We Norwegians could, as a nation, no longer live with Sylvi Listhaug as our Minister of Justice. The fact that some now worry that her exit will strengthen the Progress Party must be subordinate to the need for a departmental leadership that has the trust of others outside those of its own party.
The Ministry of Justice means a lot, in particular for us living up north.
It is not always obvious, as we first and foremost think of a Minister of Justice as someone who is in charge of law and order, for our crime policies. There have always been different directions in crime policies. No Minister would have to resign because she had more faith in long prison sentences than the parliamentary majority does, and no Prime Minister would threaten that the government leave its positions because the majority of parliament wanted a more liberal drug policy.
Sylvi Listhaug resigned because she was about to turn our entire political understanding upside down.
Her farewell speech Tuesday morning showed us a Minister who until the very last minute believed that the Ministry of Justice and the government of Erna Solberg were there for her, not the other way around.
The Ministry of Justice is in charge of public safety and preparedness. These are defining issues for Norway as a nation. However, although those are issues of national importance, their solutions are international. In particular the solutions that apply to the northernmost parts of the country.
The Ministry of Justice is also in charge of coordinating Norwegian Svalbard policy. Most of Norwegian Svalbard policy has to do with international relations; a point underscored by the fact that the first trip Sylvi Listhaug had to cancel – before having to resign – was one taking her to Svalbard.
It is also illuminating that Longyearbyen was heavily struck by the terror attack against the Youth Labour Party at Utøya.
It was obviously impossible for Erna Solberg’s government to promote key international relations with a Minister of Justice who did not have the confidence of Stortinget, the Norwegian Parliament.
The censored minister
Prime Minister Erna Solberg saw this, of course.
Sylvi Listhaug did not.
She only saw her own role.
So her farewell speech was about everything but the Ministry of Justice’s tasks.
With one exception.
She felt censored and gagged in violation of the freedom of speech that our court system is set to defend.
Few people have freer access to public speech than a Minister of Justice. Sylvi Listhaug in particular, as she was an outspoken politician – and I do not necessarily say this as a tribute in this context – and had access to microphones whenever she had an opinion. And she often did, as we know.
Sylvi Listhaug’s being met with counterarguments and disagreement is a quite different thing from censorship.
A Minister of Justice should be the very last person to mix those terms. It testifies to an understanding of the law that leaves much to want.
The price of democracy
There is thus hardly any reason to regret any potential surge for the Progress Party following Sylvi Listhaug’s exit. That will be democracy’s way of handling political disagreement, just like democracy leads to a resounding defeat for a Minister when trust is gone.
In a situation where Norway’s Minister of Justice got lost in her understanding of democracy, it is vital that the rest of us hold on to democracy as our ruling regime.We do that best through political debate, even when differences of opinion and political disagreement is confused with censorship and gagging.
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