OSLO (Reuters) - A government minister has rocked Norway’s traditionally consensual politics by accusing the opposition Labour Party - a target of the country’s worst peacetime massacre - of putting terrorists’ rights before national security.
Justice Minister Sylvi Listhaug’s comments have drawn counter-accusations that she is trying to be more populist than President Donald Trump in a country where debate is usually much less confrontational than in the United States.
Listhaug, a member of the right-wing Progress Party, hit a raw nerve as most of Anders Behring Breivik’s victims were at a Labour Party youth camp when he staged his attacks in 2011, killing 77 people.
The row erupted after Labour voted against a bill that Listhaug had proposed. This would give authorities the right, without judicial review, to strip individuals suspected of terrorism or of being foreign fighters of their Norwegian citizenship. Labour wants the courts to rule on such decisions.
On March 9, Listhaug posted on Facebook a picture of masked people clad in military fatigues, black scarves and ammunition with the text: “Labour thinks terrorists’ rights are more important than the nation’s security. Like and Share”.
The Christian Democrat Party - which the minority government of Conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg needs to pass laws in parliament - criticized Listhaug.
“It is trashing the political debate in Norway when you accuse your opponents of things they don’t stand for,” Christian Democrat leader Knut Arild Hareide told broadcaster NRK. “Sylvi Listhaug is trying to be better at being a populist than Trump.”
On July 22, 2011 Breivik staged the worst act of violence in Norway since World War Two, by placing a car bomb in central Oslo that killed eight and then gunning down 69 people, many of them teenagers, at the Labour camp on Utoeya Island.
Before the attacks, Breivik - an anti-Muslim neo-Nazi sometimes referred to by his initials ABB - had at one point been a member of the Progress Party. Afterwards Labour avoided using this to score political points against the Progress Party, which is now the junior partner in Solberg’s coalition.
“We were very careful not to link ABB and the Progress Party after July 22. Listhaug has now made it more difficult,” tweeted Labour’s Raymond Johansen, Oslo’s governing mayor.
“Our people know what it is like to be a victim of terrorism,” he told Reuters on Monday. “So when the justice minister criticizes Labour for our standpoint ... it is cynical and lacks respect.”
Listhaug was not available for further comment.
She posted her comments on the day “Utoeya July 22”, a movie about the massacre, opened in Oslo.
Labour’s general secretary Kjersti Stenseng challenged Listhaug: “First, she should see the film. And then she should be ashamed of herself.”
A number of other films are in the pipeline about the attacks by Breivik, who is now in prison.
Paul Greengrass, director of the movie United 93 about the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, is planning a film for Netflix. A Swedish documentary is expected in the autumn and a TV series is due next year.
Solberg also expressed her displeasure. “It was too harsh a Facebook post,” she told reporters on Monday.
(This version of the story corrects the job title of interviewee in paragraph 10 to “Oslo’s governing mayor” from “leader of Oslo’s City Council”)
Editing by David Stamp