Screenshot of Anders Behring Breivik's Trial, Day One. Geir Lippestad, his defence counsel is on the left. Youtube.
Rosemary Bechler (RB): Do tell us why you are here in Lisbon, at a Council of
Europe conference for Intercultural Cities?
Geir Lippestad (GL): I am the Vice-Mayor of Oslo, responsible for public
ownership, diversity and business. I am here to learn more about diversity in
our societies and also to tell people how we work in Oslo on the diversity
RB: Can I take you back to a dark chapter in Oslo’s history
and the shock, apart from the horror of that shooting spree, at Anders Breivik’s
explicit targeting of ‘multiculturalism’ as the enemy. Was it a shock for your
society, or had this kind of pathology been anticipated?
GL: No, it was a shock of course. This rightwing extremist
was born in Oslo, raised in Oslo, went to our schools and apparently there was
nothing especially weird about him. But he became a rightwing extremist and as
you say inflicted the worst attack on civil society in Norway since the second
world war. So that in itself was a shock.
But it was also a shock that as a rightwing extremist he
attacked the Labour Party, and not only its politicians, but the children of
those politicians. So he wanted to wound them as much as possible and he
explicitly stated that he wanted to hurt them because their fathers and mothers
had ‘ruined this country’ and therefore the right for ‘my children to grow up
in a rightwing extremist society’.
So it was horrible and a shock for Norway. But on the other
hand if we look at the history of Norway, there have been around 15 terrorist
attacks in the last thirty years – all of them by rightwing extremists: none of
them from Muslim extremists. There have been around
15 terrorist attacks in Norway in the last thirty years – all of them by rightwing
extremists: none of them from Muslim extremists.
RB: Since you were closely involved in that trial, did you
feel you learned something about this hatred of ‘multiculturalism’?
GL: Yes, yes, I learned a lot as a lawyer in that case but
also in previous cases. Almost twenty years ago now, I had a case where two
young Nazis knifed a young black guy to death just because he was black. I
spent three, almost four years on that case, and I was able to dig into what
happened to these three young people living in Oslo, who seemed to have enough
to live on, a place to go to school, everything. So why had this taken place? I
asked myself the same question in the Breivik case and I don’t know if I have
the complete answer.
But of course, we politicians have a great responsibility. When
politicians talk about ‘other people’, when we talk about ‘multiculturalism’ – of
course no-one ever suggests that anyone should go and kill people, but we know that
people are asking themselves, is it a trap, or is it something good? Then, in America today, for example, everyone
who listens to Donald Trump thinks that ‘multiculturalism’ is a trap they don’t
want to fall into. And this triggers something in just a few people, which is
very dangerous – people who see themselves as crusaders who save the country
from itself. They go into action.
Of course it is not the responsibility of leading
politicians that people kill, but we must pay much more attention to how we
speak and why we speak, and that is why this conference is so important.
Because we also have to speak out about the many advantages that come from
‘multiculturalism’. And that is why I am here, to learn and to talk more about
what I am also learning about those advantages.
RB: You said that these few rightwing extremists are also animated
by the desire to save their country. Could we see a link between this and
larger scale effects, for example, the Brexit call in my country to ‘take back
control’? These were the saviours of our national ‘sovereignty’ demanding a
country which would once again be more about them than about the ‘others’. I
can see that tackling this is a huge challenge for politicians, because it is
precisely now in the era of globalisation, when they feel they have to convince
us that they too are working to secure the nation. I don’t know if you remember
the moment in the UK when Gordon Brown, for example, chose to start talking
about “British jobs for British workers.” So much of the paraphernalia of what
we might call ‘majority reassurance’ is vested in this monocultural ‘National
Us’ whether in sport, celebrating our monarchy, or memorializing our roles in
twentieth century world wars. So when do politicians get to talk meaningfully
GL: It’s a very important question. Take Norway for example.
There is only one big city in Norway, and that is Oslo with 700,000 people. One
third are from parts of the world other than Norway and it is the only city
that is like that. And people in Oslo are not afraid of diversity. In our
recent elections, they voted for the Labour Party, the socialist left, the
Green Party. But people in the countryside, people who live in places where
they have almost no diversity and don’t see people from other parts of the
world, are afraid. I tried to find out: “what is this?” What happened to these
The young people move out of these small communities: they
want to live in the city and they move to Oslo with its blooming multicultures,
and the university which is a huge cultural scene in itself. You can meet
people from all over the world. The rest of those communities stay behind, and
of course they feel that they are the losers. And they are losing. But the
enemy is not diversity. On the contrary: what they don’t see is that diversity
is the answer and that it is what is making Oslo such a popular city!
What I am trying to say is that it is extremely important
that all cities engaged with diversity, should try to have a plan, a form of
organization, and to underline the good things about diversity. What are they?
It can create jobs if you are doing the right things, and new cultures if you
can stay open and new people come to your little town – people can learn a lot.
So it is so important to have a plan, and to communicate this plan very
effectively. It is so important to have a plan, and
to communicate this plan very effectively.
