By Sindre Bangstad 

A mere week after Norway commemorated the six years that have passed since the worst terrorist attacks in modern Norwegian history, perpetrated by the white right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik, residents and tourists in the sleepy southern Norwegian city of Kristiansand (population 61,000) were shocked to find a group of 60-70 neo-Nazis occupying the main shopping street of the city for an entire day earlier this summer.

The neo-Nazis, all but two white males, were marching under the slogan ‘Crush The Gay Lobby’ and handing out leaflets ascribing the power of said ‘gay lobby’ to the work of ‘Jewish Cultural Marxists.’ In the aftermath, they celebrated their taking over the central shopping street in Kristiansand as a significant victory, and declared that they had managed to turn Kristiansand into a ‘National Socialist Zone.’ And it was some kind of achievement, for Norway has not seen so many marching Nazis in the streets since the Nazi German Occupation of Norway during World War II (1940-45).   

The day was Saturday July 29, known as Olsok in Norway. It is ascribed particular importance by the Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish and Danish neo-Nazis who had gathered in Markeveien in Kristiansand that morning due to the fact that in Norwegian mythology, the famous battle at Stiklestad in mid-Norway, in which the Viking king believed to have turned Norway into a Christian domain, Olav II Haraldsson (993-1030) or Olav The Sacred, was killed, battling his heathen enemies on this day in 1030 A. C. This is an act of cultural and historical appropriation similar to that which the disturbed Anders Behring Breivik undertook in declaring himself a conservative Christian ‘Knight Templar.’ It is by no means without precedent in Nazi circles in Norway: the Norwegian Nazi collaborationist regime under Prime Minister Vidkun Quisling during World War II emphasized and instrumentalized Norse and Norwegian mythology, and appropriated Stiklestad and Olav The Sacred in their propaganda.

Serious historians actually hold that Olav The Sacred was not even killed at the battle of Stiklestad, but at a minor battle elsewhere during the same year. The demonstration in Kristiansand proceeded under the protection of some twenty-six local police officers. This was despite the fact that local police had neither granted permission for the event, nor been notified of it in advance as required by Norwegian law. Two counterdemonstrators who tried to exercise their legal rights to freedom of expression in the form of counter-speech were arrested by the police. Video footage from the scene shows one of the counterdemonstrators being manhandled, spat on and yelled at by the neo-Nazi demonstrators before being arrested. It is a telling demonstration of the limited practical applicability of the revered notion of counter-speech or ‘more speech’ as the universal solvent against racist and extremist hate speech, when it takes place under conditions of vastly assymetrical power and the threat of violence.

To the extent that consumers of the international media hear news about Norway and Scandinavia at all, it is often positive news. Norway was earlier this year rated as the country with the happiest people on the planet. It regularly features at the top of international standards and quality of life indexes, as well as being one of the most gender equal societies on earth. And true enough, there is actually a lot to celebrate in Norway’s comparatively low level of socio-economic inequality, our advanced welfare state, our free public education and health care. But it also often seems that the international news media is so heavily invested in these notions, that the dark undercurrents of Norwegian and Scandinavian societies past and present go largely unnoticed.

A majority of the demonstrating neo-Nazis in Kristiansand this summer were in fact not Norwegian, but Swedish. They were hard-core members of a violent neo-Nazi outfit which goes under the name of the Nordic Resistance Movement (Den Nordiska Motstandsbevegelsen, DNM). In Sweden, this movement has a particularly strong organization in the largely rural province of Dalarna.    

In Dalarna, members of the DNM have succeeded in getting themselves onto municipal councils through democratic means. And there have been cases in which municipal council members from parties who have opposed them have been forced to resign due to serial harassment from DNM members. It was in the city of Falun, the administrative centre of Dalarna that a group of five hundred Scandinavian neo-Nazis marched under heavy police protection on International Worker’s Day, on May 1, this year. And it is in Dalarna that the head of the Norwegian section of the movement, the former heavy metal rocker Haakon Freiwald, lives and from which he co-ordinates the organization’s activities in Norway.

In Sweden and in Finland, members of this movement has been involved in murders of immigrants and anti-racist campaigners, and in murderous arson attacks on asylum reception centers. Key members of this movement are known to have undergone military training with Russian ultra-nationalist forces.  A joint investigation by Filter Media in Norway and Expo in Sweden found that among the Swedish neo-Nazis demonstrators in Kristiansand there were individuals with criminal records relating to violent assaults on police, immigrants and anti-racist activists.

