Racism raises its ugly head

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Norwegian media has been full of several cases lately of what many call blatant racism against politicians. One case even involved offensive statements made by a former member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Inger-Marie Ytterhorn (second from left) when she was still a member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which selects the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

“It’s a bit special that immigrants are steadily leading the 17th of May Committee,” Inger-Marie Ytterhorn wrote on social media earlier this month. Ytterhorn was replaced by Asle Toje at the conservative Progress Party’s representative on the Nobel Committee earlier this year.

“Wouldn’t you think that an ethnic Norwegian, with a chronic Norwegian background would be better suited to exactly this role?” she added in her comment, without defining what she meant by “chronic.”

Ytterhorn’s comment was directed at Kamzy Gunaratnam of the Labour Party, who had just been named as head of the City of Oslo’s 17th of May Committee that’s the official organizer of Constitution Day events in the Norwegian capital. Gunaratnam, whose family came from Sri Lanka, serves as Oslo’s vice-mayor, was thrilled by her new committe role and had published a photo of herself in her bunad to celebrate.

Kamzy Gunaratnam PHOTO: Oslo Kommune

Only to be all but slapped in the face by Ytterhorn’s comment, which was quickly and firmly denounced by leaders of Ytterhorn’s own party that’s long been skcptical to immigration but officially condemns racism. Party leader Siv Jensen (who also serves as Norway’s finance minister) and even former leader Carl I Hagen and deputy leader Sylvi Listhaug (both of whom have made controversial statements themselves over the years) distanced themselves from Ytterhorn’s comment and warmly supported Gunaratnam. Jensen claimed she “strongly disagreed” with Ytterhorn’s assessment, calling it “coarse and way out of line.” Jensen added that she was sure Gunaratnam would be a “good representative for the democracy and values we celebrate on the 17th of May.”

Gunaratnam herself said she had “no doubt” that Ytterhorn was “spreading racism” and making minority youth in Oslo uncertain about their prospects for taking on roles in Oslo. Ytterhorn herself initially remained silent, only to later confirm that she felt it would be “more natural” for an “ethnic Norwegian” to lead the 17th of May Committee. “If that’s racist, OK,” she wrote, declining any further comment.

Lan Marie Nguyen Berg, city government leader in charge of transport and environmental issues in Oslo, has once again been a target of threats. PHOTO: MDG

Her provocative statement was just one of many being hurled at politicians with minority background in recent weeks. When Lan Marie Nguyen Berg, a member of Oslo’s city government, and her partner announced she was expecting their first child earlier this month, they were both bombarded by hateful and typically anonymous comments on social media. “Herregud, is she multiplying herself now? Poor Norway,” wrote one of the many people unwilling to identify themselves.

Berg, of the Greens Party, has been a target of threats before, and harshly criticized for her zealous efforts to rid downtown Oslo of cars, but many of the comments made reference to her Vietnamese background. “I hope this disgusting woman gives birth to a child who can’t bicycle,” wrote another.

Both Berg and her partner Eivind Trædal immediately won support from both ends of the political spectrum and she responded herself, writing on her own Facebook page that such “exaggerated hatred is unacceptable no matter who it affects. Those who resort to hatred and make threats foul the public debate for all the rest of us, and take attention away from important political discussions.” Berg noted that the “hard tone” in online commentary can scare and thus prevent many people from getting involved in public causes or political parties, or frighten them from even expressing an opinion.

Hadia Tajik, a deputy leader of the Labour Party, has also been a victim of hatred and threats. Police tracked down some of them to a 62-year-old man from Trøndelag who had written on Facebook last year that Tajik should end up in a guillotine. He was charged with making threats and faced a court appearance this week.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund