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Under the Volcano

Socialism, air travel bans, radical Islam, and other items in the Norwegian landscape.

12:00 AM, Apr 21, 2010 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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Under the Volcano

For anybody with a lingering belief that some form of socialism is benevolent, a visit to Norway, where I came during my first visit to Scandinavia, should settle any doubts: successful socialism is a fantasy.

Norway has oil wealth, a claim to superior public morality on which its awards of the Nobel Peace Prize are based, and a full-fledged social-democratic welfare system, based on confiscatory taxes. But even apart from its onerous tax levy, it has left ordinary Norwegians surprisingly poor. Once one leaves Oslo, which is drab, uninspiring, and depressing, and goes out to the countryside, many roads are as unpaved and potholed as in war-devastated and long-undeveloped Kosovo.

Norwegians are also astonishingly quick to admit that oil income does not reach their country's ordinary citizens. A young man I met defended its system by arguing that Norway has collectivized want. "Since nobody was that rich, nobody complains that our system produces equality of poverty," he told me, as we traveled in a rundown railroad car from Oslo to the rural town of Hamar. "But sometimes we ask ourselves why our infrastructure, including the transportation system, is so badly neglected." I did not have the heart to lecture him on the classic free market critique of socialism, proof for which he had just provided.

Norway has a considerable Muslim immigrant population (about 100,000 or 1.8 percent of the national total), among whom Bosnians and other Balkan Muslims are the most popular, because they tend to avoid radicalism. A Bosnian Muslim I met in Oslo enthused about his new homeland, where he had lived for 18 years, by equating it with Communist Yugoslavia, for which many Bosnians are nostalgic. "We were happy when we first came here because people welcomed us and the mountains and snow reminded us of home. But then we realized it offered us a better version of Tito's socialism--and not a very different one. We have jobs for life, free health care, and guaranteed housing, without the secret police or other political restrictions. For a Bosnian, Norway seems like heaven, although a bit colder and darker in the winter. When we tell our relatives and friends back in Sarajevo, they don't believe it."

In mid-April, snow was still on the ground and fjords and lakes were frozen. Then came the eruption of the Icelandic volcano, and air travel throughout Europe was frozen as well. By Monday, April 19, airlines and airports in the affected zone had begun protesting against the flight ban, imposed on them in what, from Norway, seemed yet another intrusion of the socialist nanny-state into daily life. The decision to ground all air transport emanated from a shadowy and bewildering array of official bodies, including the European Agency for the Safety of Air Navigation, ominously known as Eurocontrol, along with national air control authorities.

Iceland had already clouded Europe with its economic meltdown, beginning in 2008. In Britain and the Netherlands, whose savers put their money in Icelandic banks intoxicated by derivatives, and still have received no repayment, a common jibe holds that the British and Dutch demanded "cash" from the Icelanders, and instead have gotten "ash." In Norway, bank and money exchange terminals post notices advising that trading in Icelandic kronur has been suspended. Scandinavian countries bear a further resemblance to ex-Yugoslavia and other former communist lands in seeming to imagine that the only alternatives in economic and social policy are rigid socialism and wildly speculative capitalism.

Scandinavians remain radical leftists on other issues, and in one of the ugliest and most disturbing aspects of their public life, countries that preen over their record of protecting Jews in the second world war (such as Sweden) now encourage anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish rhetoric.

Notwithstanding the challenge of radical Islam among such non-Balkan newcomers as Somalis, Palestinians, and Iraqi Kurds, Muslim extremists, and the Norwegian traditional left come together in hatred of the Jewish state. With the pretext of protesting the Gaza conflict in 2008-2009, a street demonstration in Oslo on January 8, 2009, turned into riotous attacks on police and businesses, and a notable "Jew hunt."

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