Our Norwegian correspondent The Observer has translated two articles concerning a man in Norway who was persecuted and driven out of his job after the Breivik massacre, all because of his political views. The second article was written by the victim himself.
The translator includes this introduction to provide context for non-Norwegian readers:
This article from Document.no concerns Anders Ulstein, who lost his job because he wrote a critical op-ed about the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg on July 22, 2011 in the hours following the attack in Oslo, and before it was established who was behind it.
In the op-ed (which was published at Document.no), Ulstein criticised Mr. Stoltenberg for refusing to use the words ‘terror’ and ‘terrorism’ to describe what had taken place, but instead insisted on referring to it as ‘we have been affected’ and ‘dramatic events’ have occurred in Oslo.
Ulstein pointed out in the op-ed that the Government was afraid to use the word terrorism (and that they were probably terrified of the possibility that it could be an Islamic terrorist attack and all the nasty implications that this would have).
Ulstein also highlighted the hypocritical practice of the official Norwegian policy of fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and Libya, but supporting them financially elsewhere (Gaza and the West Bank).
He concluded his article by saying that Norway could no longer continue to throw ‘meat bones’ to both camps anymore (those who fight terrorism and the terrorists themselves), and that it was time for the Norwegian government to make up its mind.
Writing things like that is more than sufficient to get you sacked in nice, tolerant, liberal Norway these days.
It should be noted that Ole Jørgen Anfindsen was also forced out of his job because of his political views. So much for more democracy and openness in Norway following 22/7, eh?
The entire text of an article by Mr. Ulstein is included at the bottom of this post. First, the translated article from Document.no:
Wrote about Stoltenberg on July 22 — lost his job
The article on the front page of the weekly periodical Ledelse [Management] is about Anders Ulstein, who was fired from his job at Actis [a substance-abuse prevention organization] due to an op-ed he wrote on Document.no on July 22, 2011.
“I was forced out of my job because of my opinions,” Ulstein says in the article.
The op-ed that triggered the process was entitled ‘Uviljen og valget’ (‘The resentment and the choice’) and was published on the evening of July 22, 2011, before the news about Utøya had broken in the media and before it was established who was responsible for the bomb attack against the government building. Ulstein has since added additional thoughts to the op-ed on two different occasions, on July 25, 2011 and May 3, 2013. Ulstein still stands by the article.
But his employers reacted strongly. He was immediately suspended from his position, and the management, led by Anne Karin Kolstad, wanted to terminate him, a decision shared by the Chairman of the Board, Arne Johannessen, who is a long-standing chairman of the Norwegian Police Federation and a known Labour Party supporter. Ulstein lost his job and his employer only offered him a severance package after he contacted a lawyer.
Why didn’t he just sue his employer for unfair dismissal if he considered himself to be treated unfairly? asks the newspaper and is told that financial obligations, the construction of a new house, the process of relocating to a new place, the need for a new job, all weighed against initiating an uncertain process in which he ran the risk of being vilified in the press and being associated with the perpetrator of the 22/7 attacks.
The head of Actis, Anne-Karin Kolstad informed the newspaper that she still stands by her decision to terminate Ulstein.
The attorney Trond Stang has co-written a book about the workplace and freedom of speech together with Elin Ørjasæter and Birgitte Stenberg Larsen. In the newspaper article he offers his thoughts on the limits of an employee’s freedom of expression. This is what he has to say about this particular case:
“I believe that such statements fall within the limits of freedom of expression. There shouldn’t be any problems in relation to his employer in this particular case. The things that he wrote about have nothing to do with his professional work, which is substance abuse,” the lawyer says.
If it becomes difficult for an employee to carry out his or her role because of controversial statements then issues of loyalty could come into focus, but according to Stang one cannot limit employees’ right to free speech on the assumption that such a scenario could occur; the likelihood of it happening has to be extremely high.
The newspaper has also interviewed a lawyer and the director of the Department of Culture, Eivind Tesaker, who wrote an op-ed in Aftenposten [Norwegian national newspaper] entitled ‘Why things take time’, which caused a lot of controversy. In it the ‘insider’ wrote that the fear of criticism is a strong inhibitor and that it partially paralyzes the overall effectiveness of the department.
Tesaker elaborated more closely on the type of criticism in a follow up op-ed in the magazine Samtiden [The present]. In this op-ed Tesaker also wrote that the department management had tried “to get him fired because he had expressed his concerns publicly.” Tesaker did not wish to elaborate on this when asked for a comment by the magazine Ledelse.
