On July 22nd 2011, the 33 year old from Norway murdered 77 of his own countrymen and women in a vicious and chilling attack.
After detonating a huge car bomb in Oslo’s government quarter, killing eight people and injuring over 200 more, he travelled to the nearby island of Utøya where he carried out an even deadlier attack.
The island was host to the Norwegian Labour Party’s AUF youth camp, and there were over 600 hundred teenagers attending the camp. Over the next hour and a half, Breivik shot and killed 69 people, many of them aged between 14 and 19, and injured 110 more.
Breivik has been described as a right wing extremist and Islamophobe, but the victims of his attacks were primarily Norwegian.
At his pre-trial hearing in February of this year, he attempted to explain this apparent contradiction by claiming the attack was a pre-emptive strike against traitors.
He went on: “They are people committing or planning to commit cultural destruction, including destruction of Norwegian culture and the Norwegian ethnicity.” (1)
Extremist Attacks in Europe
It is important to note that although Breivik was influenced by the English nationalist organisation the English Defence League (EDL), he was essentially a loner and had no ties with any group at the time of the attacks.
Indeed, the Norwegian Defence League, plagued by low membership and leadership turmoil, expelled him from the group for having views that were too extreme.
For their part, the EDL denounced the attack and denied ever having any links with him.
Just a few hundred miles away in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, another trial is taking place right now with uncomfortable similarities to the atrocities in Oslo.
While not on the same scale as the attacks in neighbouring Norway, 40 year old Peter Mangs is accused of carrying out a series of deadly shootings against immigrants, since 2003.
Unlike Breivik, who was only too happy to claim responsibility for his killings, Mangs has pleaded not guilty to three counts of murder and twelve counts of attempted murder. There is a huge amount of evidence against him which suggests that he will be found guilty of the murders and he will end up serving a life sentence for his crimes. (2)
Mangs has been described in court as a troubled and lonely man, with some witnesses describing him as having racist views. No links to political organisations have been found and it is highly likely the motivation behind the attacks will be due to personality reasons rather than any political leanings.
A Rise in Nationalism?
Some commentators have suggested that attacks such as those by Breivik and Mangs are indicative of a rise in nationalist tendencies throughout Europe, and the worsening economic situation will only serve to fuel that fire.
In Greece, the country worst hit by the current economic crisis, there HAS been a notable rise in attacks against immigrants. The far right Golden Dawn party won almost 7 percent of the vote in the May 6 general election and polled similar figures in the re-run on June 17th.
Using slogans such as “Rid this land of filth” and “Foreigners out of Greece”, it was expected their share of the vote would drop when most fair-minded Greeks realised what they stood for, but it didn’t happen. Many immigrants are now living in fear, too afraid to go out alone in case they are attacked on the street. (3)
This is an alarming development, but one which appears to be confined to the southern European state – at least for the time being.
It is a well-documented fact that in times of severe austerity, nationalism can become an attractive proposition for some. The leadership of the Golden Dawn party know this only too well and have used this to good effect in order to increase their numbers and share of the vote.
That immigrants have absolutely nothing to do with the massive financial problems in Greece is neither here nor there; someone has to take the blame so why not the immigrants?
Nationalism Not Yet a Problem in Europe
This trend is thankfully not being replicated in other European countries. In the United Kingdom, the far right British National Party (BNP) polled less than 2% of the vote at the last general election in 2010.
In France, the National Front party have failed to reach anywhere near the heights of their popularity of the late 1980s, while in Germany the far right National Democratic Party (NDP) posted poor election results in 2009 of less than 2% nationally, very similar to the BNP in the UK.
Right wing support in crisis-hit Greece appears to have plateaued at 7%. (4) Whether that support will rise remains to be seen, but if the Golden Dawn supporters continue with their campaign of hate against immigrants, the opposite is more likely to be the case and support will fall away.
Right wing support in the more stable European states of Germany, the United Kingdom and France is extremely low, with nothing to indicate that is likely to change anytime soon.
The terrible attacks in Norway were perpetrated by someone in Anders Breivik whose grasp on reality appears to have left him some time ago. It was a unique event and one which is unlikely to be repeated.
Nationalism isn’t yet a problem in Europe, but events in Greece will provide a fascinating insight into how things may unfold on the rest of the continent, should the economic crisis deepen in the coming months and years.
References & Image Credits:
(2) NY Times
(4) The Star
(5) The Sun
(6) International Business Times