Two years after a right-wing extremist Norwegian attacked the country’s Labour Party-led government, claiming it was too open to immigration, a vast majority of Norwegians are now viewing immigration much more favourably than they did a decade ago. Two recent surveys show a change in attitudes that encourages Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, as he geared on Monday for another round of memorials to the victims of July 22, 2011.
Stoltenberg initially responded to the terrorist attacks two years ago with a call for “more openness, more democracy, more tolerance.” While some critics even within the Labour Party don’t think the government has done enough to fight racism since the attacks, Stoltenberg can point to the surveys that show more tolerance and support for immigrants.
State statistics bureau SSB has reported that 73 percent of the population now think that immigrants enrich cultural life in Norway, and 80 percent think they make an important contribution to the labour market.
That’s up from 63 and 66 percent respectively in 2002, when a similar survey was conducted. And a new public opinion poll conducted for the City of Bergen by research firm Respons shows the same trend.
Decline in negative views
The SSB survey measured attitudes towards immigration by questioning around 1,400 Norwegians in 2002 and in 2012. There was a corresponding decline in negative views of immigration.
Whereas 41 percent of those questioned in 2002 believed that most immigrants abused Norway’s social welfare programs, for example, the amount had declined to 32 percent by 2012. And while 45 percent agreed with a statement that “most immigrants are a source of insecurity in the community” 10 years ago, 33 percent believed that at the end of last year.
Fully 86 percent of Norwegians believed in 2002 that immigrants should have the same work opportunities as Norwegians, and exactly the same believed that in 2012. A majority also still believes that immigrants should strive to be as much like Norwegians as possible – 54 percent 10 years ago and 52 percent now.
To see the tables showing results year by year, click here (external link, in Norwegian).
A survey for the City of Bergen also showed more favourable attitudes towards immigration, with 96 percent of city residents interviewed showing that they’re either positive or neutral towards having immigrants living in their neighbourhoods. Even more believed that immigrants enrich society: 80 percent, compared to 73 percent in the SSB survey.
Christian Tybring-Gjedde, a Member of Parliament for the conservative Progress Party that’s best known for its skepticism towards immigration, told newspaper Vårt Land that he had little confidence in either the SSB or Bergen survey.
‘Don’t believe it’
“I don’t believe it at all,” Tybring-Gjedde, who set off controversy earlier this year when he demanded that then-new Minister of Culture Hadia Tajik, whose family emigrated from Pakistan to Norway, define Norwegian culture. “All you have to do is see what’s happening in Oslo, where everyone is moving away from immigrants.”
Education Minister Kristin Halvorsen from the Socialist Left party (SV), who has lived in Oslo’s popular multi-cultural neighbourhood of Grünerløkka for years, was, like Stoltenberg, encouraged by the surveys.
“The impression created by the media is far more negative than what the facts show,” Halvorsen said. “There are some outspoken, intolerant people who are allowed to dominate the media and draw a negative picture of immigrants.”
The largest numbers of immigrants to Norway continue to come from Sweden and Poland, while the country has also seen a recent wave of unemployed Europeans arriving in Norway to seek work because of the EU debt and euro crises.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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