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January 25, 2014

ht/ Kyle Rogers

Amid Debate on Migrants, Norway Party Comes to Fore

By STEVEN ERLANGER / NY Times

MORTENSRUD, Norway — Lise and Kjetil Ulvestrand came to this town south of Oslo in 2005 for the space, the views, the forest and the cheaper rents. Ms. Ulvestrand, a former development worker in Latin America and a social worker with Norway’s immigrants, says she is comfortable around foreigners and different cultures.

But as the number of immigrants, including Muslims, gradually increased in Mortensrud, she began to worry about her children and their education.

“I loved the forest and had friends, but ethnic Norwegians were moving out, so my children were losing friends,” she said. “After a while we discovered that when kids were 5 or 6, everyone moved out. We wanted a stable environment, and we had some questions about the social challenges at the school,” where the number of people who are not ethnic Norwegians was growing rapidly.

So the Ulvestrands decided last summer to move back into comfortable west Oslo, where she grew up. “I felt a bit guilty about moving, having worked in Latin America with minorities and defending their rights,” she said. “It wasn’t just ethnic Norwegians, it was anyone with resources moved out.”

...

Asked about national values, Mr. Solvik-Olsen instead spoke of the kind of discomfort that the Ulvestrands felt here. “Some people feel they’re waking up one morning and their old neighborhood is gone,” he said. “Strangers move in and people don’t even understand what they’re saying; we have a generous welfare system, and you feel a stranger in your own neighborhood.”

Mr. Solvik-Olsen was the chairman of the Oslo section of the Progress Party when Mr. Breivik was a member, but he said he did not remember him. After the killings and a disastrous showing in local elections in 2011, the party, always populist, moved to gain more respectability, tamping down more extreme voices. In September, the party won 16.3 percent of the vote — down from the 22.9 percent it won in 2009, but enough to form a coalition with the Conservative Party led by Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

The Progress Party is now considered mainstream, and its level of support has required “more moderate rhetoric” than that from more extreme parties like the smaller Swedish Democrats, said Thomas Hylland Eriksen, a social anthropologist at the University of Oslo. “Yet they firmly belong with other parties, some of which are arguably more extreme, that see immigrants and in particular Muslims as a threat to the integrity of society,” he said.


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