We saw when we had the refugee crisis, how small villages in
Norway who set up refugee camps reacted when they started closing down because
there were no more refugees. Many of them started saying, “Give us back the
refugees!” Because they had become friends with the refugees! If you don’t meet
a man or woman from Syria, you may be afraid of the hijab, or of the men. But
if you meet them, maybe in another village, then you can start a dialogue.
So yes, this is the question and we have not found all the
answers of course. But we must talk, not only about what is costs to have a
refugee policy, or a diversity policy, but that it is completely essential to
create jobs and to have a prosperous country. Of course we have to do the
research on that and how to frame our recommendations on that, and then we have
to produce the results!
RB: Earlier today, the point was made that this is also
about being able to talk about the inequalities in our societies. Do the people who feel themselves to be the
losers actually get included in enjoying those multicultural festivals which
we have been hearing about?
GL: I think that they must be. But maybe we are not good
enough on that front. You were talking about Breivik. When I talked to him
about those things and asked him, “Why do you hate people of a different skin
colour from yourself?”, he has lots of answers. But I can see from an old photo
when Breivik was in his second year at school that he was together with a boy
who was totally black. I asked him,” Did you like him?” He said, “Yes, of
course, he was my best friend!” “How can you become best friends with this
guy?” Breivik said, “He’s not like the rest of them!” And when I talked to the
young Nazis, they said the same thing. ”I hate them, but he’s not like that”,
because they know him. So it is very important, as we said, that when we have
big festivals, it must be a festival for everybody! And as I was saying earlier today, our
diversity campaigns must not be narrow – they must be much wider, not just
concentrating on students or on certain people in certain departments – and
that it is the ways we meet that are most important.
RB: We’ve just come out of a session in which you were asked
how in Oslo you set about achieving an ‘interculturalism’ or ‘diversity
advantage’? Can you tell me a bit more about this?
GL: In Oslo now we are trying to take traffic out of the
city centre, and we have begun to talk about what we should put into this city
centre when cars are gone. Of course people. Oslo like many other capitals is a
divided city: there is an east part of the city and a west part. But we are
working very hard to find ways in which people from the east part of the city
can be tempted into the centre with people from the west parts of the
city. So that people from all over the
city can meet up and talk and eat, and go to poetry festivals and everything
else that you can offer in a city. But we are
working very hard to find ways in which people from the east part of the city
can be tempted into the centre with people from the west parts of the city.
RB: Earlier you were talking about a marvellous hotel in
Oslo which is used as a training opportunity for all sorts of skills and
services. I wanted to ask you if that was only used for training recently-arrived
GL: No, at
the hotel, everyone get the opportunity from people with Downs syndrome to
people with psychiatric and social problems and all the rest. In Oslo there are different kinds of small
businesses that offer this kind of apprenticeship, but among them this small
hotel in the centre of Oslo, owned by the municipality jointly with a private
sector business partner. It is important that it is small because we have a
scheme we call ‘place and train’. There are forty rooms when there is a full
house, and there is a ground staff who are professionals who know
everything about running a small hotel and also about managing their staff and
People who come and stay at the hotel will not know if the people
who attend to them have psychiatric problems or if I am a refugee, though they
may recognize if I have Downs syndrome. But they just see in reception, in the
kitchen, in the cleaning and upkeep, marketing and everything to do with
hotels, a smooth-running establishment. What is important is that people have a
normal job of work to do. This small hotel is working in cooperation with a
group of big hotels just across the road, so that when people have been trained
up, they are guaranteed work in a real hotel with a normal salary just the same
as other workers. So our hotel is the guarantee to others in the business that they
have the necessary skills.
We have another example in the health sector where people
with psychiatric problems are learning how to become skilled up for working in
welfare centres. When they have the skills they go and work there, not as
helpers but as workers.
What has happened is that people who go into these
programmes see that work is waiting for them. So their motivation is very high.
There are other programmes where people just sit in a classroom and learn Norwegian
and something about Norwegian culture and don’t have the work waiting for them,
and they don’t have the motivation. Maybe they have six kids, or are from
poorer families and they need a lot of help. But it is also important that
people from Oslo see that when people are trained to work in the hotel, they
then seize the first opportunity to work and to pay tax, and contribute
something to the society. So it is a
win-win situation for all concerned. This has
become one of the most popular hotels in Norway, because the atmosphere is so
special. You should go there!
RB: And do you think this hotel also demonstrates the
GL: This has become one of the most popular hotels in Norway,
because the atmosphere is so special. You should go there! It’s in the centre
of Oslo and people don’t know that it is different in any way. But they may see
someone with Downs Syndrome giving people a hug when they come. They might come
across staff there who are highly motivated to learn Norwegian. And then they
see the professionals at work, and taste the food – and it’s very good. They
might be asked if they would like a special Syrian dish this evening? Why not?
And then they begin to think, “Wow, what kind of hotel is this?”
Oslo streets, 2017. Flickr/ Tydence Davies. Some rights reserved.