Lise and Kjetil Ulvestrand came to this town south of Oslo in 2005 for the space, the views, the forest and the cheaper rents. Ms. Ulvestrand, a former development worker in Latin America and a social worker with Norway’s immigrants, says she is comfortable around foreigners and different cultures.
But as the number of immigrants, including Muslims, gradually increased in Mortensrud, she began to worry about her children and their education.
“I loved the forest and had friends, but ethnic Norwegians were moving out, so my children were losing friends,” she said. “After a while we discovered that when kids were 5 or 6, everyone moved out. We wanted a stable environment, and we had some questions about the social challenges at the school,” where the non-ethnic Norwegian majority was growing rapidly.
So the Ulvestrands decided last summer to move back into comfortable west Oslo, where she grew up. “I felt a bit guilty about moving, having worked in Latin America with minorities and defending their rights,” she said. “It wasn’t just ethnic Norwegians, it was anyone with resources moved out.”
Their concerns about immigration and perceptions that Islam is challenging prevailing national values are widely shared, both among some Norwegians, like the Ulvestrands, on the left of the political spectrum, as well as among many on the right, who in September put the Conservative Party into office after eight years of government by Labor Party-led leftist coalitions.
In a nation that has long prided itself on its liberal sensibilities, the intensifying debate about immigration and its effects on national identity and the country’s social welfare system has been jarring — and has been focused on the anti-immigration Progress Party, which is part of the new conservative-led government.
The Progress Party came under intense scrutiny in 2011, when a former member, a Norwegian named Anders Behring Breivik, bombed government buildings in Oslo, killing eight people. He then killed 69 more people, mostly teenagers, in a mass shooting at a Labor Party summer camp on the island of Utoya. Breivik, who was convicted of mass murder and terrorism, had been a member of the Progress Party, attracted by its anti-Islamic slant, from 1999 until he was removed from the rolls in 2006 for not paying dues, having quit the party because it was not sufficiently radical.