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March, 2017

Safe cities are built on trust

In recent years, our values have been challenged by a series of attacks by violent extremists, both in the Nordic countries and elsewhere in the world. We do not want our urban conurbations to be arenas for violence and hate, nor for their inhabitants to live in fear.

Democracy has deep roots in the Nordic Region. We respect fundamental human rights and the freedom of the individual. We are very open, trusting and tolerant. These are values shared by all of the Nordic countries. They are values worth standing up for.

Violent extremism does not just leave destruction and injury in its wake, it also has an impact on our democracy and way of life. It challenges the core principles on which our societies are built. Unless challenged it may sap the trust we have in each other and undermine our freedoms.

A closed society is also one that excludes, one in which people are suspicious of each other’s motives, one where we become less tolerant of other people’s ideas and beliefs.

When my own homeland was attacked in the most horrific manner, in Oslo and on Utøya, our reaction was the opposite of what the terrorist wanted. Faced with tragedy, we responded not with anger and calls for revenge, but with responsibility and compassion. We understood that hate leads to more hate. Nobody expressed it better than one of the young survivors from Utøya, who wrote: “When a single man can cause so much evil – think how much love we can generate together.”

I am convinced that this response has made Norway a stronger and more united nation.

Lives were also lost in Copenhagen, during the attacks on Krudttønden in Østerbro and the synagogue in Krystalgade – two people died and six police officers were wounded. It was in the wake of these events that the ministers for Nordic co-operation decided that something had to be done. They sowed the first seed of what would later grow into Nordic Safe Cities.

I titled this blog post “Safe cities are built on trust” because it expresses not only an inherently Nordic view of society but also a shared Nordic goal of working to prevent the mechanisms that lead to attacks.

It is also the fundamental principle behind the Nordic Safe Cities network and the title of the guide I had the pleasure of launching in Copenhagen on 7 March.

The guide focuses on the positive by shining a light on good examples from local authorities, official agencies, voluntary organisations and local communities. The launch brought together 12 Nordic spokespersons, the French Ambassador to Denmark, Francois Zimeray, and 150 experts from across the Region to discuss their experiences and learn from each other. It was a prime example of Nordic co-operation at its best.

All of the Nordic countries have frequently stressed the need to maintain our open and democratic society, and expressed our strong belief that everyone should be offered the opportunity to contribute what they can. In reality, this is the only path worth following. We need to be able to trust each other. Trust is crucial.

From a social perspective, it might even be considered more valuable than gold.

In 2014, leading Nordic researchers conducted a study of the Nordic model, the findings of which were published in the report The Nordic Model: Challenged but capable of reform. One of its key findings was that people in the Region have a significantly higher level of trust in each other, their elected representatives, the state and the legal system than people in other parts of the world.

Trust is essential in a modern society. Trust means that we can depend on each other. Trust binds us together. Trust is one of the foundations for productivity and economic growth. Trust is one of the building blocks for high quality of life. From a social perspective, it might even be considered more valuable than gold.

When we adhere to values such as freedom, trust and unity, we also have to accept that these values are only sustainable as long as we live in safe societies, where we do not fear our fellow citizens.

Inclusion and respect for human rights must always be our guiding star in the work to prevent individuals from committing acts of violence against the people and society around them.

I am pleased, therefore, that it is these particular values that serve as the foundation for Nordic Safe Cities. These values are what differentiate us from the extremists. I am convinced that the only productive way of confronting hate is to maintain our democratic traditions.

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