Trond Thorbjørnsen, SOS Racism leader

3. february 2009

Interview in Norwegian

Describe your job?

My job as the leader of SOS Racism is to help people who want to contribute to the fight against racism around the country. The fight against racism won’t disappear because of one central campaign. It is the involvement of the man in the street that counts.

How do you assess the level of discrimination in Norway?

We don’t put priority on making a big national assessment. It is much more important to focus on the local level. The local communities should assess the situation in their area. In some places it is important to focus on discrimination in the job market, in other places they need to work against organised violence by a racist group.

What specific challenges do minorities face in Norway?

There is little organised racism in Norway. People mostly face racism in their everyday lives. It is often difficult to find housing, or a job and there are few places where you can get in touch with people from different social groups.

How would you assess the national acceptance of cultural diversity in Norway?

Many people want to avoid being racist. Many take a stand and react to unfair treatment against other people. This is very good. But racism still persists and people who have good intentions can still act in a racist manner. Certain groups have become the target of attacks in recent years – especially Muslim and the financial crisis has also increased racism against immigrants from Poland.

How have cultural organisations and political groups responded to the challenges of diversity in Norway?

The Fremskrittspartiet (a right wing political party) has collected many votes because of its anti-immigration stance. Altough they are not in the government, other Norwegian political parties have been influenced by them. We have also seen refugee politics become stricter during the last 20 years.

We work to get the politicians to turn from a defending position towards attack. Most immigrants respect laws, contribute very much to society and are actually important resources for Norwegian society.

In the same way we should also meet the refugees that come to our country halfway. If we treat them as a positive resource from day one, we will be able to do something to minimise the psycholigical problems they face due to sitting in a refugee home, doing nothing day after day, waiting for an answer.

What contribution can the social and political experience of Norway in dealing with minorities make to the debate on inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue in Europe?

An important experience we have in SOS Racism is that through the local communities we really get things done. National campaigns have little to say. It is important to make a foundation on a local level to create an inclusive society.

What role can media play in promoting diversity in Norway?

It is easy to exaggerate the role of the media. We won’t win the fight against racism through the newspaper stands. But it is important to avoid racist articles and quotes in the media and to avoid articles that support discriminating views. Freedom of speech is not about promoting hate speech, even though it can sometimes look like that. Sometimes the media acts like a microphone for Nazis and racists.

How can the Council of Europe’s campaign help fight against discrimination?

We don’t think the campaign will mean anything unless it cooperates with the experiences from local work. The key is to go through schools, or workplaces, in cafes, around the dinner table – any place where people meet. In other words, the campaign needs to use the commitment of regular people.

Looking to the future, what are the prospects for improved community relations in your country?

Even though we see more racist violence now than a few years ago and even though we see more negative reactions to foreign workers, especially the ones from Eastern Europe, we also see good things happening. A lot of people are making contact and wanting to contribute locally.


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