Immigration Minister Sylvi Listhaug, who hails from the most right-wing party in the Norwegian Parliament, wouldn’t apologize on Monday for what many claim were nasty remarks made last week against the leader of the Christian Democrats. As Norway’s election campaign heats up, Listhaug also denied she uses “vulgar” language and offensive campaign rhetoric.
“It got a little warm,” she admitted on state broadcaster NRK’s popular morning talk show Politisk kvarter Monday morning, but that’s as far as she’d go in expressing any regrets or offering any apology to Christian Democrats leader Knut Arild Hareide. She accused him last week of “licking the backs of imams” by not being tough enough on Islamic extremism. Anders Torp, who grew up in an extreme Christian organization that he’s since criticized as being unhealthy and authoritarian, responded by accusing Listhaug of “licking the backs of Christian fundamentalists.”
“I can’t be bothered to use my time on snow that fell last year,” Listhaug said on national radio, adopting a common Norwegian saying. She didn’t appear to feel chastened even after her government’s boss, Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservative Party, scolded Listhaug and any other candidates who “say things that should not be said in a Norwegian election campaign.” Solberg has otherwise tried to downplay what some political commentators claim is Listhaug’s destructive effect on Solberg’s attempts to win re-election for her conservative government coalition that includes Listhaug’s Progress Party.
Not begging anyone’s pardon
Asked if she’d say “excuse me” to Hareide now, Listhaug said “no,” merely repeating several times that things “got a little warm” in the same studio where she made her latest provocative remarks. She contended that she prefers to “look forward” instead of backward and will keep working to secure a non-socialist majority in Parliament after the election. It didn’t seem to matter to her that she has deeply offended the Christian Democrats, a traditionally non-socialist but centrist party that’s been courted by Labour and could switch sides. That could give a left-center coalition a majority over a right-center coalition.
Listhaug responded to Solberg’s rebuke by saying that she thinks Solberg understands how much pressure government ministers are under, especially those responsible for immigration issues. “Erna had my job (from 2001-2005) when she was minister in charge of local governments (which are responsible for settling asylum seekers) and I think she knows that this job is relatively tough to have,” Listhaug said. “Immigration and integration create strong feelings whether you’re in favour or against them.”
Critics have accused Listhaug of lacking civility and being “vulgar” but Listhaug also dismissed that, claiming that she simply uses “language that ordinary people understand.” She’s been catering lately to conservative Christian voters, however, and many (including the liberal candidate to be bishop of Oslo, Sturla Stålsett) have objected to her “misuse of Christian values” through alleged bullying and spreading suspicion around Muslims.
‘I call a spade a spade’
As calls grew on Monday for more respectful campaign rhetoric and less ridiculing of fellow politicians, Listhaug conceded that “we shouldn’t perhaps use such words” as “licking someone’s back,” but she insisted that “in an election campaign, the debate can be heated, and then such words can fall. There are enough politicians who aren’t direct. I call a spade a spade. It’s important to be clear and stand up for what you mean.”
Listhaug also dismissed criticism that her rhetoric spreads more divisiveness than cooperation, and she has rejected accusations that she’s adopting “Trump tactics” like those used by controversial US President Donald Trump. “There are very many who like pointing that out, who are also very keen on twisting what they say,” she said. “I think many don’t want to discuss the realities.”
Asked whether she had any regrets at all after last week’s uproar, Listhaug replied that “what’s done is done. I have learned in life that there’s no point in spending time on regretting anything.”