Norwegians pull together again

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WITH VIDEO FROM NRK: In another enormous show of solidarity, an estimated 40,000 people braved cold, pouring rain to show up at a central square in Oslo on Thursday and sing a song that the man on trial for last summer’s terrorist attacks had derided. They took revenge with roses, in what the clearly impressed head of the Oslo City Court called “a manifestation of Norwegian culture.”

This was the scene at midday on Thursday, when an estimated 40,000 people packed the public square called "Youngstorget" in downtown Oslo, despite pouring rain, to sing a song and wave roses in support of their Norwegian society. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) carried the event live on national TV. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/Views and News

Geir Engebretsen has been in charge of the terror trial now going on in the Oslo City Court. He told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that those inside the courthouse on Thursday were aware of what was going on outside, but were overwhelmed by its dimension.

“It’s a beautiful, touching scene,” Engebretsen told NRK as he looked out over the peaceful crowds placing ever more roses outside the courthouse. “In terrible weather, with roses in their hands, it’s a very moving manifestation of Norwegian culture.”

It was also another sign of the Norwegians’ reaction to the attacks on their country by a home-grown terrorist last summer. The idea for it was launched just two days ago, when two Norwegian women were extremely offended by derogatory remarks about a much-loved song called Barn av regnbuen (Children of the rainbow) made by terror defendant Ander Behring Breivik. Like organizers of last summer’s rose parade in Oslo just after Breivik’s attacks, they put out a message over social media suggesting that Norwegians gather in front of the courthouse on Thursday and sing the song, to protest Breivik’s remarks. They thought maybe 30 or 40 of their friends would turn up.

They'd all been gathered by these two women, Christine Bar and Lill Hjønnevåg ...

Local news media quickly picked up on their proposal, however, and by Tuesday, around 4,000 persons had posted messages on Facebook saying they’d turn up, and similar events were being planned in towns and cities all over Norway. The organizers then got permission to move what the Norwegians call an allsang to the central square known as Youngstorget. It’s located, appropriately enough, directly in front of the tall building where Norway’s Labour Party has its headquarters and which was damaged in Breivik’s bombing of the Labour-led government headquarters just a block away.

By 11:30am, police estimated the size of the crowd that was assembling at around 10,000. By the time the singing got underway, shortly past noon, police said the crowd numbered around 40,000.

...and they came to sing along with Lillebjørn Nilsen (second from right) who'd written the Norwegian version of the song, known locally as "Barn av regnbuen (Children of the rainbow)."

“We’re just completely overwhelmed,” Labour Party secretary Raymond Johansen told NRK, which carried live coverage of the event nationwide. “I think this just shows that people felt a need to show their feelings, to make an expression of how they value the Norwegian democracy. It’s fantastic. We are stum av beundring (literally, speechless with admiration).”

Anniken Huitfeldt, Norway’s minister of culture for the Labour Party, happened to be hosting visits by her counterparts from all over the Nordic region this week, and they all showed up to sing as well. The ministers for cultural affairs from Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and even the Færoe Islands said they all “feel for each other” when tragedy strikes, and were keen to show what support they could just by being there and singing along.

The singing took place just outside the headquarters of the Norwegian Labour Party, shown in the background here, which was a target of the attacks on July 22. ALL PHOTOS: NRK screen grabs/Views and News

There were a few short, introductory speeches before the singing began, with the head of a group representing survivors of the attacks, Trond Blattmann, thanking everyone for coming to show their sympathy and support as the difficult terror trial ended its second of 10 weeks. Eskil Pedersen, head of the Labour youth group AUF that Breivik attacked on the island of Utøya, killing 69 of his colleagues, claimed that “we are gathered not because of him, but because of each other.”

And then Lillebjørn Nilsen, the Norwegian folk singer who wrote the Norwegian lyrics to the song originally written by American icon Pete Seeger, took the stage and led the crowd through both the Norwegian and English versions.

See NRK’s video of Nilsen leading the “allsang” below, and then the story continues. To follow along with the Norwegian lyrics, pull up yesterday’s story on the event here and scroll to the bottom.

Nilsen literally took his hat off to the crowd at the end, as they kept on singing without him, and then had one short comment: “Det er vi som vinner.” (It’s we who win.)

