Scandinavia's patchwork of racism
OSLO, Norway (CNN) -- Norway's perception of itself as a racially-tolerant country took a jolt last week when a black 15-year-old was stabbed to death.
Norway has shown a willingness to accept ethnic minorities and immigrants, unlike some neighbours such as Sweden and Denmark, and the death of Benjamin Hermansen is believed to be the first of its kind in the country.
The tens of thousands who staged anti-racist rallies across the country following Benjamin's stabbing would certainly not want their country to be compared with Austria and Germany where neo-Nazi groups proudly show-off their swastika tattoos.
Economic prosperity, thanks to the export of North Sea oil -- Norway is the top non-OPEC oil exporter -- has helped create some of the wealthiest inhabitants in the world, and with it a generally contented society.
But a recent report by the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) said that despite increased efforts by Norway to tackle racism and discrimination, it still had "further action to take to combat racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and intolerance in a number of areas."
The report, published in June, 2000, saw "acute" problems in racial discrimination in the cases of employment, health, housing, and access to services and goods.
The unemployment rate for non-Western immigrants was 11.5 percent at the end of August 1999, in comparison with 2.9 percent for the population as a whole.
The report also points to cases where police are accused of turning a blind eye to violence and not acting upon complaints of racism and discrimination.
The ECRI recommended the government use its anti-racist legislation, and to "raise awareness among the general public of the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic nature of Norwegian society today."
The European body also expressed concern at the tone of language used by political parties, especially the Progress Party (PP) which holds 15 percent of Norway's parliamentary seats.
The PP, which describes itself as nationalist socialist rather than right-wing, has been accused in the report of using "racist discourse both against persons of immigrant origin and against minority groups."
It has called for an annual restriction on immigration numbers to 1,000 -- "deliberately" less than current levels.
But the party has rejected many of the report's comments and condemned last week's killing.
Arne Rune Gjelsvik, information consultant at the PP, told CNN.com Europe: "It is strange to blame the PP because there is not much racial tension in Norway.
"Sweden, in comparison, has had many killings."
Police put the numbers of neo-Nazis at about 150 in a country with a population of around 4.5 million.
Denmark 'must stop Nazi propaganda'
The ECRI has also brought out a hard-hitting report on Denmark's "recent growth in hostility" to refugees and immigration especially in the fields of housing and employment.
Denmark's refugees number only about 4.5 percent in a population of 5.5. million.
In its newsletter number 3, in April 1999, the ECRI said: "It (Denmark) needs to implement a structured action plan to combat racism and develop a specialised anti-racism body with powers to investigate individual complaints."
The ECRI has become alarmed by the spread of "particularly Nazi propaganda" and called for the Danish Government to counter the movement through existing laws.
Despite having the smallest levels of poverty and the fairest distribution of wealth in the European Union, Danes have propelled a far-right nationalist party, the Danish People's Party, led by Pia Kjaersgaard, to respectability in the polls.
Sweden: Centre for white supremacy music
Sweden witnessed some of the worst racial violence in Scandinavia during the 1990s, including killings and organised racism.
Its 8.9 million residents are relatively well-off, with an unemployment rate of only 4 percent, but that has not stemmed the growth of extreme right-wing parties.
These parties have attracted close to 53,000, including the Sweden Democrats (20,000); the New Party (25,000); and the New Democracy (8,000).
Support for parties with an anti-immigration agenda amounted to more than 100,000 votes.
During the mid-1990s journalists, trade unionists and its ethnic minorities suffered discriminatory attacks.
The atmosphere became so intimidating that Sweden's four main newspapers took the step of publishing the photos of 62 people they said were neo-Nazis or members of biker gangs.
One of the most high-profile shootings was that of a trade unionist who died, prosecutors said, as revenge for publicly denouncing a co-worker for belonging to a neo-Nazi organisation.
The export of white supremacy-music is believed to finance the neo-Nazi movement, and up to 70 Web sites allegedly carry racist and neo-Nazi material -- up from eight sites five years ago.
A bank robbery in 1999 in which two policemen were shot dead was another suspected attempt to boost the movement's coffers.
Sweden's Prime Minister Goeran Persson has called for "legislation that can stand up against these very well-organised extreme right-wing groups."
Marcus Kollbrunner, spokesman for Youth Against Racism in Sweden, told CNN.com an "element of fear" existed in the country.
"Racist hatred does not happen everyday," he said. "But there are stories of people being beaten up."
He put the trouble down to a "small minority" trying to find a "scapegoat" for any economic downturn, but was reassured by the strength of opposition among the public as a whole.
Finland's 'silent racism'
Finland has one of the smallest refugee population's and finds itself with few of the ethnic tensions experienced in Scandinavia's patchwork of racism.
It has no anti-immigration parties -- unlike France, Germany, Austria, Denmark and Norway.
Foreign nationals comprise only 2.5 percent of the country's 5.2 million population compared with nearly 10 percent in Germany.
Its racism has been described by police as one of "music and booze" and "middle-aged alcoholics."
But others, such as officials and researchers, say a large part of the population has a "silent approval" of racism.
Eurobarometer, a survey on racism and xenophobia requested by the European Commission, showed that 10 percent of Finns considered themselves very racist, while the average for EU countries was 9 percent.
Labour Minister Tarja Filatoc told a Council of Europe meeting on racism last October: "We should not close our eyes to racist incidents, however small they may seem."
A fight between Finnish and Somali youths last year sparked a national debate over racism, with officials, ministers and President Tarja Halonen all condemning the violence.
Since then, ethnic minorities have been encouraged to join civil organisations, sports groups, labour unions and political parties.
The government is also preparing a plan of action which includes setting up a post to monitor official discrimination and rules to promote hiring people from ethnic minorities in the public sector.
The programme also includes a plan to set up a project in which immigrant youngsters would be trained and encouraged to seek education in the growing information technology, services and education sectors.
Norwegian youth held over racist death
Eurobarometer - Homepage
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