As debate rages on internet forums, the Labour Party leader implored his fellow citizens to learn the lessons of the dual terrorist attacks that left 77 people dead last July.
“One of the things July 22nd showed us was how important it is not to judge and brand people just because they belong to a certain group. These kinds of words and expressions can only lead to more hatred and conflict,” Stoltenberg told news agency NTB.
Stoltenberg was referring to terms – such as “subhumans” and “rats” – that have been used by some internet users to describe a community of Roma people currently camped out in Årvoll and other parts of Oslo.
Some 200 people had previously camped at Sofienberg church before they were asked last week by church leaders to leave. The occupants of the site claimed they had moved there in large numbers after being routinely harassed by the police.
Stoltenberg said he was upset to hear the kind of opinions that have bubbled to the surface in the current conflict.
At the same time, the prime minster also made it clear that Roma people who come to Norway from countries like Romania and Bulgaria should expect the same treatment as any other citizens of countries in the European Economic Area.
In order to remain in the country legally, they must be in a position to earn a living and they must respect Norwegian law, he noted.
“But they also need to be treated with dignity and respect as individuals,” said Stoltenberg.
In recent months, a number of senior politicians from the Progress Party and the Conservative Party have joined the debate by calling for a blanket ban on begging, which they claim fuels organized crime in the Roma community.
This has prompted many on the left to label representatives of the two right-wing parties as racists.
Folk er Folk (People are People), a group set up to support the Roma community in Norway, has likened Oslo politicians to Anders Behring Breivik, the confessed perpetrator of the July 22nd. The group has also drawn comparisons with the persecution of Jews under the Nazis.
Seeking to calm the situation, Oslo’s deputy mayor Libe Rieber-Mohn (Labour Party) urged all sides to exercise restraint and refrain from portraying political opponents as racists.
“We do the Roma people a major disservice if we deny there are challenges and leave the Progress Party and Conservatives to formulate political solutions alone,” she told newspaper Klassekampen.
“When the left uses these kinds of debating techniques we push people away from us. The Progress Party and Conservatives aren’t racists; their proposals just differ from ours.”
Suggestions put forward by Rieber-Mohn include the provision of cheaper overnight accommodation in Oslo, the introduction of targeted labour market measures, and the creation of begging-free zones rather than an outright ban on the practice.