Norway’s Anti-Immigration Party Likely to Enter Government This Week

Survivors of the Utøya island massacre in 2011, perpetrated by an anti-immigration extremist, are concerned this will lead to a rise in social hostility.

Progress party leader Siv Jensen

The Progress party’s leader, Siv Jensen, at an election rally in central Oslo in 2009. Photograph: Scanpix Norway/Reuters

Norway’s anti-immigration Progress party is likely to come to power for the first time as junior partner in a centre-right coalition, according to opinion polls about Monday’s parliamentary election.

Despite a backlash against the party following the massacre of 69 people by Anders Breivik in 2011, Progress has recovered in the polls, appealing to one in seven voters. Breivik, 34, was a member of the Progress party in his youth before he lost faith in it and in democracy, and adopted the radical anti-Muslim views that underpinned his attacks.

Under the leadership of Siv Jensen, it is poised to enter government as a junior partner in a coalition led by Erna Solberg, a Conservative who is potentially Norway’s next prime minister.

Polls have hardly moved since the beginning of August, with Labour and the Conservatives forecast to attract slightly less than 30% of the vote. A daily survey by Infact for Norway’s VG newspaper showed support for Progress at around 14%. None of the other parties likely to form a post-election coalition is polling more than 7%.

“It scares me that the Progress party could be in power,” said 29-year-old Vegard Grøslie Wennesland, a survivor of the Utøya killings running on a Labour ticket. “Some of their prominent figures still use very strongly anti-immigrant rhetoric. And that sort of rhetoric will create a more hostile environment.”

Progress has softened its image in recent years, dumping some of its more firebrand spokesmen and positioning itself as a mainstream party of the right. All parties have refrained from explicit mentions of Breivik’s attacks to avoid being seen as using the tragedy for political gain. But it has emerged in coded language during discussions about national security and investment decisions.

Morten Høglund, Progress’s foreign affairs spokesman, confronted the issue after saying that his party would seek to invest the country’s oil revenues in “roads, rail and police helicopters”.

“If you look at the tragedy on July 22, the lack of police helicopters was one of the factors for not getting police to Utøya as quickly as we would like,” he said. “But we are also talking about hospitals and other kinds of investment.”

Fredric Holen Bjørdal, a 23-year-old Utøya survivor who is placed high on the Labour party’s election list and is likely to become Norway’s youngest legislator, said he was running for office not because of the horror he had experienced, but despite it.

“Many of my friends gave up politics afterward,” said Bjørdal, who led a group of panicked teenagers from one hiding place to another as they fled Breivik’s killing spree. “But for me, I became even more interested. I have this feeling that I have to continue the struggle for those who are not around to do it.”

The massacre on Utøya island, and a bombing that killed eight people in Oslo’s government district hours earlier deeply shocked Norway and the world. At his trial, Breivik said he wanted to punish the Labour party for its liberal immigration policies and to start a “conservative” revolution.

Norway seemingly unanimously agreed that the best way to confront his attacks and his extremism was to not let them change anything in Norwegian society, including its politics.

Jens Stoltenberg, the prime minister, was admired for his calm sensitivity in the aftermath and support for his Labour party earned a short-lived boost. But last year, a report about the police pointed to institutional failures before and during the attacks, denting the prestige of Stoltenberg’s government.

“The Labour party has always been the party of governance. But the ineptitude of the police has been pinned on the Labour party,” said Frank Aarebrot, professor of comparative politics at the University of Bergen.

– The Guardian