Anders Behring Breivik’s connection to Serbian nationalism, Europe’s radical right, and the potential after effects of the Norwegian attacks

Tracing the roots of the Norwegian terrorist

News of the monstrous murders in Norway spread throughout the world with lightening speed. Within a matter of minutes, people from all over the globe had begun to express their sympathy with the Norwegian people. The eyewitness account from sixteen-year-old Emma- who managed to survive the attack- and the frantic exchange of text messages between mother and stranded daughter left no one indifferent. From almost the moment that the news broke about the attacks in Norway, there was feverish speculation as to who the perpetrator might be, and several lines of thought developed as to what the national and European impact might be, depending on the perpetrator’s identity. As it now transpires to have been the work of a self-professed Norwegian “Crusader” against Islam, many of the more extreme theories have been quietly dropped. And though, whilst Breivik’s connection to the radical right in Europe was unsurprising, his links to Serbian nationalists- revealed in his manifesto – have come as quite a shock.

Breivik’s link to Serbian nationalism

Eyewitness testimonies from just before the bloody rampage – describing a person dressed in uniform (Anders Breivik Behring) who lured people into a false sense of security – sound remarkably similar to that of Mladic just before the Srebrenica massacre.

Over the past few days there has been an ongoing debate in both the global media and in academic circles about the motives which lay behind Breivik’s vicious crime; motives which led him to brutally and cold-bloodedly shoot innocent children in the back. No amount of common sense or logic can be used to understand his “sick” motives. However, Breivik himself explains – or rather tries to explain- the motives for his misdeeds in his manifesto; “2083: The European Declaration of Independence“. One of the main reasons cited for turning the 32 year old Norwegian into a mass murderer who attacked the government of his country and his own people was Norwegian participation in NATO attacks on Serbia in 1999. “It was completely unacceptable how the US and Western European regimes bombed our Serbian brothers. All they wanted was to drive Islam out by deporting the Albanian Muslims back to Albania.” In fact, a strong commitment to Serbia and Serbian nationalists can be continually noted throughout the entire manifesto.

“I got in contact with the Serbian cultural conservatives over the Internet. This initial meeting eventually resulted in contact with several key people around Europe and the formation of a group that would later establish a military order and the court … The Knights Templar’ – says Brejvik. In his manifesto, Breivik also praises the Hague indictee Radovan Karadžić, quotes Ivo Andric, Jovan Cvijic and Srđo Trifkovic (a Serbian teacher now living in America) including extracts from his book Criticism of Multiculturalism in Europe.

When nationalist based and built ideology turns into chauvinism, xenophobia and fascism, innocent people inevitably get hurt.

What kind of mind, one wonders, can develop sympathy for someone who kills: “I had the privilege of meeting one of the greatest living war heroes of Europe at the time, a Serbian crusader and war hero who had killed many Muslims in battle. Due to EU persecution for alleged crimes against Muslims he was living at one point in Liberia. I visited him in Monrovia once, just before the founding session in London, 2002. ” writes Breivik in his manifesto.

What reason can justify the killing of the innocent and the weak? “That Norwegian is greater Serb than 90 percent of Serbs in Serbia” writes a member on one Serbian forum. “It is true that we were terrorised for over 500 years, the truth is that we are sick of being terrorised and this feeling will last as long as there are Muslims in this area. It was this man in Norway that realised something that 6 million people in Serbia couldn’t and never will, and that’s why we are oppressed by the Mujahideens… That man realised what was happening and how things are going, and we should honour it. Smart guy”.  


