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Silencing dissent

The public discussion in Northern Europe that followed the
Utøya-massacre in Norway has been characterized by attempts to silence the political opposition.  The popular opinion among the political left in Northern Europe is that Anders Behring Breivik’s monstrosities are a result of toxic and contagious hate speech which led him to murder 77 people.

The past month has witnessed a birth of a new age which is suggestive of a Kafkaesque spirit in Nordic political discourse. The accusers are pointing fingers at people whose names appear in Breivik’s manifesto and in other dubious forums, mainly online. The accused can only fight the accusations by claiming that they cannot control when and where their names appear.

One of the first victims of the new zeitgeist was Jussi Halla-aho a Finnish MP for the The Finns, and whose name appears in Breivik’s 1,500-page manifesto. This led the party secretary of the Social Democratic Party, Mikael Jungner, to demand that Halla-aho resign from his post as the chairman of the parliament’s administration committee.

The chairman of the Left Alliance and the current culture minister of Finland, Paavo Arhinmäki accused many of his fellow MP’s of quietly tolerating hate speech. He added that in the case of the massacre in Norway, “silence is a sign of approval”.

In the light of these comments, it is interesting to note that Arhimäki has been at the forefront of bringing football hooliganism to Finland which is arguably one of the most violent and hateful sub-cultures in Europe.  Arhinmäki was also one of the organizers of Smash Asem and was arrested during a violent demonstration.  The sole purpose of the demonstration was to wreak havoc in Helsinki.

Whether sports or politics, minister Arhinmäki has been one of the protagonists of organized hate speech.

The incumbent foreign minister of Finland, Erkki Tuomioja reacted to the massacre by questioning the legal status of anonymity in online discussion forums. Tuomioja took the opportunity to advocate for tougher policies against hate speech. He also demanded that Timo Soini, the chairman of the second largest party in Finland, The Finns, take responsibility for the writings of his fellow party members.

A Norwegian television personality Petter Nome argued that the rhetoric used by Norway's right-wing Progress Party created an atmosphere in which Breivik felt justified to commit atrocities.

Nome writes that “a day should dawn, not only in Norway, but in all European countries, so that fear and hate are no longer methods or goals in our everyday politics.”

Nome and others seem to have created an imaginary political universe where hate and fear dominate the discourse since in reality the only political factions that regularly use violence are neo-Nazi and far-left factions which operate on the periphery of the public arena.

Scandinavian countries are known for their peaceful and consensus-driven political systems. Therefore it is bizarre that anyone would claim that hate is a method or a goal in Northern European politics.

Ironically, however, hatred is usually witnessed when new conservative political parties such as the Progressive Party in Norway, The Finns in Finland and The Sweden Democrats in Sweden attempt to challenge the political consensus by winning elections.

In his impassionate plea, Nome stated that Siv Jensen, the leader of Norway’s progressive party and other right-wing European politicians are not supporters of violence, “but they do carry profound responsibility for creating a climate in which hate and violence are options for their impatient followers.”

In other words, European right-wing politicians have created an atmosphere where violent outbursts are possible simply by challenging existing cultural norms and political sacred cows?

Some conclusions can be drawn from the post-massacre discourse. It seems that voices demanding that hateful views are regulated or banned stem from either a totalitarian impulse or from a culture of uninhibited political opportunism.

Widely spread populism – a political mobilization devoid of coherent theory – now seems to exist almost solely among the members of the political left. Whether Tuomioja, Arhinmäki or Nome, attempts to curb speech have gained new momentum in the aftermath of the tragedy in Norway. Many politicians and public intellectuals are now using a horrendous act to push for policies that are intrinsically illiberal.

dennis.mitzner@gmail.com
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