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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