The rise of Europe’s radical right

Whilst many in Europe were quick to denounce last week´s attacks in Norway as the isolated work of a mad man and nothing more, other more sage commentators proscribed it as symptomatic of the growing success of far right parties in Europe. It now seems that, whilst the eyes of the West have been distracted looking towards the Islamic world for extremists, a new threat in the form of right wing extremism has been allowed to rise unchecked. What is worse, perhaps, is that this threat has taken on a new form. Gone are the days where these groups could be easily ridiculed and marginalised for their outlandish, overtly racist stances and their close ties to Nazism (including the use of Nazi imagery and uniforms during meetings). In more recent years, far right groups across Europe have changed tact, shedding the outer fascist coat which had previously scared and alienated many people, rebranding themselves as “normal parties” and claiming to speak for the average person, having taken their battle from the dusky meeting hall out onto the street to target voters at the grassroots level. In his writings for the British anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, and its Scandinavian counterpart, Expo, the late Swedish author Steig Larsson noted this change. “For too long,” Larsson wrote, “Nazis, in the eyes of society, have been simplistically and credulously equated with a few dozen skinheads on a Saturday-night stampede. That’s not the case any more. They are men in suits and ties, and they are getting elected to office.” Similarly one writer for the New Internationalist writes that these “disorganized parties that once garnered disparate, fluctuating support have honed their language, policies and organizational capabilities and been voted into parliaments across the continent.” Long overlooked there are now claims that these parties pose “the most significant challenge to the established structure and politics of West European democracy today”.

The history of the contemporary far right in Europe begins in the 1960s and 1970s with the formation of a number of organisations. It was Scandinavian countries who were the first to witness radical right wing electoral success with the Norwegian and Danish Progress parties both gaining considerable votes during the early and mid-1970s elections. The Danish Progress Party founded in 1972 by tax law professor Mogens Glistrup was initially a populist party, set up in protest to high levels of taxation. In the late 1980s, however, the party began to turn its attention towards the issue of immigration, voicing concerns over the rising numbers of asylum seekers entering the country. After Glistrup’s imprisonment for tax fraud, the party was taken over by Pia Kjaersgaard, who then later broke away to form her own party, The Danish People’s Party, in 1995. Kjaersgaard’s Party has subsequently focused on anti-immigration (particularly from Islamic countries) and nationalistic issues and is currently one of the biggest advocates for the reintroduction of tighter border controls- it is prevented from imposing full controls due to Denmark´s membership of the Schengen Agreement.

Taking a leaf out of his Danish counterpart´s book, Norwegian Anders Lange set up his own party in 1973, amusingly titled the “Anders Lange´s Party for a Strong Reduction of Taxes, Social Contributions, and Public Intervention” (mercifully renamed the Progress Party in 1977). The fortunes of both parties declined during the late 1970s and early 1980s but were then revived during the mid eighties. In the 1989 general election Norway´s Progress party won 22 seats in parliament, making it the third largest party and a crucial player in between the bourgeois and socialist blocs. In comparison Sweden did not see right wing representation in parliament until last year, when the Swedish Democrats won seats for the first time in its history. The news shocked many in Europe, given Sweden`s reputation for tolerance, and highlights just how significant the trend for right wing extremism in Europe is. It is by no means a purely Scandinavian phenomenon.

The significance of the rise of right wing parties in Europe can be no better illustrated by the rise in number of right wing MEPs elected to the European Parliament. In 2009, there were more than thirty MEPs from right wing parties mostly notably; 9 from Italy´s Liga Nord Party, 4 from Holland´s Freedom Party, 2 from Austria´s Freedom Party, 3 from Bulgaria´s Ataka Party, 3 from the French National Front, 3 from Jobbik (Hungary), 2 BNP members (UK) and 2 from Denmark´s Progress Party. Amongst the parties’ right wing policies there is a strong emphasis on anti-immigration (particularly anti-Muslim immigration), the strengthening of border controls, the deportation of foreign criminals, high levels of xenophobia; particularly Islamaphobia, anti-multiculturalism, including an abhorrence of mix-race relationships and a strongly nationalist desire to keep out foreign elements of culture, race and religion in their respective countries. On their website, for example, the Danish People´s Party claim that their “country´s culture consists of the sum of the Danish people’s history, experience, beliefs, language and customs” and that the “preservation and further development of this culture is crucial to the country’s survival as a free and enlightened society”.

