Beer Monopoly





  International Reports







Posted August 2011

Shell-shocked Norway – Shortly after the heinous bombing of Oslo’s governmental district and the cold-blooded massacre of several dozen teenagers on Utoeya island I was travelling around Norway, a country the shape of Chile with only 4.9 million inhabitants. Thanks to the country’s oil riches, most people have been able to enjoy a pleasant life on their farms with fly-fishing the most favourite pastime.

Norway during the last week of July was a country that had been torn out of a reverie all of a sudden. A crime had been committed so atrocious that it only compared to the Nazi occupation of Norway (a frequently made point).

When I came to Trondheim, the few Norwegians walking in the streets seemed stunned. Eyes downcast, moving about slowly, they were like in a state of shock. Awkwardly they stood around in Trondheim’s city square, putting down flowers at the foot of Olav Tryggvason’s statue (the Viking king founded Trondheim in 997) unsure as to whether to hold hands or break out in a mournful song.

A grey cloud had descended on this northern seaport, bringing life to near standstill. Foreign tourists reigned in their boisterous holiday gaiety and tried to get out of the Norwegians’ way. Restaurants remained empty and even the few shoppers at the state alcohol retailer Vinmonopolet picked their bottles of wine with a guilty conscience.

Days after the slaughter Norway mourned, Norway cried. But kept shtum. As if the country by silent agreement had decided not to speak out against the political motivation behind Anders Behring Breivik’s crime.

Was it because Norway had put the blanket of its Nordic catharism over its head and had been lulled into believing that something that must not be cannot be? Had Norwegian society begun to buy into its own hubris that no one would ever threaten its democracy from within? Remember the police’s amateurish and uncoordinated response to the bloodbath.

Or was it because ABB, as the media soon began to call him, looks like such a regular Norwegian guy?

A more sinister thought struck me: could it be because he is such a regular Norwegian guy?

The strange thing about the Nordic countries is that to the outside world they purport an image of ideological homogeneity, progressiveness, consensus, harmony, which utterly belies political reality. The countries are deeply divided – not over economic issues but over cultural ones. Nationalist parties with clearly xenophobic agendas have been in parliaments far longer than in other European countries further south.

Irrespective of how many immigrants actually live in Scandinavia – percentage-wise probably fewer in Norway than in neighbouring Sweden – there are people around who think that their culture is being threatened by “others”.

The question is: do these people represent the silent majority (as ABB obviously believes) or a minority of backward-oriented weirdoes? No one really knows as by another silent agreement the pillars of society seem to have shied away from a public discourse over which kind of society people really want to live in and what a Danish, Norwegian, Swedish or Finnish cultural identity entails these days.

In a perverse kind of way, ABB has opened a political can of worms. He has forced his country to acknowledge that such a debate is necessary albeit painful.

We may think ABB’s 1,500 page long online rant inchoate and mad, but his actions speak a clear political language. Not only were bombs aimed at government buildings (rather than say housing estates), his killings were also far from random. By assassinating over 70 teenagers at a social democratic party summer camp he clearly wanted to wipe out Norway’s future left-wing elite.

For the time being, Norway’s political leaders have refrained from putting ABB’s crime into a political context. Local elections are coming up.

The task has been left to the legal system. Norway’s state attorneys are said to be mulling the question as to what to prosecute ABB for: plain brutal murder or crimes against humanity. Thinking that a maximum sentence of 21 years is not enough in punishment, they could be forgiven for pulling the crimes against humanity card.

That is not the proper response. Ruanda, Darfour and the Balkans don’t compare with ABB’s bloody deeds.

By the same token, don’t try him for murder and declare him insane.

He is a murderer alright. But his crime, horrific and horrifying as it may be, has a political motivation for which right-wing radicalisation in Europe is partly to be blamed.

This is what the silent majority needs to own up to and address. In Norway and elsewhere.

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