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The Kjuus affair


Thomas Hylland Eriksen

Norway Now
, spring 1997

 In recent weeks, the main object for publicly expressed hatred and contempt in Norway has been a kindly, elderly man with considerable personal charm and polite manners. It is nearly as if the country's politicians, writers and other prominent figures have taken part in a public competition of invective and scorn, targeting the defenseless old man in all the main media. Who is he, and what on earth might he have done to deserve such massive criticism?

Mr. Jack Erik Kjuus is the founder-leader of a small political movement of a kind which is depressigly familiar in Western Europe nowadays. A typical representative of the loony right, his party is called "The White Alliance" (Hvit valgallianse). The party programme, rather more narrow in its scope than one would expect from a fully-fledged political party, denounces non-European immigrants as the source of social ills in the country and calls for their immediate sterilisation in a bid to prevent what Mr. Kjuus sees as the racial degeneration of the Norwegian people.

This kind of view, while perfectly legitimate in Norwegian politics as late as the 1930s, is no longer considered compatible with human rights and common decency. Racial discrimination is now illegal, and although few have actually been convicted of racism, overt racism is theoretically considered a crime.

Mr. Kjuus had gone further than most in his invectives against ethnic minorities. He did not restrict himself to woolly talk about "the incompatibility of Norwegian and immigrants' culture", as many others do, but spoke explicitly about racial degeneration. Eventually, he was brought to court, and -- surprisingly -- he lost. Many liberals were unhappy with the verdict, arguing his right to freedom of speech even when it could offend a large group of Norwegians.

Mr. Kjuus' defeat was not unconditional. He was in effect only convicted for one of his many views of non-white people; namely, that adopted children should be sterilised. In other words, the court distinguished between immigrants and their children on the one hand, and adopted children on the other hand. This, in my view, is even more problematic than the question of guilt and responsibility.


Adopted children born in Asia, Africa or South America do not, of course, constitute a cultural or ethnic group. They are, culturally speaking, as Norwegian as the rest of us. It is doubtless true that most immigrant children are more different from the majority in terms of culture; after all, their parents have immigrated from a country which in many ways differs from Norway. On the other hand, many of them have lived in Norway their entire lives, and to call for their departure is no less morbid than to claim that adopted children are not Norwegians. Mass sterilisation as a political programme is disgusting whether it is aimed at Jews, Gypsies, adopted children or the children of immigrants. We cannot, obviously, afford any fine distinctions here.

The Kjuus verdict is depressing in that it condemns racism vis-à-vis a largely middle-class group of children, who grow up in solid Norwegian homes, while implicitly accepting the same attitudes when they are directed against a much weaker, largely working-class group. Not least for this reason, one hopes -- paradoxically, perhaps -- that the Supreme Court supports Mr. Kjuus' appeal and that he is acquitted. Otherwise, the Norwegian legislative system has unwittingly justified racist discrimination as long as it only affects powerless groups and individuals.

©Thomas Hylland Eriksen 1997