Police in France are questioning Norwegian neo-Nazi Kristian “Varg” Vikernes over a suspected terror plot, but have yet to prove close links to Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik.
Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in bomb and shooting attacks in Norway in 2011. Kristian Vikernes was one of more than a thousand people who received a manifesto which Breivik emailed in the hours before his attack, outlining his extreme anti-Islamic ideology. But that, think some experts, is where the comparison between the two ends.
“He [Vikernes] is an extremist, both politically and ideologically,” Norwegian journalist and author Didrik Soderlind told DW. He met Kristian Vikernes several times while researching Norway’s extreme right. Soderlind said that despite the easy headlines linking the two, he doubted there was a real link between Breivik and Vikernes, and that he found the existence of a terror plot “unlikely.”
“My impression is that French police want to be safe rather than sorry, and to send a signal to both [Vikernes] and the rest of society that they are keeping an eye on him.”
Eastern European following
Vikernes is certainly no stranger to the authorities, having already served several years in a Norwegian prison. In the early 1990s he emerged as a leading black-metal musician who set the tone for what would later become one of Norway’s most successful musical genres internationally. But in 1994, he was convicted of stabbing to death a fellow band member, and served 16 years of a 21-year prison sentence. After his release, he moved to France with his French wife and three children.
“Musically he still enjoys high status, and he still releases music to great critical acclaim,” said Havard Rem, an expert on Norway’s black metal music scene. He explained that the genre in itself is not about extreme-right ideology, and that even Vikernes’ lyrics relate more to Norse mythology than politics.
This might be true in Norway – but across Europe, particularly in the East, Vikernes’ politics and music fuse in a much more dangerous mix. “Ideologically he has little or no influence in Norway, but in Eastern Europe, where black metal still is very political, Vikernes has political influence. People who listen to his music will also be reading his blog,” Rem explained to DW.
“My personal opinion is that all this will boil down to not very much at all. You can understand why French police are watching him, but I don’t believe this will lead to any charges,” added Rem.
Rise of the far right in Europe?
In a separate development, police in Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland on Wednesday (17.07.13) raided the homes and offices of several alleged far-right activists, searching for evidence of a terrorist plot against the political system in Germany. No arrests were made.
French police have until the end of this week (20.07.13) to bring charges against Kristian Vikernes. There may be no links between these separate arrests, but police and security forces all over Europe are monitoring the situation with far right groups.
Especially as the economic crisis continues to bite, support for some of the anti-immigrant ideas expressed by these groups finds a wider platform among the growing number of unemployed who see new entries to the country as a potential threat to their work and livelihoods.
Suspected terror plot
The French police arrested Vikernes on Tuesday (16.07.13) along with his wife, after she bought four guns – for which she had a license. Police said the purchase, along with the content of some of Vikernes’ recent writing on the Internet, represented a clear threat to minority groups like Jews and Muslims. They sought to question him about possible plots to commit terrorist acts.
Author Didrik Soderlind said Vikernes and Breivik share similar ideologies, but that much also separates them. “Breivik is a contra-jihadist and sees Muslims as the main problem, while Vikernes sees Muslim immigration as a symptom of a society being ruined by the Jews. He is a classic anti-Semite.”
Kristian Vikernes recently wrote in his blog that a Jewish conspiracy was behind the fatal train crash outside of Paris last week. He has also said that he is generally anti-religion. He was convicted for burning down three churches in Norway in the early 1990s.
During his terror trial last year, Anders Behring Breivik painted himself as a Christian “crusader” fighting anti-Christian forces in the shape of Islam. He has also praised Israel because of what he sees as its fight against Muslims in Palestine.
Immigration ‘still an issue’ in Norway
The two men do share the idea that Western civilization is under threat from non-Western immigration. In one of his latest blog posts, Kristian Vikernes issued a warning, to his adopted country France, that it must stop immigration or face ruin. Such views are not shared by most in his native Norway, however.
In the wake of Breivik’s 2011 terror attacks, a majority of Norwegians said they welcomed a multicultural society and did not see immigration as a problem. The bombing and mass shooting shocked a nation that had not experienced terrorist acts since World War II, and hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in peaceful demonstrations, carpeting the country’s main cities in flowers.
While no one publicly came out in support of Breivik’s actions, the violence of July 22, 2011, did expose others who shared his views on immigration and Islam. Representatives for several far-right anti-immigration organisations testified in the trial against Breivik one year later, saying they understood and partly agreed with his ideology – although they apparently objected to his use of violence.
Kristian Vikernes on his blog also criticised Breivik’s use of using violence. This led some commentators and survivors of the massacre to suggest that Norway needed to take a deep look at where its society is today, and address any underlying social problems or those related to recent immigration.
The immigration debate is featuring prominently in debates in the run-up to Norway’s September general election.
“Immigration is always a major theme in election campaigns,” said Tore Sinding Bekkedal, a member of Norway’s Labour Youth organization and a survivor of Breivik’s island massacre. He is among those who feels the immigration debate has not evolved at all, despite Breivik’s attacks.
“I’m afraid not, and since immigration from Europe and the USA is considered unproblematic, we must realize that this is first and foremost a debate about ethnic and religious minorities – not about immigration per se,” Bekkedal told DW.
The latest figures show that 13 percent of Norway’s population are first-generation immigrants, the vast majority from Poland and Sweden. A new survey out this week showed an improvement in Norwegian’s attitudes to immigrants.
Nearly two years after the massacre, the new survey showed that 73 percent of Norwegians felt immigrants contributed positively to Norwegian society, up from 63 percent in 2002. In 2002, 40 percent said they would not like it if their children married an immigrant. Now, that number has fallen to 20 percent.
Society might be becoming more open, and immigration is now high on the election agenda of most politicians. But most political commentators in Norway agree that the economy will decide the final outcome, rather than the immigration issue alone.