Norwegian Official: 'Insufficient' Focus On Extremism

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Espen Barth Eide, the deputy foreign minister to Norway's government, talks with Mary Louise Kelly about last Friday's attacks by right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik that left 76 people dead. Eide's son survived the gunman's attack at a youth camp on an island outside Oslo.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

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.

Mr. ESPEN BARTH EIDE (Deputy Minister, Norway): 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.

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.

Mr. 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.

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?

Mr. EIDE: No, it's much closer to the latter. This is the lone act of a person who has distorted views. He has taken inspiration, obviously, from certain far-right ideologies internationally, from white supremacist ideas, but I think we'd be very hard-pressed to demonstrate any direct link between the levels of immigration in Norway and these kind of political ideas. We are seeing the growth of far-right extremism in some countries in Europe and sometimes it happens in countries with less immigration rather than more.

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.

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.

Mr. EIDE: Well, let me put it this way. I think it's very important here to say the following. I am from the Labour Party, which would be the closest you get to the Democratic Party in the U.S. The people of the Progress Party, I fundamentally disagree with them in very many issues. But I would not in any way accuse them of any kind of participation in this. And when their leader expresses very clearly her deepest detest for these actions, I do believe her.

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.

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

Mr. 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.

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

Mr. EIDE: Maybe. Maybe we'll find out that we have for some years now not had sufficient attention. It could also be that this person is actually quite isolated from other political movements and he's the type of lonely lunatic that is simply very difficult to fit into any kind of group. But I think we should be very careful not to jump to conclusions.

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.

KELLY: Mr. Eide, thanks very much.

Mr. EIDE: Thank you for listening. Thank you.

KELLY: We have been speaking with Espen Barth Eide. He is deputy foreign minister in Norway.

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