What goes around comes around.
Exactly a year ago Anders Breivik carried out his mass killings, which ended up causing the death of 77 innocent victims. Have we learned anything from that tragic Saturday that shook the Nordic region and changed it permanently?
In order to answer that question, we’d have to travel back in time to see how things were prior to that day.
In Finland, the right-wing populist Perussuomalaiset (PS) had just won a historic election victory that enabled the party to increase the number of its MPs to 39 from 5 in 2007. While party leader Timo Soini played down anti-immigration sentiment as one important factor behind the PS’ election victory, others disagreed.
Before Breivik erupted on the stage, anti-immigration parties like the PS were the new political force to contend with in Finland. It seemed that nothing could stop them from adding new election victories in the future. The louder and cruder their anti-immigration and anti-EU stances were, the more supporters they’d rally to their cause.
In Norway, Denmark and Sweden, far-right populist anti-immigration parties had grown as well and were openly challenging traditional parties.
Everything changed, however, after July 22.
The first blow came in Norway to the Progress Party (FrP), which saw its support in the September municipal election plummet by 6.1 percentage points to 11.5%. In the same month, another anti-immigration party, the Danish People’s Party (DPP), suffered an election setback.
Since 2001, the Islamophobic DPP had supported minority right-wing government in exchange for tighter immigration policy.
In many respect, Breivik was a wake-up call that woke up for Finland and the Nordic region to the threat of intolerance and hate speech.
A recent supreme court ruling against Jussi Hall-aho is a case in point. The PS MP was not only fined for defaming a religion but for inciting ethnic hatred as well. The ruling wasn’t only a big blow to the PS but to the far-right Suomen Sisu wing of the party. Halla-aho was forced to resign as chairman of the administration committee, which, among other matters, sets immigration policy.
The presidential election was another important example of how Finland is distancing itself after 22/7 from the anti-immigration and populist rhetoric of parties like the PS.
Two conservative anti-EU candidates, Timo Soini of the PS and Paavo Väyrynen of the Center Party, lost to Green Party hopeful Pekka Haavisto in the first round of voting. Haavisto is openly gay and pro-EU.
The next test for the PS will come in the October municipal elections. If polls are anything to go by, the party will suffer another election setback.
In light of the above, can we claim that Breivik had had a direct impact on the popularity of the PS and other parties in the Nordic region that are anti-EU, anti-immigration and anti-Islam?
Your answer to that questions will probably reveal more than anything else your political views on immigration, Islam and cultural diversity.
But if we ask Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, Norway had become after July 22 “more tolerant, [and] more careful not to judge people” by ethnic origin.
Even if Stoltenberg has shown leadership on how a wounded society should react to intolerance, it’s still unclear what impact Breivik will have on our societies. We are still healing from the wound and can matters return back to “normal” in Norway after Breivik?
If we set aside politics and try to understand the impact Breivik had on the region, one matter is certain: We are outraged by what happened but dread even more the possibility that it could happen again.
Competing for the anti-immigration thunder and rhetoric of parties like the PS, DPP, FrP and Sweden Democrats are far-right groups like the Finnish Defense League, which are copy-and-paste clones of the English Defense League.
Breivk scared the wits out of some of us and proved that anti-immigration and Counter-Jihad rhetoric can convert itself into a monster that has the ability to wreak terror and change our societies for good.
That I believe is the real message and threat of 22/7.