 30 years. That's nine years longer than Norway's current maximum prison term.

Breivik is in solitary confinement term at Ila Landsfengsel outside Oslo, a prison built in the late 1930s and used by the Nazis to incarcerate Norwegian prisoners of war.

Inmates in the Nordic country face prison sentences designed to rehabilitate rather than just punish them, according to the Justice Ministry.

Norway's newest maximum-security prison in Halden offers cells with flat-screen TVs, unbarred windows, private bathrooms, and access to work-out rooms and a music studio. The prison came second in a competition for best Norwegian interior design this month, an award won in 2009 by the Oslo opera house.

"I strongly believe Norwegian law is too soft on criminals," said Nina Myhre, a 37-year-old event planner from Oslo. "When we've been subjected to such terrible, inhuman acts by just one man, it's obvious that Norway needs to change its rules and laws."

Someone like Breivik "shouldn't be let out among normal people again," she said.