Farmers from all over Norway held their latest noisy protest in front of the Parliament (Stortinget) in Oslo on Friday, this time against protection of wolves and other predators. It was a classic “rural vs. urban” confrontation, and a local professor warned that politicians let themselves be influenced by rural interests far too easily.
The protesters had convened on the capital by the busload, with hundreds marching to demand that more wolves, wolverines, bears and other predators be shot. Farmers from Telemark, Hedmark, Oppland and other rural areas were joined by Sami reindeer owners from northern Norway, claiming that their livestock were seriously threatened by Norway’s growing predator population.
“I’m no predator hater,” Olav Langåsdalen, who runs a farm in Hjartdal in Telemark, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “But we must understand that we must have fewer predators.”
Wolves were nearly extinct in Norway until conservation efforts succeeded in restoring a small wolf population back in the last 1990s. Hunting of wolves and bears, for example, remains strictly regulated.
Meanwhile, those accustomed to Norway’s traditional open grazing claim their flocks are regularly being attacked by predators. Farmers sought state compensation for 37,000 animals last year, which they claim were killed by predators. Reindeer owners also feel a growing threat to their herds.
Norway’s left-center government has been split on the issue, with the farmer-friendly Center Party calling for an expanded wolf hunt even though the party claims to be environmentally friendly as well. Another party in the government coalition, the Socialist Left, is firmly in favour of continuing to protect the wolf population, leaving the dominant Labour Party to tip the balance. It’s believed to have been leaning in favour of the wolves and bears.
Rural districts often get their way
A professor and research chief at the foreign policy institute NUPI, Iver B Neumann, said he thinks the politicians will listen to the traditionally strong farmers’ lobby in Norway once again, for all the wrong reasons.
“No politicians in the world let themselves be pressured so easily by small, noisy groups of demonstrators like they do in Norway,” Neumann told NRK.
Just in the past few months, he noted, the government has reversed its policies after protests over local hospital closures in rural areas, for example, and over controversial power lines in Hardanger. Last spring farmers drove their tractors into town once again and fought to preserve their subsidies, now they want to shoot more wolves, Neumann said.
“In Norway, there’s a consistent trend to pit rural interests against society as a whole, and when that happens, the rural districts win,” Neumann said. “It’s extremely damaging for the majority of Norwegians, who live in the cities.”
The problem, according to Neumann, is that Norwegian politicians give in too easily to the minority instead of ruling in favour of what may be best for the majority.
“If a little minority screams loudly enough, and gets their way, you have a democratic problem,” Neumann said. He called minorities’ ability to be heard in Norway “unique in an international perspective,” and troublesome when it negatively affects the majority.