Progress Party’s lack of progress

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NEWS COMMENTARY: Norway’s most conservative party, the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp), must be feeling a need for attention. One of its top leaders has once again resorted to grabbing it by making provocative comments about immigrants and the flag, and thus casting doubt on whether the party has made any progress of its own in recent years.

Norway's emerging multi-cultural society has left many people from other cultures waving the Norwegian flag. The Progress Party doesn't seem comfortable with that. PHOTO: Views and News

Criticizing immigration and integration programs, and stirring up feelings of Norwegian nationalism, are old tactics for the Progress Party. They seemed to take a back seat, though, as the party evolved in recent years into a much more respected organization that even ranked briefly as Norway’s largest party in the polls. Party leader Siv Jensen has dramatically toned down the party’s old anti-immigrant rhetoric, and there was little of it during last year’s election campaign.

Last week, though, news broke that the Progress Party’s standing in the latest public opinion polls has slipped. Two polls in a row, conducted for two different media organizations, showed that the Conservative Party (Høyre) now ranks as Norway’s largest and has far surpassed the Progress Party in terms of voter support. Last fall, Progress was much bigger than Høyre and Jensen even seemed to have a chance of becoming prime minister.

Christian-Tybring Gjedde's provocative, even offensive, comments may backfire on the progress his party has made in recent year. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

The Conservatives have since stolen the spotlight from the Progress Party, and it only took a few days after the latest poll results came out for Progress’ leader in Oslo, Christian Tybring-Gjedde, to jump back on the anti-immigrant bandwagon and win some headlines. In a commentary written for newspaper Aftenposten, Tybring-Gjedde and fellow party member Kent Andersen bashed the Labour Party — Norway’s coalition government leader for the past five years — for allegedly replacing Norwegian culture with a multi-cultural society.

“It’s Labour that has opened the borders … given us thousands of new Norwegians from various cultures and lack of cultures every year … and seen to it that Norwegians flee more of Oslo’s neighbourhoods and leave behind enclaves where Muslim dogmatism and intolerance grow stronger,” they wrote. “What’s wrong with Norwegian culture, since (Labour) is so determined to replace it something they call ‘multi-culture’?”

They defined “Norwegian culture” as “the sum of everything we celebrate on the 17th of May:” A common history, traditions, language, holidays, religion, values, currency, the flag. “Why wasn’t that good enough for Labour?” they asked.

They went so far as to suggest that a new multi-cultural society will tear Norway’s own culture apart.

Reaction was immediate, and not only from Labour. Anti-racism groups made it clear that “Norwegian culture” is not threatened by immigration, and suggested Tybring-Gjedde was nurturing prejudice. “The Norwegian culture remains very strong,” claimed Kari Helene Partapuoli of the Anti-racism Center in Oslo. “We can’t have such little self-confidence to think that the 11 percent of the population with minority background will threaten the rest of us.”

Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, a member of the Labour Party, went on national TV to denounce Tybring-Gjedde’s claims, refusing to even look at him as they stood next to each other on the nightly news. And then came the salvos from the Conservative Party, which said that Tybring-Gjedde’s “apocalyptic” comments don’t boost the Conservatives’ desire to form a government with the Progress Party.

“I don’t see (the comments) as racist, but very exaggerated,” said Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, a Member of Parliament for the Conservatives. “We need much more sober language when discussing problems with immigration and integration.”

Stian Berger Røsland of the Conservatives, who heads Oslo’s city government, told newspaper Aftenposten that he wasn’t sure what the Progress Party hoped to achieve with such an attack on a multi-cultural Norway.

The party absolutely did get attention, though. And suddenly many of its common-sense stands on issues that have attracted increasing numbers of mainstream voters — like lower taxation, less regulation and more support for police and the elderly — paled in the harsh light of the Progress Party’s own signs of cultural intolerance. The party reverted to its old tactics of provocation, back-tracking on the progress it’s made at appealing more to the masses. Tybring-Gjedde’s attack thus can backfire and offend thousands of voters, and not just those from the other cultures he seems to fear.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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