Norwegian Official: 'Insufficient' Focus On Extremism

Originally published on July 26, 2011 1:03 pm
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Let's stay in Norway to talk with Espen Barth Eide. He's the country deputy foreign minister and he has a very personal stake in the tragedy there. His son was at the island camp where so many people were shot.

ESPEN BARTH EIDE: He was there and a witness to the whole thing. Fortunately, of course, he was able to hide and then escape, so he is unhurt. But he and so many other youngsters have close friends who are seriously injured or killed in the accident. And you know, I personally know a number of the people who are not any longer with us.

LOUISE KELLY: Espen Barth Eide, he's Norway's deputy foreign minister. He says the attacks were particularly shocking because in general Norway is such a tolerant society.

BARTH EIDE: There are margins of the society who are making this into a big issue. We have the normal issues, which are, you know, how do we best integrate? How do we best open our society? But you know, the idea that this is a big problem and a threat is a view that is fortunately held by a small minority in our country.

LOUISE KELLY: Well, let me ask you then: Do you see the roots of this attack as stemming from some sort of systemic problem in Norwegian society or do you see this as the lone act of a clearly disturbed individual?

BARTH EIDE: And actually in this country we did have an issue with far-right extremism among the youth back in the 1980s. But there was a concerted effort from the security police through the school system, through society at large, in actually trying to stem this and to attack this on a broad(ph) front. And my impression is there is less of it now than it used to be and probably less than we're seeing even in other Scandinavian countries.

LOUISE KELLY: I want to ask you about the political landscape there in Norway. There is this party, the Progress Party, that Breivik, the accused shooter, was briefly associated with. It's the second largest part in Norway, as I understand. And they do put issues of immigration at the center of their platform.

BARTH EIDE: So I don't really want to give the impression that we can associate the party that a number of Norwegians vote for with anything even close to the ideas of this madman.

LOUISE KELLY: Would there be a home anywhere on the political spectrum in Norway for someone espousing very right-wing extremist views?

BARTH EIDE: Well, these are difficult question. Of course as any society, we will have some individuals with extreme views. And I think it's fair that we and all Western countries should of course think through whether our focus on the threats of Islamist terrorism has taken the focus away from the threats of far- right extremists.

LOUISE KELLY: Will this episode, do you think, prompt reviews in the way that the security services in Norway approach issues of internal extremists?

BARTH EIDE: Having said that, I would first want to say that not to ask these questions that you ask(ph) would be irresponsible. But we want to do that with a strong sentiment that we want to maintain the society that we have. Because any terrorist from any side, whether foreign or domestic, he wants to change the political agenda. So the best thing the rest of us could do is not to allow the agenda to be changed, because that's when the terrorists win.

LOUISE KELLY: Mr. Eide, thanks very much.

BARTH EIDE: Thank you for listening. Thank you.

LOUISE KELLY: We have been speaking with Espen Barth Eide. He is deputy foreign minister in Norway. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.