A number of commentators cite globalisation, the rise in immigration following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and rising employment as a result of the economic crisis as well as the apparent inability of mainstream politicians to deal with these issues as the main factors to account for the rise in popularity of these parties over the last few years.  Sadik Hardouchi, chairman of the Forum Institute for Multicultural Affairs, claims that economic and political insecurity is leading people to scapegoat minorities and fear in particular what Mr. Geert Wilders of Holland´s Freedom Party dubs the “Islamisation” of Europe. Parties like Sweden Democrats have played on this fear targeting Muslims in a recent TV election campaign ad, which showed veiled Muslim women rushing to deprive an elderly local woman of government benefits. The ad was later banned in Sweden, but continued to be shown on Danish television. 

It has become increasingly common in fact for right wing parties to target immigrants in campaigns, claiming that they disproportionately benefit from liberal social policies white “natives” suffer, and stressing that they either a) take jobs away from local workers or b) are work shy and live off benefits. Most also use selective crime figures to claim that high numbers of immigrants are criminals and a threat to the society they live in. They promote themselves as defenders of liberalism and tolerance and argue that it is immigrants who are in fact intolerant and unwilling to adapt to life in their countries of residence.

In the aftermath of the Norway attacks, right-wing parties from all over Europe have been quick to distance themselves from Breivik’s actions and the ideology behind them, with both the EDL in the UK and Norway’s Progress Party- with which Breivik claimed links- eager to downplay their relationship with the killer. In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, Siv Jensen, leader of the Progress Party writes that “the (Progress) Party is embarrassed, disgusted and truly sad that Anders Breivik was once a member of the party” adding that “although it’s difficult to understand why Breivik joined our party, it’s easy to understand why he left”. Ms. Jensen goes on to stress that: “his (Breivik’s) actions and beliefs are totally contrary to (their)… policies and values”.

Weighing the potential impact of Norway’s attacks

Although the emotional shock waves of the tragedy are likely to reverberate around Europe for years to come, the political ramifications of the attacks for the Schengen area and for Norwegian democracy seem unlikely to be severe.   

Initial investigation into Breivik’s background has revealed that there are no links between the attacks and Norway’s NATO involvement in Libya or Afghanistan, and thus it seems unlikely that there will be any impact on operations or negotiations. In a similar vein, it appears that there will be a negligible effect on the EU’s nascent CFSP, as the attack was not the work of a transnational group or foreign power and will therefore not cause Europe to feel more threatened by global events. 

Upon learning of the attacks in Norway, there was concern that if there was an international or cross-border element to the attack, then it would lead to yet more attacks on the Schengen Zone. Cracks have already begun to show in what is widely seen as one of the Union’s greatest achievements; in April France temporarily imposed border checks at its Italian border (apparently in response to the refugee influx from North Africa) whilst in July Denmark increased the number of customs officers and checks at its borders. In light of the domestic nature of the attack, the threat of a direct impact as a response to these events seems to be small; Breivik’s claim of links with the UK based, far-right English Defence League (EDL) -the only potential cross-border links- have been strenuously denied by the EDL, and so far this claim seems to be bearing up. Janne Kristiansen, head of Norway’s domestic intelligence services, has said there is thus far no evidence of international involvement, and that Breivik acted alone. What is perhaps more worrying is that in the Danish border restrictions were a direct response to pressure from the right-wing Danish People’s Party (DPP) which is just one of a number of examples of the increasingly influence of right-wing populist and far-right parties in European governance. At the moment, opinion is still spilt about whether these attacks will benefit or disadvantage such parties in Norway and further afield; some feel that there will be a surge of sympathy for the Labour party (whose youth camp was attacked) and some form of electoral punishment for the Progress Party in light of Breivik’s recent membership but such movements are likely to be temporary and it is arguably too early to tell what the long term impact will be. If they do turn out to benefit the far-right, we can be certain to see increased pressure to curtail the provisions of Schengen, and perhaps have a negative effect on issues such as enlargement and visa liberalisation in the Balkans.

