Dørum: Immigration issue divides Norway

Norwegian politician: Visit to UND reaffirms faith in liberal arts education

Norwegian parliamentarian Odd Einer Dørum. Herald photo by John Stennes.

By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald

For Odd Einar Dørum, a leading member of the Norwegian parliament, a visit to Grand Forks and UND this week has reaffirmed a lifelong faith in the values of a liberal arts education, an open society and civility in government.

“Getting to know people here, seeing what you are doing in the liberal arts but also in aviation and innovation, the philosophy is here: There is no contradiction between valuing the liberal arts and being modern,” he said.

In an interview before a UND lecture Tuesday on climate change and other matters affecting the polar regions, the former justice minister said those values influence his approach to one of the most contentious issues facing Norwegian society today: the continuing arrival of many thousands of immigrants, mostly from the Middle East, and their inclusion in the fabled, oil-fueled Norwegian welfare state.

“There should always be an honest way for people to come to our country, regardless of the color of their skin or their background, and find a living,” he said. “After all, approximately 1 million Norwegians were given that right by another country,” the United States of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Dørum, a member of the centrist Venstre (Liberal) Party and minister of justice in a center-right coalition government from 2001 to 2005, is part of a Norwegian delegation in Grand Forks to meet with Norwegian students at UND and leaders of the Nordic Initiative, the Center for Innovation, the UND Aerospace Foundation and others.

Despite a hard charge by a populist, anti-immigration party led by a self-styled “Viking Margaret Thatcher,” Norway’s ruling center-left government apparently has another five years in power after a razor-thin electoral victory earlier this month. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s Labor Party and other parties in his “red-green” coalition of leftist and environmentalist interests claimed 86 seats in the 169-seat Storting, just enough to hold onto power. But the populist, right-wing Progress Party of Siv Jensen gained three seats, from 38 to 41, after a campaign marked by hostility toward the government’s immigration policies — what some in the party called the “sneak Islamisation” of Norway, according to the London Times. In a pre-election interview with the Times, Jensen called for closed asylum centers where people coming to Norway without proper identity papers would be kept until their status was resolved. “There is a very large number of immigrants living on welfare, and they have been for a very, very long time,” she said. “They often tend to commit crimes and end up in prison, where they can get the wrong ideas.”

A great divide

Dørum said his small party, Norway’s oldest, could consider forming a coalition with the Conservatives and other center-to-right parties but not with the Progress Party. There are insurmountable differences over tax policy and climate change, he said, but the sharpest difference he has with Jensen’s party “is how you think about people.

We think people who come to our country should be seen as individuals, not as a group. “The appeal of the Progress Party has been that many feel there’s been too big a challenge (to Norwegian society) by people coming from the Middle East. But we who live (in Norway) and have a good life should give the opportunity also for people who are coming from elsewhere.”

He said his grandfather came to the United States, worked for about six years and saved enough money to return to Norway and eventually establish his own business. “We must never, ever see the Muslims collectively as terrorists,” Dørum said. “As individuals, people can make a contribution.” He is a capitalist, he said, not a Socialist, and a firm believer in small business and the power for good of the marketplace. He didn’t like the Vietnam War, but he is a strong supporter of NATO.

“But the first thing I ever did in my political life, when I was 18, was to fight against apartheid in South Africa,” he said. “I was part of a group of protesters who chained themselves together to save a waterfall” threatened by hydroelectric development. I was arrested — and later I became justice minister!

“I’m of that generation that I’m still hearing John Kennedy in my head. I’m still hearing Martin Luther King in my head. There were quite a few Norwegians who disliked the Bush administration and couldn’t see America through that. I could always see America.”

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