Norway has historically been one of the most robust and successful democracies especially since the end of World War II and Nazi occupation. The country consistently ranks high on metrics of human development including Freedom House, raking Norway 100 out of 100 freedom score. However, do not let the façade of an almost utopian democracy deceive you. When looking below the surface level of a perfect democracy lies subtle signs of the future that could ultimately lead to polarization in Norway.
Norway has always been unassuming due to its almost perfect standing on the world stage, however, social scientists in the country are seeing warning signs of polarization. The first thing to establish is that Norway is a Parliamentary Democracy and from its early establishment only has two main political parties, like the United States. However, it wasn’t until the 20th century that was a rise in other parties due to the country adopting proportional representation before the second world war. To that point, it is worth noting that during the war Norway was held under Nazi occupation. Now, why is mentioning all that relevant to Norwegian Polarization in 2021? Well, surprisingly it is relevant because after 1945 the Labour Party held the majority of Parliament from 1946 until 1961 (Osterud). In the years following the war, there were mobilized efforts to expand the welfare state and educational systems to integrate the working class and generate equality (Osterud). What also helped Norway in this time was that the country historically is a homogeneous society with every little conflict. This helped to create a platform to develop a system that was willing to work together to build back from what was lost. But not every good thing can last forever, or can it be saved? While Norway is still going strong as a democracy there are some signs that polarization might be taking grip. In fact, in February of 2020 just before the Coronavirus Pandemic caused much of the world to come to a halt, the Institute for Social Research gathered to discuss the question “is our society becoming more polarized?” (Jakobsen and Daehlen). At this seminar, Johannes Bergah testified that “authoritarian populism had a greater potential in the 1950s than today”, which to his point in 1952 the Institute for Social Research (ISF) actually did a survey of asking participants if they agreed or disagree with what was described as the “heart of authoritarian populism”. At the time of this survey, 37 percent of participants agreed with the claim, however, in 2017 a similar survey was conducted to which only 11 percent of respondents agreed. One of the signs of polarization that is commonly viewed in the United States and other European countries is a negative view of minorities. The ISF notes that there was an increase in racism and discrimination in recent years. To add to this point, following the Nazi occupation of Norway the ISF did conduct studies on how minorities were viewed, in 1952 participants were asked questions regarding anti-Semitism. One of their questions was “a lot of the reason for why Jews are often persecuted is their own fault” to which 44 percent stated that they agreed with the statement and 22 percent disagreed. However, when a similar question was proposed in 2017 only eight percent of participants agreed, and 70 percent disagreed. That appears to be a promising change in society, a sentiment that Bergh agrees with.
Furthermore, another issue contributing to polarizations not just in Norway but across Europe is gender equality. Mari Teigen is a researcher at ISF and is the head of the Center for Gender Equality (CORE), noting that “gender ideology” has become a top priority for many countries and political leaders. Teigen also has concerns about an anti-feminism sentiment developing in Norway citing the debates surrounding abortion legislation, fetal reductions, and the rights of medical personnel reserve the right to not participate in abortion procedures. Teigen worries that inspiration for such sentiments is being drawn from other countries. Now, Teigen does hold out hope because in a 2019 survey she conducted she asked participants if they support the advancement of gender equality and compared the results to a similar survey from the 1980s. She found that when comparing the results support for gender equality had increased over time. However, she still warns that “anti-feminism, social media and right-wing populist mobilization in a number of countries may gain ground in the Norwegian debate”.
So, the question to ultimately answer is Norway a successful case of depolarization after World War II. In my humble opinion has to fall to yes, despite the reasons listed. This is because while yes, these polarization warning signs are there, the sentiment gathered in the survey studies mentioned paints the picture that Norway at this point in time is not heading back toward pre-1945 polarization. However, it can be argued that these small warning signs can add up and in a stealth-like manner accumulate to create vast polarization. Although, based on the survey data I currently have no reason to believe that Norway will walk backward to polarization. So, yes, this country would be considered a successful case of depolarization.