Below is an article by Anders Ulstein about his case, also from Document.no and also translated by The Observer:
Freedom of expression
by Anders Ulstein
Sunday, two days after July 22, 2011 I got a call from my boss. The previous Friday I had written an angry op-ed on Document.no about the Prime Minister’s feeble response to the bomb attack in Government Square. A few months after that I was no longer working for Actis. I was asked to leave.
A political scientist at the University of Oslo had written an email to Actis on the Saturday after the attack and asked how Actis could justify employing such a person as myself. The alarm was triggered. The snowball had started rolling.
Things that I had posted online were fine-combed, and within a week Actis had composed a six-page memo which described me as a person “who shares some of ABB’s views.” It was very one-sided. It was an unacceptable attack on my right to write and think freely. I couldn’t live with that, and I demanded that the memo be pulled.
After a week the process was practically irreversible. It would come down to the chairman of the board and the secretary-general on one side and me on the other. The outcome was all but given.
On August 31, the board approved a statement under the leadership of the ‘union man’ Arne Johannessen that they “consider it impossible for Anders Ulstein to continue in his position” based on “the activity at various internet sites and the views that he espouses.” Based on this information Actis “wants to terminate the employment contract” and I was asked to come up with a “solution to a resolution of the dispute”.
A month later and after having spent eleven years as the international manager and adviser of Actis, I’m standing with a severance package in my hand.
The employment relationship has come to an end. I have nothing more to do with Actis, but the issue is still there. It is shameful for Actis, it’s a festering pain for me, and it’s a wakeup call for the public discourse.
It is a part of the 22/7 story and one of the many consequences of the terror. Compared with the terror itself, what I had to go through was nothing. I’m now at a stage where I have a job, family and security, but the last two years have been difficult.
Why didn’t I sue Actis? I wanted to, and I would probably have won, but the trial would have coincided with the ABB case. I could have been temporarily suspended from my job and my wife wasn’t working at the time. We had just moved and we were living in my parents’ basement; we were planning to build our own house; and last but not least, we were in the process of applying for a mortgage. We also had three small children, of whom one was starting at a new school and another one in a new kindergarten.
The risk of being treated as one who “shares some of ABB’s views” by the media throughout the trial was fairly high. What I witnessed in the weeks following 22/7 was reminiscent of a witch hunt. The risk was too big and I backed out.
Insecurity is not a good feeling. One factor is the financial and personal one. Your life is being turned upside down and a lot of things can disappear in the whirlpool. It turned out OK in the end. The second factor is the risk of being branded once again. When you have been branded once it can easily happen again. Perhaps the best thing is to just keep quiet? Let it be a little secret between Actis and myself?
No, I didn’t pay this price just to remain silent. An important aspect for me and Document.no is how public discourse is currently being stifled by political correctness, suppression and witch hunting. Must I remain silent about an issue that demonstrates how rights and values that we had been taken for granted all of a sudden had disappeared overnight?
I wholeheartedly agree with Jens Stoltenberg, who shortly after the attacks on 22/7 said that what we needed now is “more democracy and more openness.” Sadly this didn’t apply to me.
The type of witch-hunt that followed 22/7 is poison for a free society. Penalties and threats simply for thinking, writing and speaking. The truly unreal aspect is how easily and how quickly it happened. And it happened at an “ordinary” company. Actis is involved in influencing alcohol and drug policies. It is an umbrella organization for a variety of groups in the prevention and treatment business. I wrote about terrorism, foreign policy, multiculturalism, etc. My writings weren’t at all linked with my professional career.
For me personally this incident had drastic consequences. How many other people have experienced similar things? Maybe the number of individuals who have been forced out of their jobs is modest, but for how many have the threat, the fear and the risk of such sanctions been sufficient for them to keep quiet and stop them from expressing their views? Why are there so many who choose to write anonymously out there?
If I had chosen to write anonymously, I would have kept my job. I would have been spared the burden of being branded and shown the door, but what about my self-respect?
What about the Norwegian public discourse that seeks the truth, diversity and wealth? Isn’t it easy to feel marginalized and branded as an outsider when writing anonymously?
It is a poison. It polarizes and undermines confidence, and it isn’t I who polarizes and exhibits contempt for the politicians. I don’t despise anyone, not the prime minister or the Muslims. But silence and self-censorship can make you despise yourself. The poison creates the painful silence. One simply doesn’t dare, and one knows that one is subject to censorship.
Shouldn’t the Prime Minister expect criticism, even harsh criticism? And even in crisis situations? I did democracy a favour by pointing to issues that I considered to be blameworthy.
It is a proven fact that the government and the Prime Minister in the hours after the bomb went off thought that it most likely the work of Islamists. However, this wasn’t my main argument. My intention was to highlight that the Prime Minister’s first comment was weak, because if it had been the work of Islamists it would have been difficult for the government to continue with its policies of dialogue and multiculturalism and its Middle Eastern foreign policy.
