Norway's far right not a spent force
- 23 July 2011
- From the section Europe
The man arrested following the attacks in Norway, Anders Behring Breivik, describes himself as a "nationalist", according to the police.
In the purest sense of the word, he is not alone. On this day of grief, Norwegian people have united under their flag, vowing to stand firm against terror.
But the suspect, it seems, is no pure nationalist. Instead, he is said to be a right-wing extremist of the kind that police authorities in the West have feared for some time.
Their fear has been heightened by the potentially explosive mix of economic recession and unemployment, increasing racism and an ever stronger anti-Muslim sentiment, according to the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.
Norway's security police reported a mild increase in right-wing extremist activity last year and predicted that such activity would continue to increase throughout this year.
But it also suggested that the movement was weak, lacked a central leader and offered relatively modest growth potential.
Disorganised and chaotic
Though members of the Norwegian far-right movement have carried out attacks in the past, it has historically been a small community, according to neo-Nazi watchers.
The late Stieg Larsson, the Swedish crime writer famous for his Millennium trilogy, was one such expert.
In the mid-1990s, he founded the anti-racist, anti-extremist publication Expo following a sharp rise in violence carried out by neo-Nazis.
In an interview in connection with a documentary I was making at the time, he told me that Sweden was the world's largest producer of so-called White Power Music and other racist propaganda, with an active, fast-growing and violent neo-Nazi movement.
By contrast, the Norwegian neo-Nazis were disorganised and chaotic, he said, citing an example of a large far-right gathering in Sweden attended by a small group of Norwegians.
The Swedes were articulate, organised and smartly dressed, he recalled, whereas the Norwegians, who had arrived by coach, had been drinking all the way during their journey across the border and were thus largely incoherent and shabby in appearance.
Edging into mainstream
Since then, it seems Norwegian far-right extremists have created stronger links with criminal communities, as well as with similar groups abroad, in Europe, Russia and the US.
Sweden, by contrast, has seen a sharp drop in far-right extremist activity since its peak in the mid-1990s, when every national newspaper in the country published identical editions with photos of every known neo-Nazi in the land.
But at the same time, aspects of the far-right agenda have risen to greater prominence on the mainstream political arena, with Expo reporting how the revulsion displayed by the Swedish people during the 1990s is increasingly turning towards a curiosity about toned-down far-right rhetoric.
Similar sentiments have been felt in Norway, where politicians have openly been voicing concerns about how the country's culture might be diluted by immigration from countries with different religions and values.
Following the attacks in Oslo and on Utoeya, it will be interesting to see whether many in the country develop a more sophisticated view of where the greatest threats are coming from, amid a growing realisation that extremism is deadly regardless of nationality, ethnicity or religion.