‘Russ’ partying starts with sober pleas

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This weekend marks the semi-official launch of the wild spring party season for graduating high school students called “russ.” Politicians, a human rights organization and the russ’ own national leader were making sober pleas for better behaviour, though, in an effort to hinder the violent consequences of too much drinking.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg being greeted by "russ" during last year's celebrations. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

Prime Minister Erna Solberg being greeted by “russ” during last year’s celebrations. “Russ” are easily recognizable, not only because of their often outlandish behaviour but by the traditional red or blue overalls they wear during the spring party season. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

The russ (roughly pronounced “roose”) season, which runs through Norway’s Constitution Day on the 17th of May, is known for its huge parties over the next few weeks that attract hundreds if not thousands of mostly 19-year-olds all over the country. Many ride around in party buses elaborately (and often expensively) outfitted with high-powered sound systems and portable bars, with all the drinking, dancing and uninhibited sex that can imply.

Celebrations can turn sour
The idea is to celebrate the end of compulsory school years and enjoy a final fling with classmates before they all scatter for the summer and the rest of their lives. All too often, though, the season is tarnished by violence, accidents, sexual harassment and assault, and calls are going out for students to not only look after one another but to change their attitudes towards what’s permissible and what’s not.

Kirsti Bergstø, in charge of equality issues for the Socialist Left party (SV), is especially alarmed by the sexual harassment and assaults associated with the russ season. “Everyone has individual responsibility for not drinking so much that they don’t have control over their own actions,” Bergstø told newspaper Dagsavisen on Thursday. “At the same time, I think the schools need to put more emphasis on this. Many youth don’t seem to understand what a ‘no’ really means.”

In a recent survey of more than 23,000 youth conducted on the website ung.no, only one out of three answered “no” when asked whether it was acceptable to grope someone without permission. Thousands of girls and women also set off a social media storm last week as they related incidents of sexual harassment or assault that they had experienced personally.

Amnesty also concerned
“This is a major problem,” Bergstø claimed and she’s not alone in issuing calls for a change in attitudes. The international human rights organization Amnesty has opted to hand out decals to this year’s russ reading Nei er nei! (No is no!) that they can iron onto the traditional overalls they wear. Amnesty clearly sees a need to try to protect the individual human rights of russ, and get across the message that anyone saying “no” to heavy drinking or sex must be respected.

“Sex without consent is rape,” claims Mia T Starberg, national president of this year’s russ. She told Dagsavisen that she’s urging all russ to “look after one another” as the partying gets underway, but stresses that doesn’t apply only to the girls.

“The guys also have a responsibility to object if they see a friend taking too many liberties with a girl, whether she’s sober or drunk,” Starberg said. “You can’t just walk on by and pretend nothing’s going on.”

Starberg said she hopes this year’s russ season will proceed without media headlines about rapes and other forms of violence. Bergstø had three pieces of advice for the russ: “Don’t drink so much that you lose control and respect for others, don’t have sex with someone who’s so drunk that you can’t know whether its consensual, and step in if your friends are acting like jerks and ignoring others’ limits. Real friends hinder assaults,” she told Dagsavisen.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund