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
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
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
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
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
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.
· may10 · march10
february 09 ·