Let’s go back to Sunday July 24, 2011. An “informer” had contacted my boss and made her aware of the op-ed that I wrote on Friday, ‘Uviljen og valget’ [‘The resentment and the choice’]. I was shocked by the attack and I was shocked that the Prime Minister refused to refer to the attack as terror, and did not even refer to it a as a bomb. He simply described it as “an event”.
This is something that Stoltenberg since has touched upon in his statement to the July 22 Commission. He has expressed regret over not using the word “bomb”, even when he knew it was a bomb that had gone off.
This vague choice of words, such as “event” gave the impression of a confused and vague leader. The situation was obviously difficult, but that is precisely when a nation needs a leader who is clear and concise. At the time Jens Stoltenberg wasn’t such a leader and no one else at the time seemed to point this out as far as I’m aware. Document.no’s task is to say things that others dare not say.
My analysis of why he was so weak and halting in his first appearance was what triggered the process against me. Then they started reading other things that I had written in the way that the Devil reads the Bible [Norwegian saying — meaning to interpret things in a blatantly biased manner]. It would have been hilarious had the case not been so serious.
My op-ed was written in a harsh tone. Yes, it was written with the images of Grubbegata fresh in mind, and published on a blog covering events there and then. My analysis required a harsh tone. I referred to an issue that no one else had mentioned. And this issue wasn’t a hypothetical one. Governments have experienced terrorism before, most recently in London.
Violence and terrorism linked with Islamism will of course put the government’s dialogue policy in a new and critical light, and this something that we should be able to discuss. One can agree or disagree. An open discussion will give us clarifications, in depth arguments, alternative views and so forth. That’s the way it should be. Should a person lose his/her job as a result of it?
My story is important. The incident had serious repercussions for me personally, but it has much broader implications for freedom of speech in Norway. It was a gross miscarriage of justice, but injustice has become part of the trend in post-22/7 Norway. Opinions have become dangerous and opinions are being punished.
It is unlikely that people lost their jobs on a grand scale in Norway following the attack, but for how many has this scenario become a factor? It is obviously not a brand-new phenomenon. It has always been a highly dishonest way of debating to label and brand the opinions of others, but after 22/7 we have ended up with a new situation. The perfect storm. People were branded if they expressed opinions that were close to those that ABB had published in his manifesto.
ABB was a lone wolf, but he came from a herd. This is a sentence that has been frequently used after the attack. Was I a part of that herd? There was most certainly a very active herd that autumn, but I wasn’t a part of it, as a matter of fact I was chased by it.
Ask Ole Jørgen Anfindsen, how he felt. Ask Christian Tybring-Gjedde. Ask Peder Nøstvold Jensen (Fjordman). I witnessed the maelstrom that was the Norwegian public discourse in the autumn of 2011 and I thought to myself that I couldn’t risk my family’s well-being on it.
My opinions were described as sick and were being demonized. This is not objective; it is personal. My criticism was being turned into phobia and fear and contempt. “Actis cannot accept that key staff members appear in public as Islamophobes (or Christianophobes for that matter), xenophobes, have an ‘us and them’ mentality, show contempt for politicians, are suspicious of large population groups, etc.”, to quote from the Board’s own papers. One can only imagine what “etc.” entails in this instance. Go ahead and fill in the blank spots; you know what the wrong opinions are.
I don’t mind debating the content of my various op-eds. That is only fair. But one shouldn’t be forced to explain one’s opinions simply to keep one’s job.
Actis felt that a person with my opinions could hurt Actis’ ability to lobby vis-à-vis the government.
“Anders and his statements about the government and the Prime Minister could be unfortunate for Actis and deprive him of the opportunity to participate in meetings with said politicians, which runs counter to Actis’ priorities.”
This is probably one of the most sensational statements that they brought to the table. The government meets with hundreds of individuals and organizations; Does Actis really believe that the Ministries check the personal opinions of the people they meet?
And if they do, what are Actis’ views on such a blatant abuse of power? Did we all of a sudden become Russia?
The statement is even more awkward, considering that we may have a conservative government after the next election. Actis may thus have to deal with a health minister from FrP (The Progress Party) that has the same views on multiculturalism and immigration as myself. A new government may believe that Actis has “values and political views that makes the organization less credible.”
Did Actis really expect that the coalition government would govern forever?
I believe in the words of Voltaire: Democracy is about protecting the right of the person you disagree with. If one doesn’t grasp this one isn’t as value-based, as Actis claim to be. The idea that one must rid itself of employees who could put the organization in a bad light vis-à-vis those in power is a cynical view, and it is definitely not value-based.