Nilsen also brought greetings from the 93-year-old Seeger, telling the crowd that he’d called Seeger in the US to tell him how his song (called My Rainbow Race) had become an important part of recovery efforts after the attacks. “‘Oh me, oh my,’” Nilsen quoted Seeger as saying. “‘I wish you luck.’”

No luck was needed. The spontaneous event that assembled 40,000 people in the space of two days was a success by all accounts and afterwards, mounted police led the crowd in a peaceful parade through the streets of Oslo, past the Cathedral where flowers had piled up right after the attacks, and on to the courthouse. Many people kept singing while they walked in the cold, pouring rain, and left their roses outside the courthouse or along the route. The court, meanwhile, adjourned early for the day after hearing more testimony from survivors of the bombing, and Breivik was driven back to prison.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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  • MrLeeLee

    Such a moving story. Glad to see that people can pull together in such times. I only hope that all the participants were extremely cautious of their belongings. Unfortunately the gypsy beggars will see this event as an early Christmas present. This is the ideal setting to rob honest people.

  • thov

    Christine Bar and Lili Hjønnevåg have become famous and Breivik has received even more attention. Is that what all this was about? I am rather skeptical to the whole arrangement, who will arrange what next? If we find out that Breivik does not like McDonalds hamburgers, will the Norwegians then boycott McDonalds? Why give this serial killer so much attention, why not concentrate on helping the survivors and get on with life? The Norwegian media has gone totally overboard with this case, and some of the articles are only sensational and of very little interest to most of the population in Norway, and even of less interest to people in other countries.

    • Gaot

      You have to know that stuff like this helps the survivors and the families more than anything could. A nation that gathers for something like this is beautiful. And it was stated that this arrangement was not to give Breivik attention, but to remember those lost and those left.

  • adenanneke
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jim-Kendall/1365107942 Jim Kendall

    Breivik said Wednesday that being declared insane would be the worst thing that could happen to him because it would “delegitimize” his views.
    But, Breivik dude, Nothing can legitimize your “views”; because your “views” are the ravings of a Madman.
    I admire Norway. But they are providing too much celebration for this Breivik thug. The matter should be disposed of, not made into a stage event.

  • texasaggie

    This is so different and so much more effective than what the average American would do in a similar situation. I remember reading a story from back when Berlin was divided by the Wall. The East Germans threw a bunch of garbage over the Wall into the West. The West Berlin response was to throw a bunch of flowers into the East and erect a big sign that said “One shares what one has.”

    This event in Norway and the one in Berlin are so much more effective than tit for tat, but Americans will never understand that.

    • greenmountaingirl

      Really, well I’m an American (of Norwegian heritage), and I understand that when times are troubled it helps to be with others and to pull together. I thought this event today was very moving.

    • aquacalc

      Your very good post would have been much better without the condescending — and wholly inaccurate — dig: “…but Americans will never understand that.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/shelagh.cosgrove Shelagh Cosgrove

    Beautiful! It must have been so moving to be a part of that, and for the victims, very very much needed and heartwarming.
    It’s very ironic in a way, but it may just be Breivik’s horrendous actions and extreme views that encourage Norwegians to embrace multiculturalism even more than they already have! That would be justice served for all concerned. No one could ever possibly have wanted it this way, but what is right will prevail.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shelagh.cosgrove Shelagh Cosgrove

    Did anyone videorecord this beautiful event? And if so, can it be made available to the rest of the world? Or posted here on Views and News from Norway? We need to see and hear this level of courage and hope in a world that in so many ways seems to have gone insane! Thank you!

  • Thomassen

    I think this is a wonderful example of how a nation can pull together in the face of tragedy. I do wonder though if the Norwegian people would have responded the same way if the terrorist in question wan not one of their own.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_U3QL4KMJGWKUPSWKCHYZGVKPEU Colin

    Thank you for setting such a wonderful example to the world – Washington D.C.

  • hereiam42

    I was in awe of the way the Citizen’s of Oslo all cam together in support of each other and Norway. The entire world should watch this video and know that when a tragedy strikes that love and solidarity are the key units that bind a people and nation together. I think it was wonderful that there was a show of support from other countries. I listen to this song over and over and never get tired of seeing all the people and hearing them sing together. God Bless Norway and the Norwegian people. Thank you lillebjorn Nilsen for your wonder singing.