The long-term impact on Norwegian society will obviously take time to assess, but the immediate reaction has been a widespread hope that there will be as little change as possible to the tolerant and open society for which Norway is famous; the PM’s call for “more democracy, more openness” was answered by a surge in the number of people joining the youth wings of all political parties. Mass rallies took place in Oslo and throughout the country there were displays of national unity and solidarity with political parties from across the spectrum uniting in their condemnation of the attack and agreeing to postpone the campaign for the September elections until mid-August  – elections where analysts expect a higher turnout than normal. But although these signs are promising and point to a restrained reaction to the attacks, there is also a fear that it will be impossible for life to continue as it did before in spite of calls such as that of Lars Helle, editor of the daily Dagbladet, to “avoid being preoccupied by fear, like the US was after 11 September 2001″. And while PM Stoltenberg called for Norway to “keep going” he admitted that “there will be a definite break between the country before after the attacks” – though the country would still be very much recognisable. Certainly, sights such as senior politicians using public transport without bodyguards will become less common and security will be heightened in a society that is traditionally based on mutual trust.

In fact, it is further afield where the impact seems to be the largest- at least in terms of security; Euronews quoted EU counter-terrorism chief Gilles de Kerchove saying that his services were going to organise meetings and highlight “best practices” in Europe in dealing with the threat of far-right-inspired terrorism, something which has been overlooked in recent years with the 2011 EUROPOL threat report recording no right-wing attacks at all in the previous year; claiming that the “overall threat is on the wane.” Meanwhile the Polish presidency has convened a meeting of the two working groups of the Council which deal with terrorism issues and EUROPOL itself has set up a taskforce to investigate links between Breivik and other far-right groups in the EU, whilst in the UK PM David Cameron convened a meeting of the National Security Council to review the far-right threat in the UK. Such reactions are understandable, but it will again be some time before we see what concrete changes emerge in policy and in attitudes at the European level in light of this tragedy.

Finally, looking at the issue of the police and the security services, on Wednesday the Norwegian PM announced the setting up of an inquiry into the handling of the case by the police. And whilst he stressed that it was not “a critical inquiry“, questions have been asked about the readiness of Norway’s police to deal with two simultaneous attacks and about the length of time it took police to arrive at Utoya. It has also come to light that Breivik was on a security service watch list, which will put them under increased scrutiny. Although it is important to note, however, that within Norway itself there has been comparatively little criticism of the police and security services, with the focus being on dealing with the immediate effects of the attack and on the victims, rather than accusations of blame – though this again is something that may change in the longer term when the focus shifts away from the immediate after-effects.

Norway’s involvement in NATO

Norway was one of the founding members of NATO in 1949- at that time the main purpose of NATO was thought to be to counter the military threat of USSR. Norway’s long involvement with NATO has clearly had a strong impact on the country; Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre claims that NATO membership is “a cornerstone of Norwegian security policy and one of the country’s main priorities in terms of its security and defence policy. It is claimed that Norway’s keen involvement in NATO is due to a number of strategic reasons: Firstly, Norway is not a member of the EU and is skeptical about European integration. And whilst the country is closely associated to the Union through its membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) there remain constraints to its participation in EU security and defense policy making. It is, therefore, seen as advantageous for Norway to push for a more active NATO involvement in the European security policy. Furthemore, as Nina Graeger has highlighted, the Georgian-Russian conflict in 2008 demonstrated that Russia’s willingness to carry out aggression to pursue its political and strategic goals. (Norway and Russia have previously had territorial disputes in the High North and Russia has since increased its military presence in the region.) To counter the influence from Russia, it is in Norway’s interest to bring in NATO to maintain the military balance in the region.

Yet, the recent attack shows that there are complex security threats that cannot be fought by the military power alone. The tragic events in Norway show that European countries will have to redefine traditional security concepts to ensure the safety of its citizens, in particular they must look beyond ‘the usual suspects’ in terms of security threats.

Prepared by: Jasna Pekić, Becky Higgins, Senad Omerašević, Tom Crowley, Tony Ng