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Does democracy provide security? An analysis of Norwegian far-right terrorism and its’ political implications

Акмалова Анастасия
3 курс ОП «Политология и мировая политика»
г. Санкт-Петербург 

Does democracy provide security? An analysis of Norwegian far-right terrorism and its’ political implications. 

On July 22, 2011, an egregious case of a terrorist attack thundered throughout Europe. Anders Breivik, a Norwegian far-right terrorist, blew up near government buildings in Oslo and then shot on Utoya island more than 70 children of members of the Labour Party which had taken the majority of seats in the Norwegian Parliament. First-time Norwegian democracy has faced such a mass terrorist attack by a native Norwegian, not a Muslim. The trial was followed by the whole country, the results of which were all shocked – despite the cruelty, the court provided Breivik with the opportunity to choose a lawyer for his defense and gave chance to speak the word in the court.

Lijphart, an American political scientist, writes about areas of government activity in which 'kinder, gentler' democracy, or so-called consensus one, manifests itself in the sphere of criminal justice [1]. Returning to our case, there existed confidence that even a terrorist of such magnitude had the same rights during the trial as other defendants. The outrageous reaction of the public, especially against the latter decision, is rather twofold indicating how society might be not prepared to consider a position different from that prevailing in public discourse and agenda-setting. Why does this detail have a vital meaning? Despite the declared fact that democracy opens doors to every existing political force, the right-wing movements do not get the proper voice and lack political representation. Breivik used such rhetoric during the court process by blaming Norwegian political culture for hypocrisy. Can democracy, which is the prevalent political system in Europe, prevents potential terrorist threats that might be caused by aspirations, both governmental and societal, to protect a country from radical right ideas. In addition, it is an additional question, how and why do extremist right-wing activists appear – due to a state suppression via public discourse, or do the roots of this phenomenon lie in another perspective?

I believe that the essence of “kinder, gentler” democracy is that despite the fact of the presence of pressure on the system through intimidation - it remains in its position, without deviation to radical security measures, Leiphart cites the following: “One would also expect the qualities of kindness and gentleness in consensus democracies to show up in criminal justice systems that are less punitive than those of majoritarian democracies, with fewer people in prison and with less or no use of capital punishment ” [1]. Perhaps one of the tasks of consensus democracy is balancing between the simultaneous preservation of freedoms and human rights and the deterrence and strengthening of preventive measures to counter-terrorism.

After the terrorist attack on July 22 Norwegian authorities did not go to tough measures. Nevertheless, police became more armed, and public infrastructure has been more secured regarding defense facilities [2]. "Consensus democracies may be kinder and gentler, but their citizens are not safer from fatal domestic terrorism than those who live in majoritarian democracies" - Bogaards emphasizes this fact when analyzing terrorist attacks in various types of democracy, the reason why fatal attacks can happen may lie in the question of political inclusion and representation, and how much it depends on political institutions or political culture in the state [3]. However, shifting the responsibility for the state in this issue may not always be correct - despite the attempts to include one or another political movement, although it still prefers to resort to violence [3].

Some researchers found in their survey that despite the insistence on Norwegian positive and safe political outlook, this could ‘unintentionally contribute to the (far-right) delegitimization of the diversity narrative as “politicized” [4]. Moreover, intentions to interpret the happened attack in a certain way may illustrate the weakness of democracy in the sense that it might lead public discourse to be less inclined to discuss the controversy and handle conflicting interpretations and its roots [4].

As can be seen from the statistics, there have been no major terrorist attacks in Norway over the past decade, and research shows that the population is more concerned about cybersecurity and violence in society in general [5]. Nevertheless, the rise of right-wing extremism has started posing a threat all around Europe [6]. The growing focus on right-wing extremism reveals several problems in the fight against terrorism - it exposes the need for a complex balance of funding to fight jihadist and right-wing terrorism, as both are likely to continue to be a problem in the near future [7]. An adequately resourced fight against right-wing terrorism goes hand in hand with a better understanding of its manifestations, such as the importance of the extremist environment (both online and offline) in uniting right-wing extremists, providing funding, and sharing tactical means [7].

Against the backdrop of hostilities in the Middle East and a massive influx of refugees from there, a negative and biased attitude towards people from these countries can be shaped in the European mind - in Norway, part of the population, after founding out about the Breivik attack, was convinced that the crime was committed precisely by Muslims, and not by right-wing extremists. Returning to the beginning of the essay - why did the right-wing forces become more active - due to insufficient representation in the political space, or is the reason for their actions is dissatisfaction with the national agenda? Terrorists do not always have rational justifications for their activities - even if the government goes to meet their expectations, trying to hear, extremists do not necessarily respond in the same direction, not seeing the point in this - in this case, social solidarity with other groups of far right-wing extremists across Europe may be the reason to continue [8]. Consensual democracy works in such a way that even after being pressured by terrorism to intimidate citizens and government, it does not impose severe restrictions on human freedom, it does not fear terrorism and openly and directly looks it in its eyes.

Summing up, indeed, the institutions of democracy themselves, and in particular, if we are talking in the context of consensus democracy, imply effective counteraction to terrorism - the judiciary, trust in citizens, and the openness of the system to almost any political forces that do not contradict the law. However, it should be borne in mind that the proposed model will rarely be exactly translated into reality - as we see in the example of Norway, society was not ready to accept other currents of thought other than the liberal and social democratic persuasion. This perception may create risks of a terrorist threat, but I do believe that the very system of such a democracy is capable of providing security.



[1] Lijphart, Arend. Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.

[2] “Norway - United States Department of State.” U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State, December 1, 2020. https://www.state.gov/reports/country-reports-on-terrorism-2019/norway/

[3] Bogaards, Matthijs. “Kinder, Gentler, Safer? A Re-Examination of the Relationship between Consensus Democracy and Domestic Terrorism.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 43, no. 10 (2018): 886–903.

[4] Solheim, Øyvind and Jupskås Anders. Consensus or Conflict? A Survey Analysis of How Norwegians Interpret the Attacks a Decade Later. Perspectives on Terrorism. no. 15 (2021): 109-131 

[5] Norway: Extremism and Terrorism. https://www.counterextremism.com/node/13506/printable/pdf

[6] Schori, Christina and Cross Matthew John. “White-Crusade: How to Prevent Right-Wing Extremists from Exploiting the Internet.” Geneva Centre for Security Policy, no. 11(2020): 1-27.

[7] Rising Right Wing Violence Impacts Western Countries in 2021. https://www.visionofhumanity.org/rising-right-wing-violence-and-its-impact-on-the-fight-against-terrorism/

[8] Abrahms, Max. «What Terrorists Really Want: Terrorist Motives and Counterterrorism Strategy». International Security 32, no. 4 (April 2008 г.): 78–105. 

12 мая 2022
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