Impact on Norway after 2011 summer
November 9, 2011 11:54 PM   Subscribe

Help me understand my Norwegian colleague's tears (during a conversation where topic led to the events of the summer in Norway and the subsequent impact on society).

Last night we went out for a drink and snacks after work which might have turned into 3 or 4 by the time the topic of conversation turned to what had happened in Norway this past summer - that is, the actions of Anders Breivik and in particular the shooting on the island of young people from around the country.

I believe the question asked, or what he was saying when the tears came suddenly (he was not visibly upset in any other way that I could tell) was "the impact of this shooting on our society". After that I didn't think I could ask questions and just let him speak and compose himself - I recall bits about being able to take long walks in the countryside being part of Norwegian life, hunting and gun ownership and that the right wing extremists were almost obsolete.

But I don't understand what led to the tears and now have no way to ask further (they - he and his wife, had no close losses and were in fact here in Africa when that happened). Since I would not want to upset my friend again I would appreciate if any Norwegians or other informed people could share any insights on the impact of this event on their society. If it helps, the gentleman is in his late thirties and a father of two.

No guesswork please if you have not been there or don't have any first hand knowledge, it seems this is a sensitive topic.
posted by infini to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
9/11 : USA :: the July shootings : Norway

It was a national tragedy. It was the day that everything changed. It was when Norwegians had to process the idea that yes, something this horrific could happen in their country.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:57 PM on November 9, 2011 [14 favorites]

(And to be clear, that's not speculation. That analogy is how a friend from Oslo described her devastation to me after the events.)
posted by ocherdraco at 11:58 PM on November 9, 2011

Norway has a population of almost 5 million, about half of NYC's metropolitan area. Countries with comparatively really few inhabitants tend to have a strong sense of unity in as: it feels more like you're part of a large family. So this hit close to home, no matter whether your colleague had close losses or not.

Then about values: "about being able to take long walks in the countryside being part of Norwegian life, hunting and gun ownership and that the right wing extremists were almost obsolete" is all what more or less defines the Nordic way of life; for extra symbolic impact add to this that the island is a traditional training camp site for the social democratic youth.
The fact that your friend wasn't at home when it happened may also contribute to his emotional response: homesickness to a world that, after the attacks, is (in some ways) gone.
Finally: he's the father of two. The Olso and Ut√łya attacks left 77 dead and 96 wounded; most of these were teenagers. He probably read all the stories in the nordic press, you know, about jaw fragments being found by parents of the dead at a later visit of the island, about people shielding others with their body and therefore dying, about a little dude just stepping out in front of Breivik, telling him, 'you just killed my dad, so you better leave me alone' (which also happened) etc. In short, yup, it seems this is a sensitive topic.
If it helps your friend, however, let him talk about it, no matter the tears.
posted by Namlit at 1:18 AM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Namlit, this helps also to put some of what he was saying into context, thank you (and certainly, I gathered that he felt that he was able to speak this way with me, I just didn't want to push further i.e. let it emerge when and if it may again)

He did say that something had changed - jumping forward then suddenly to the security concerns that embassies share with citizens abroad - possibly, given what you say here, this could be relevant in that that same sense of utter security in an open society has been lost - like innocence perhaps - that policemen didn't carry guns and one more thing: that though he himself was into hunting and fishing and owned four hunting guns, to stand there for two hours doing what that man did nonstop implied a sickness in the head (i.e. he himself couldn't imagine even doing it once and not feeling the emotional impact of what he'd done) As you can tell, it wasn't very coherent.

Also bits about how this event has just totally eliminated the right wing parties who had begun to gain prominence just prior to this. Since I don't read the language, any links to relevant articles or topics to read would be appreciated.
posted by infini at 1:31 AM on November 10, 2011

I had a (male) Norwegian friend cry about this too. I'm a sook and I almost had a cry too (but then I'll cry over spilt milk). He knew no one directly who had died.

But we were more talking about Norwegian society and the love and compassion that Norwegian society hold, and they way they were coping and reacting in terms of management/punishment of criminals like Anders Breivik. We also talked about the handling of the Jamie Bulger case. In Norway they had a similar situation and handled it very different from the British (WARNING: that article has descriptions of violence against children, may not be nice).

It's all pretty emotionally charged.

How can you not cry when sad things like that happen? And then not be moved by the compassion of people? (OKOK, that's not fair. Everyone copes with things differently.)

Some people just cry.
posted by jujulalia at 3:12 AM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

At a brunch with a family in Oslo a few months ago, the subject of these events came up, as at that point they were relatively recent and fresh. There were obviously many dynamics to this conversation.

The first was wondering how it was portrayed in the international media -- whether it was a major story in the UK (which it was) or not. Yet, they were not pleased to hear A) that the coverage had been very heavy, and B) the coverage took into account the moral dilemma involved for societies in domestic terrorism.

The latter point was the next topic of conversation. Apparently, the Norwegians were terrified that it had been international terrorism, potential like the events in Madrid previously. The implications of an international terrorist event are more substantial than a domestic terrorism event.

When it was known to be domestic, Norway seized up a bit. On one hand, they were relieved it was not international terrorist. On the other hand, they saw the truth that their society had failed in numerous ways in this event, and that became a real point for reflection. That apparently was true of both the society at large and also numerous individuals.

1. How did it happen, that this person became so excluded and broken that they become capable of perpetrating that kind of violence?

2. Norway has been a very open and trusting society. Now the realisation what when something goes wrong, the impact is substantial. In this case, primary children and young people.

3. Norway is having to revise its laws, for there is not a 'life sentence' capable of keeping AB in prison for life.

By the end of the conversation, there nearly were tears around the table from both hosts and guests.

