It’s the proverbial “morning after” for thousands of graduating high school students called “russ” in Norway, after one of their most raucous and violent party seasons in years. Many staunchly defended the high costs and reckless abandon of their traditionally wild celebrations, while others think it went too far this year and are calling for changes. In the meantime, they now all have to settle down, face final exams and decide whether it was all worth it.
The climax of their party season has for years taken place on Norway’s national day on the 17th of May, which fell on a Sunday this year. That allowed another full weekend of partying during which another russ was seriously injured at an encampment in Verdal, where fighting had broken out and he was run over by an allegedly drunk driver.
The incident itself followed a rash of russ rapes this year. Major russ gatherings in Lillehammer and Stavanger last weekend that initially were reported to have proceeded without violence ended up with yet more rape and attempted rape charges, and the arrest of a male russ from Agder. This past final party weekend, meanwhile, came after four russ in Ålesund were charged with cruelty to animals after three baby penguins and an unhatched penguin egg disappeared from an outdoor aquarium. Several russ had broken into it, and the baby penguins are now feared to have died.
The severity of russ offenses this season, which traditionally begins around Easter and runs until May 17, set off a flood of media coverage and commentaries. The russ party season was described as everthing from a “meaningless” period of bad behaviour to a frightening time for those encountering russ.
“It’s been proven once again that russ celebrations have developed into a sexualized and pompous display of bad taste,” wrote one high school teacher in newspaper Dagasvisen last week. Kjetil Mygland of the Sonans High School in Drammen wondered “whatever has happened” to earlier teen-age generations’ commitment to rebelling “against unfairness, the political establishment, over-consumption, poverty and human suffering?” Instead, he pointed out, they “roll around” in elaborate buses, drink themselves senseless, take pride over sexual conquests, assault one another and spend as much as NOK 100,000 on their russ experience.
“Some of us believe this has escalated into becoming a problem for society,” Mygland wrote, adding that “many will agree … that russ celebrations in their current form must be abolished.” That can be done, he added, by scheduling final exams for before the 17th of May, “to limit the russ’ room” for partying.
Four counties in Norway are calling for exactly that, and have the support of some russ themselves. Heads keep shaking over why the mostly 18- and 19-year-olds celebrate their pending graduation before and not after they’ve actually finished exams and 13 years of school. That’s mostly a result of a political decision made by the Norwegian government in 1979 to schedule final exams for after May 17, in the hopes that would put a damper on the pre-17th of May partying. It didn’t. Most russ opt to party instead of study.
Political leaders in Oslo, Akershus, Rogaland and Buskerud counties asked Education Minister Torbjørn Roe Isaksen last week to alter the school year for high school students, so that final exams would swap places with the Easter-to-17th of May russ season. They think the change should be made nationwide as well. “Russ celebrations have escalated,” County Administrator Anette Solli in Akershus told newspaper Aftenposten. “We must face the consequences of that somehow or other.”
At least three russ at the prestigious Oslo Cathedral High School welcomed the proposal. Jonas Jam, Lavrans Løvvik and Johannes Bergvoll all told Aftenposten it would be “an advantage” to take exams first and party afterwards. “It is rather strange that we celebrate the end of school when we still have a lot of work ahead of us,” said Løvvik.
Mamy students were claiming on national radio Monday that they’ve enjoyed their russ season and aren’t ashamed of the especially negative publicity that’s emerged this year. “I had looked forward to this for years and have had so much fun,” wrote one 19-year-old male russ in newspaper Aftenposten who didn’t want his name used. “I’m sick of bad stereotypes attached to russ. I think a large majority of russ are sensible young people. We’re not a big group of rapists. Even my own mother has understood that russ season is completely crazy.”
Trine Line Vestli, who was in charge of national public relations for the russ this year, also thinks the russ have been branded with an undeserved bad reputation. “We meet lots of new people, there’s tremendous fellowship among us, I’m proud to wear my red russ dress,” Vestli told Dagsavisen earlier this month. She claimed the mood among her group of friends on the bus they outfitted for the celebrations was “fantastic.” She also pointed to the “no is no” campaign this year and other efforts that aimed to hinder sexual assault.
Others, especially Muslim russ, refrain from all the drinking and one group claimed they had just as much fun drinking Solo (a Norwegian orange soft drink) as beer. Still others weren’t so sure. While one 16-year-old claimed she looked forward to be russ, she was “disgusted” by a russ “subculture” that has led to the sexual assaults, harassment, vandalism and violence. She disagreed that wearing russ overalls “gives you permission to be an idiot.” Another 17-year-old wrote in Aftenposten that she doesn’t want to be russ. “It makes me nervous to hear about all these things russ are doing,” she wrote. “I just don’t want to be a part of it.”