Carl I Hagen, the former high-profile head of Norway’s most conservative political party, officially retired two years ago but quickly admitted that he missed politics and the public spotlight. He’s been making a comeback as a candidate for mayor of Oslo for Fremskrittspartiet, Frp (the Progress Party), and he just as quickly set off a storm of controversy when he could finally hit the campaign trail over the weekend.
Hagen and other politicians in Norway had agreed to delay the campaign and refrain from political conflict in the weeks immediately after the July 22nd terrorist attacks. When the campaign got underway on Saturday, it also was widely assumed that it would be conducted with respect for those still in mourning, and in a less aggressive tone than previous campaigns. It didn’t take long, though, for Hagen to spark controversy and some offense.
His campaigning seemed to start off calmly enough, with applause at a shopping center appearance and even some conciliatory statements from the man who has been among the most critical towards immigration for years. Hagen didn’t shy away from the topic, despite the role it played in last month’s terrorist attacks when a far-right ethnic Norwegian bomber and gunman, who claims he’s a Christian, said he was launching his own personal war against a multi-cultural society.
Rather, Hagen told his audience at Stovner in Oslo that new immigrants have a right to, among other things knowledge about Norway and to learn the Norwegian language. “Perhaps we who have grown up here must reach out a hand,” Hagen said, so that all can join Norwegian society. “We need to make sure that minority children are invited to birthday parties and join sports teams.”
That seemed to put as much of the responsibility for integration on ethnic Norwegians, moderating earlier statements by Hagen that immigrants themselves are to blame for poor integration.
But then Hagen told newspaper Aftenposten that he still stood behind statements he made in 2004, for example, when he referred to attempts to “Islamify the world,” and that he still believed nearly all terrorists are Muslims. “It may have happened that I have forgotten the word ‘nearly,'” he conceded, however. “Because there are other terrorists.”
Hagen apologized if he has over the years offended “moderate Muslims who work and pay taxes and fees and learn Norwegian and take care of their children” but his lack of regret for earlier political positions set off immediate reaction from his opponents. Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that Hagen’s statements were “grotesque” while Education Minister Kristin Halvorsen told newspaper Dagsavisen that Hagen seemed “ice-cold” and lacking empathy.
Hagen told Aftenposten on Monday that he “only answered some stupid questions” and stressed that he really does believe the vast majority of Muslims are “hard-working, law-abiding, good people.”
But then Hagen upset more people, including several representatives for victims of Norway’s far-right terrorist, when he questioned the major police investigation into the attacks. Hagen doesn’t think it’s a good use of resources, and that victims’ families don’t need to know the details of the massacre that killed their loved ones. He also thinks the most important thing is for the defendant to quickly be tried and convicted.
Mona Høiness, a lawyer for some victims’ families, rejected Hagen’s criticism of the legal process, claiming that “a grown man with the experience of Hagen should understand that everyone who lost someone wants answers.” Other victims’ attorneys agreed, and Justice Minister Knut Storberget made it clear that the police investigation will go forward. Prableen Kaur, deputy leader of the Labour Party youth organization targeted by the terrorist, AUF, called Hagen’s statements insensitive, unprofessional and lacking respect for the victims.
One thing is clear: With the Progress Party lagging in the polls and on the defensive, the municipal elections campaign now underway may not be as “dampened” as expected.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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