Have you heard of Arendalsuka? Arendal is a small town in the south of Norway. A friend of mine who was living there told me there are three reasons to like Arendal: June, July and August.
And it is precisely in August every year that all important Norwegian journalists, politicians, companies and organisations meet in Arendal for a week of meetings, podcasts, public announcements and networking. It is the end of the summer in Norway, still beautiful weather and basically the best way to start the year running between talks and stands by the sea. In August every year Arendal is the centre of Norway’s political world.
This year a huge controversy hit the organisation of Arendalsuka, when a man called Hans Jørgen Lysglimt Johansen was accepted and offered a stand to spread his ideas, just like companies like Tine, Orkla or political parties like KrF (Christian Democrats) and many many more. Lysglimt is the head of party Alliansen, which was created 2 years ago. In the elections he took part in his party got around 0,10 % of votes. His main political objective is for Norway to get out of EEA. And a bit more.
Lysglimt has among other things said that most problems in Norway come from the Jews, homosexuels and from the “negro-gangster-rap culture”. He said for example “When we invite negroid rap-culture into Norway) we need to figure out that we also invite the gangster-rappers in”. My first question thought: who on Earth says “gangster rappers” in 2019? man get out of the 90s? My second thought: If this wasn’t so insanely racist I would almost want to laugh. Think that the guy believes rap is the source of all evil. Man, what a simple world he lives in.
His party is criticised for its support to Nazi movement and ideas. Lysglimt publicly acknowledges that many of the members of his party are also members of the “Pan-Nordic neo-Nazi” movement Nordic Resistance Movement. He also gets support from the neo-Nazi movement for having “sound opinions about the gay-lobby, Jewish power and massive immigration”. Lysglimt is also largely seen as a provocateur: he does stunts at Gay Prides which he puts on YouTube, and recently got into trouble by adding names on his party’s list for the local elections in Oslo in September 2019 without asking for their permission. Imagine getting a call from a newspapers to get an interview as the candidate for a party you were never even a member of. He said he put names of people he liked. Well I want Lene Marlin and Prince Håkon to come to my birthday, it does not mean that dream is going to come true… The editor of Nettavisen, who was on the list, said “To be put on Alliansen’s list as a candidate for an election is like being forced into becoming a member of the Ku Klux Klan”. Many of those who were forcely written down as candidates managed to get it cancelled before the election, most of the forced candidates were from far right party FrP.
In 2018 Lysglimt also denied several times on Twitter that the Holocaust ever existed (but he publicly does not say so anymore). Some say Lysglimt has so low votes that he is dependent on provocation and public outrage to survive politically.
This time when Lysglimt and Alliansen were invited to Arendalsuka, it meant they would have a stand, could spread their ideas in the same space as human rights associations trying to help children at war, organisations defending LGBTQI rights, and associations fighting racism and antisemitism. Is it okay? Can such ideas of hate which have led to individual and mass killings before, be in the public space and in a way encouraged? The whole issue how one interprets freedom of speech and whether such freedom should have limitations. It basically depends on the country you live in.
Norway has a very open and broad definition of freedom of speech, at least compared to France. In France there are many restrictions to freedom of speech such as defamation, violation of privacy, violation of the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty etc. Since the 19th century, apology of murder, rape, war crime, and fire (!) are also some of the restrictions of freedom of speech. But in the US the First Amendment has way less limitations (if any to be honest), and even things like anti-gay activists going to funerals of gay people with banners saying they would burn in Hell was considered okay under the First Amendment. Also valid for Ku Klux Klan members’ freedom of speech.
Here in Norway there are 5 million people and just about as many newspapers because of the high value put on freedom of all to express themselves. Papers for the workers, religious papers, for farmers, for the finance field, for every small region or valley in this country etc. Freedom of speech to me is almost without limits in this country. Even criticising the King might get you in trouble with your Norwegian neighbours, it still isn’t illegal. Even hate speech online seems to be highly tolerated, from the comments which are moderated yet accepted on most online presence of national newspapers.
But I am not sure whether it goes as far as in the US. Many felt unsafe after Lysglimt was invited to Arendalsuka and decided not to come. You might ask yourself Why would they feel unsafe? These are just words he is saying. Sure, but words are powerful. Eight years ago Anders Behring Breivik used more than words to try to end the multicultural society he hated so much in Norway. Almost 80 people died. Words of hate can become violent actions which hurt not just individuals but entire communities.
Today the teenagers who survived Utøya, mostly wounded, still receive death threats and messages telling them they should have died there. Without going so far as planning such as huge operation (Breivik planned Utøya and bombs in Oslo centre for years), people still die from homophobia and racism today in Norway. So where is the limit to freedom of speech in democracy? Should we open it limitless and hope people don’t take their principles and ideology in their own hands? Or have some limits to ensure those who are the usual targets of such discourse (sexual, religious and ethnic minorities) are not afraid and potentially harmed.
Three days ago Alliansen was after all uninvited by Arendalsuka. But more examples will come, and Norway will have to make a choice in how they define freedom of choice with increased polarised views in society.
(Credits for picture: Nettavisen- Heiko Junge NTB)