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Hate speech and violent right wing extremism in Scandinavia

Incitement to hatred against 'non-Scandinavians' is widely circulated on the internet, contributing to the legitimizing of right-wing extremist violence and the political exclusion of immigrants. If this does not endanger the political system as such, we should worry that it jeopardizes the right to security for many.

Whether or not Breivik is finally declared insane, he was deeply involved in extreme right-wing activism, particularly by participating in specific internet communities. Another noticeable trial is taking place at the same time in Sweden: Peter Mangs is accused of having shot three people to death and wounded twelve, some of them seriously. Almost all of Mangs’ victims appeared to be migrants, and he seems to be a serial killer with extreme right-wing leanings and a history of activities in extremist internet communities. In August 2011, the Danish media also exposed a violent extreme right group, which wanted to "cleanse” Denmark of migrants and punish “traitors” to the Danish people. In other words, Scandinavia has recently become one of the primary scenes of extreme right violence in Europe.

Right-wing violence and hate crimes in Norway have decreased since the mid-1990s, possibly due to the electoral victories of the anti-immigration Progress Party, which has regularly obtained up to between 15% and 25% of the votes in general elections. Violent extra-parliamentarian Nazi activists on the other hand have still not been able to form a coherent social movement. However, when it comes to right-wing extremism on the internet, Norway has become an important propaganda base. A central name in this milieu is the so-called counter-jihadist and blogger “Fjordman” (a.k.a. Peter Jensen), who has become a respected voice in extreme right-wing circles all over western Europe. 

Like in Norway, right-wing violence and hate crimes in Denmark have diminished since the mid-1990s when the Danish People’s Party was formed. It gained considerable political influence as a result of receiving up to 14% of the vote and played a key political role as a supporting party of the Liberal-Conservative governments that ruled Denmark during the 2001-2011 decade. As these governments made Denmark infamous to the outside world for their strong anti-immigration politics and rhetorics, the previously quite active Danish Nazi movement was marginalized. The Danish Defence League, a sister organization of the violent English Defence League, has recently tried to stage demonstrations but with limited success. The Danish extreme right blogosphere has however been quite active with blogs like Uriasposten and Snaphanen.

Anti-immigration parties have been so far much weaker in Sweden than in other Scandinavian countries. The Swedish right-wing populist party, New Democracy, with its strong anti-immigration platform, won seats in parliament only between 1991and 1994. The radical right however made a comeback in the national parliament in 2010 when the Sweden Democrats, another anti-immigration party, won close to 7% of the votes. Seemingly paradoxically, Sweden has had a much more pronounced recent history of violent extreme right-wing activities, which goes back to the early 1990s when New Democracy held seats in parliament. At that time, a series of attacks and arsons on refugee centres took place all over the country, and a Nazi terrorist group calling itself White Aryan Resistance actively robbed banks and stole weapons from the police and the army. Also in 1991-1992, a lone serial killer, who became known as the Laser Man (a.k.a. John Ausonius) shot ten Black people, one of whom died, and created widespread fear among minorities in Sweden. Meanhwile, a so-called white power music industry developed, making Sweden the centre of a Nazi skinhead subculture in the 1990s. It became a breeding ground for violent actions as young Nazis and skinheads murdered around a dozen persons who were either gay or belonging to ethnic minorities. This wave of extreme-right violence culminated in 1999 when an avowedly Nazi terrorist group successively shot an Anarcho-Syndicalist trade unionist and two policemen, and attempted to murder an anti-fascist investigative journalist. Since then, the militant Nazi movement has become less visible, although it is still more active than in other Scandinavian countries. Sweden is also remarkable for its relatively high number of reported racist hate crimes, with an average annual number ranging from 3000 to 4000 incidents, including everything from verbal and physical harassment, damage to mosques and synagogues, to lethal violence. Finally, one of Sweden's dubious attractions lies in its number of highly successful anti-immigration blogs : Avpixlat is the most prominent, and is one of the most visited homepages in the country.

Representatives of the parliamentarian far right parties – the Progress Party in Norway, the Danish People’s Party and the Sweden Democrats – have been quick to deny any responsibility for violent activities. While the kind of extreme nationalism expressed by these parties does not openly legitimize violence, Right Wing Populism in Europe: Politics and Discourse examines the processes of exclusion of immigrants in which these parties do play an important role. Even though these parties do not propagate murder, arson or other kinds of violence, they contribute significantly to the discursive and social processes through which certain inhabitants of Scandinavian countries are singled out, presented as threatening or problematic, and targeted in measures that infringe upon their rights.

It is, however, important to realize that neither these parties, nor the openly racist and violent right-wing activists, operate in a societal vacuum. The success or failure of these parties depends on which discourses are dominant, as this environment provides better or poorer breeding grounds for hate-speech and violent acts. Comparison between Austria, Denmark and Sweden suggests that different kinds of nationalism are more or less generative of discriminatory discourses and policies against immigrants.

Right-wing extremist violence and the political exclusion of immigrants are both more or less directly legitimized by discourses to a large extent circulated on the internet, which depict people designated as 'non-Scandinavians' as problems, inciting hatred against them. Non-whites and non-Christians are here prominent targets. The question remains open as to whether discriminatory discourse in its milder forms (as produced by mainstream parties), in its uglier forms (as the public rhetoric of the parliamentarian populist right) and in its most virulent expressions (as in the kind of Internet activism in which Breivik and Mangs took part) are related to direct physical violence. But we already know that right-wing extremist violence such as that which has been carried out in Scandinavian countries during the last two decades is a real and serious threat to fundamental democratic values. If it does not endanger the political system as such, at least it jeopardizes the right to security for many minority inhabitants, thereby preventing them from participating in political and other social activities in the same way as others do. Since Scandinavian members of political parties, journalists and union activists have been assaulted or murdered for their stances on immigration, racism, discrimination and human rights, we should remember that far right extremism is also a threat to the right to free speech as a democratic principle.

About the authors

Kristina Boréus is professor of political science at Stockholm University. Recent research projects include a comparative study of populist right parties and discrimination of immigrants in Austria, Denmark and Sweden.

Tobias Hübinette is a Reader in Intercultural Education at Södertörn University and a researcher in critical race and whiteness studies at the Multicultural Centre. He has a Ph.D. in Korean studies. Selected publications: Comforting an orphaned nation (2006), Adoption med förhinder [Adoption with obstacles] (2008), co-authored with Carina Tigervall.


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