The political turmoil and public debate set off by former justice minister Sylvi Listhaug during the past week has left her main critic, Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre, and many others facing death threats. Police are taking the threats seriously and Støre has been assigned bodyguards.
“This is not comfortable for me, I can tell you,” Støre told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), just after Listhaug resigned her government post under pressure on Tuesday. Her resignation culiminated the turmoil that followed an accusation she posted on her Facebook page March 9 that Labour puts the rights of terrorists above national security. She ultimately apologized for the offense caused by the post, deleted it after several days of political and public outcry and admitted it wasn’t true, but now many of her followers and supporters on the far right-wing side of Norwegian politics are now angry and threatening her opponents.
Støre added that while “I can handle (the threats) and am being taken care of,” he’s more worried about all the others who’ve publicly criticized Listhaug and then become targets of threats themselves either directly or via comments on social media. They’re not in a position to be assigned bodyguards, Støre noted.
The Labour leader has long expressed concern over the increasingly ugly tone of political debate in Norway. Kjetil B Alstadheim, political editor at DN, wrote Wednesday that Listhaug in particular is “more conflict-oriented than solution-oriented,” and more fond of political uproar than policy implementation. She has already promised that when she now takes over one of her Progress Party’s seats in Parliament, she will not enter Norway’s national assembly quietly.
Støre has warned that Listhaug’s brand of inflammatory rhetoric that’s becoming more common in Norway’s otherwise relatively civilized political debate is “dangerous.” He contends that politicians like Listhaug and other “right-wing populists” are more keen to polarize than seek comprise.
“The Labour Party can and must be able to tolerate tough battles,” Støre said. “I’m uneasy about vulnerable people (who attempt to take part in public debate) who can wind up in a very difficult situation, because some politicians like to create uncertainty, stir up hatred and promote conspiracy theories.”
Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who like most government ministers lives with bodyguards all the time, said she thinks it’s “sad” that Støre has been threatened to a degree that police have found it necessary to assign him special protection. There were also reports that the leader of the Christian Democrats Party, which held the swing vote to force Listhaug’s resignation if she hadn’t resigned voluntarily, has received threats as well.
“We need to realize what cases like this are about,” Støre said, “that words and pictures can unleash strong reactions and attitudes.” He claimed that with Listhaug’s resignation, the most recent conflict was “now over,” but he remained concerned about the more aggressive nature of political debate. Solberg was also calling for a calmer and “more professional” debate following the unprecedented political drama of the past 13 days.