As an American, I found the description of the Norwegian social bond and contract to be enlightening, almost something out of high literature. There is a tremendous care and love that the Norwegians express for both familial and non-familial individuals and in some cases, for animals and the natural world.

American society is an orgy of violence, a society which glorifies violence and violation. A society where order involves power, strength, and who has the bigger gun. 9-11 was a tremendous tragedy, yet it shattered a societal illusion -- that America was indeed invincible -- rather than personal illusions.

The UK is half-way between America and Norway. The UK has segmented violence into 'appropriate violence' (violence by the society) and 'inappropriate violence' (violence by the individual).

Norway is on the other end of the spectrum, with a distinct preference for non-violance. Indeed, there was a human rights exhibition in Oslo about displaced people and the need to sort them out. One sees that Norwegian society almost lives in a 'man vs. nature' plot dynamic than the 'man vs. man' of America, or the 'society vs. man' of Britain.

The mood around the table was what has been mentioned here. This event has tremendous implications for society. In some ways, not dissimilar to 9/11. That in today's interconnected world, every society both gains and loses. The gains are tremendous and accounted for with terms like "growing GDP", "increased trade", and "global flow of information".

The loses are more personal. That both ideas and real changes from the outside modify societies and potentially make them less stable, requiring new restrictions. For the Norwegians, they will lose some elements of a very idyllic society.

Will children be allowed to run free on islands in summertime?

What will happen to the country's justice system when it moves from a complete focus on rehabilitation to also a focus on removing people from society for the duration of their natural lives?

And perhaps the most troubling question of all: What else lurks below the surface that they cannot account for? Where are the other landmines waiting to be stepped on.

Overall, when people cry, it is often a marker of sadness rather than anger or unjust treatment. Sadness is closely linked to control -- that is, we become sad when we feel that we have no control to produce an alternate result.

In the case of the Norwegians, things have to change now. The way they are as a people has to change, for they must 1) deal with this incident, which requires them to change, and perhaps more greatly, 2) prevent such incidents from happening again, which will require greater change.

Overall, the conversation concluded with the hosts saying that in reality, Norwegian society felt that it had failed AB. They didn't know why and they don't know what to do about it yet -- or what future decisions they will have to take. But they do realise that changes have to occur and that saddens them, for they take great pride in the society they have built.


As far as the right wing party ideology, European society made decisions a long time ago to curtail freedom of expression for the extreme right as a result of Fascists, Nazis and the other elements of society seen as responsible for WWII. These are long-standing curtailments that are not up for discussion, for those ideologies are seen as threats to the fundamental human rights of the European people and stability of states.

A consequence to that embargo is that people with extreme right-wing views in European society are substantially inhibited from expressing those views.

The hosts told us a story about Polish men coming to Norway and committing crimes because "A Norwegian prison is better than Polish job". As with the rest of Europe, Norway has experienced tremendous influxes of immigrants chasing the benefits of the social systems. What was a trickle became a flow, and now there are large populations of immigrants sitting around in Scandinavia countries.

Due to the restriction on extreme right wing speech, it is very difficult to have conversations about immigration, for one often gets mired in the line between national sovereignty and human rights. The British parliament is quite up in arms about this at the moment, with Labour chasing the Conservatives on the airport security scandal. The immediate response by the Conservatives is about the 2.8M immigrants Labour settled in the UK and all the problems that stem from that.

One of the lines of inquiry is that in Norway, there simply was not a channel for AB to communicate his dis-satisfaction with Norway being seemingly overrun with EU and non-EU immigrants. Something he saw as a threat to the very society itself. Yet there was no channel for that. The conservative right in Norway was not conservative enough for him, and anything more conservative is essentially contraband. Thus, he was worked into a position of (he believed, apparently) that his society is being dismantled by immigrants yet there is no place for a conversation about it.

Thus, he took the most effective action that he could, targeting the government itself. The reports say that his target was the prime minister, who apparently left the island an hour early that day. But also the children of the government. The youth that were being 'indoctrinated' to think in the way that caused the problem.

Part of what is concerning is his cold rationality and calculus of these events, as noted by the idea of not only removing the active leadership but also future leadership.

Further, the Norwegians are concerned that he has emerged semi-victorious in that he is a symbol for the under-represented views of Norway -- that immigrants are indeed destroying the society.


Overall, perhaps this doesn't come near to answering any of your questions, but that has been an output from my own inquiry into the situation and I hope it helps your own.
posted by nickrussell at 3:59 AM on November 10, 2011 [238 favorites]

I live in Oslo. I agree with nickrussells analysis. The crying could be caused by a deep sense of loss, loss of innocence, loss of lives. It does not matter if you even knew people directly, I know a woman whose son was in a buss going into town that day. He was not hurt or even close to the bomb, but she still is emotionally not well. Also the newspapers are still reporting on it, currently with a lot of critical questions on the police. If you want to feel the emotions of Norwegians about this day, just look at this video .
posted by Eltulipan at 5:38 AM on November 10, 2011

Sadness is closely linked to control -- that is, we become sad when we feel that we have no control to produce an alternate result.

I've returned to this thread several times now because I find this statement so enlightened and profound. I think this one sentence is a perfect summary.
posted by Eicats at 9:08 AM on November 10, 2011 [24 favorites]

Wow, nickrussel, very well said. I am Norwegian and I have nothing to add to that - you captured the anguish and reactions most of us have been feeling.
posted by widdershins at 10:35 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

nickrussell - I lived in Norway for 5 years and this is the same feedback I've been getting from my Norwegian friends. It's shaken their concept of society and what it means to be a member of that society. And yes, they feel that society failed AB.

I've always found a lot to admire about Norwegian society and they restraint in which they handled the aftermath of the attacks has only strengthened my admiration.
posted by arcticseal at 10:50 PM on November 10, 2011

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