“I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then. ”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Norway is a strange place. Rich and liberal to outsiders, it is, in reality, a conservative and monopolistic society. Gay marriage is legal, but the state church does not recognize it. The transportation and food-supply network are each owned, respectively, by one (semi-private) company. Some joke that it is the last communist state in Europe.
Norwegians praise equality, but haven’t resolved income distribution in a petrostate. They are polite, but shy of outsiders and foreigners. They believe in an open society with easily accessible institutions, but are very private people overwhelmed with bureaucracy. They obey authority. They are naïve children when dealing with the world. Active members of NATO and the Atlantic alliance, their own government and military institutions are unprotected and unfortified. On July 22, 2011, Anders Behring Breivik, a blond and blue-eyed Norwegian, exploded a bomb in the center of Oslo, devastating the main governmental building. He then drove to Utøya, an island resort of the ruling political party, dressed as a police officer, and massacred 77 children, teenagers and young adults of the ruling elite. They were protected by one guard.
Norway had fallen through the looking glass. A country that was on the periphery of violence was thrown into the center of it, by one of its own, disguised as a police officer, whom Norwegians have been taught to obey.
Even though the world had been changed and Norwegians now speak of July 22 as their own 9/11, even though it was much more similar to Oklahoma City, no one really questioned the government. The lack of fortified buildings. The ineptitude of the police and military (who are mainly white males) for arriving 90 minutes after the first reported shooting. How did Norway produce a white Norwegian male, whose manifesto was anti-Muslim, but pro-Jewish and pro-gay?
The Norwegian media discussed males who rescued people by crossing to the island in their boats. It took the foreign press, verified by the Guardian, the Independent, and the New York Times, to discover that Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen, a Norwegian married lesbian couple camping across from the island, raced back and forth in their boat four times while being shot at and rescued up to 40 people. An unselfish act, but these were not men, and they definitely were not heterosexual. It was not even mentioned in Norway.
Norwegians are different people now. The nightly news in Norway has grown darker. Rapes in Oslo. Stabbings on the subway. Parents killing their children. The world is not what it was. A nation that has gotten very rich in roughly one generation but has not begun to question its role, its future, or its society and institutions, which, contrary to what is the perception in Norway, are still clearly slanted toward a certain part of the populace. Norway went down the rabbit hole, but has not woken yet.
Lesbian couple deserve their place in Norway’s heroic narrative: Roz Kaveney: Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen saved 40 youngsters from the Utøya massacre, so why have we hardly heard about them?
Charles Kinney’ Bio
Charles Kinney, Jr. is married to a Norwegian, actively involved in the United States, and is currently based in the Republic of Georgia. He has written for publications in Greenland, Denmark, Norway, the United States and the United Kingdom. He has taught and lectured at universities and educational institutions around the world. He is currently on a two-year teacher-training assignment with the US State Department to the Republic of Georgia. www.charleskinney.blogspot.com