Eighteen neo-Nazis from Sweden who had attempted to get to Kristiansand on July 29 were arrested by Norwegian police on the border: police found knives and batons in their possession. It has since come to light that two of the Norwegian neo-Nazi activists who marched in Kristiansand, a couple in their early thirties, had three weeks earlier been arrested and charged for illegal possession of weapons. The male activist currently facing charges for illegal possession of guns has a long criminal record.

In Norwegian right-wing circles, the fact that Sweden has a much stronger and violent right-wing extremist milieu is often ascribed to Sweden having received a substantially larger number of immigrants from ‘non-Western’ countries since the 1960s, courtesy of its historically more liberal immigration policy. But this neglects the fact that Sweden has ever since the 1950s had an organizationally and numerically much stronger neo-Nazi scene than Norway. 

In the period 1925 to 1945, significant sections of Sweden’s financial and intellectual elites were attracted to German Nazism, and Sweden’s policy of official neutrality during World War II also meant that Nazism in Sweden was never as discredited and associated with national treason as it was in Norway. In contradistinction, Norway was occupied by German Nazi forces for five years during World War II, and the Nazi collaborationist regime of Vidkun Quisling (1940-45) entered international language as a byword for treason. However, the contemporary Norwegians who proclaim neo-Nazism and right-wing extremism are ‘Swedish imports’ are deluding themselves as much as the syndicated white Norwegian media commentators who regularly proclaim racism and discrimination to be negligible phenomena in Norway. Norway last had a serious problem with violent neo-Nazis in the 1990s, when the militant neo-Nazi group Boot Boys attracted hundreds of marginalized and disgruntled white males in and around the capital of Oslo. The appeal of Boot Boys only subsided in the aftermath of three young white Norwegians knifing a random fifteen-year old Norwegian-African boy named Benjamin Hermansen at Holmlia in Oslo East in 2001, which led to a concerted effort by Norwegian police and civil society to stamp out violent right-wing extremism.

Nor can one forget that it was a Norwegian, Anders Behring Breivik, (for ten years an active member of the Norwegian Progress Party which has been in government in Norway since 2013), who perpetrated the worst terror in the violent annals of Scandinavian right-wing extremism back in 2011. The past four years in Norway have given the lie to those Norwegian political analysts who, without any supporting research evidence, have proclaimed that a populist right-wing party in power acts as a brake on the rise of right-wing extremism by providing a democratic channeling of far-right hate and resentment of immigrants in general and Muslims in particular.

The neo-Nazi march in Kristiansand happened on the watch of a Progress Party Minister of Justice, Per-Willy Amundsen, who in his former days as an MP had a long and sustained record of whipping up popular sentiment against immigrants and Muslims in Norway. Six years ago, Amundsen, then an MP, went on record as approving a fellow party politician who had drawn an analogy between Islam and Nazism.  Amundsen is surrounded by cabinet ministers from his own party some of whom have in the course of the past four years been caught greeting well-known Norwegian right-wing extremists with a friendly ‘good night, and thank you’ on their open Facebook pages, and sharing Facebook posts from a British right-wing extremist organization, Britain First .

Though we lack a solid baseline for comparisons due to the lack of systematic police registration of such crimes prior to 2013, hate crimes against Norwegians of immigrant and minority background appear to be on the increase.  Much like in the US presidential election campaign last year, this year’s parliamentary election campaign in Norway has so far revolved around a divisive and polarizing white identity politics. The agenda of the political debate is set by an army of highly paid governmental and parliamentary communication advisors fast outnumbering Norwegian investigative reporters. Norway’s 4.2 per cent of Muslim background are the main target of this white identity politics, as they have been ever since the mid-1980s.

The Norwegian Police Security Services (PST)’s Annual Open Threat Assessments list, both before and after 2011, declared that radical Islamists posed the pre-eminent terror threat in Norway. Norwegian radical Islamists have however always been numerically and organizationally weak in comparative terms. The PST’s analysis, in the face of an ascendant right-wing extremism, is starting to look threadbare. There has for a number of years now been a strong traffic in ideas and rhetoric in the far-right spectrum, which includes right-wing extremists and right-wing populists, in both Norway and Sweden. It seems a fair bet that this mutually reinforcing upwards spiral between democratic and non-democratic political forces on the far-right of the spectrum in Norway and Sweden will continue in the years to come.

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