This year’s spring “russ” season in Norway, when graduating high school students party with abandon, is shaping up as the “worst ever,” according to police, school officials and even the president of all russ in the West Coast county of Hordaland. A sharp rise in drug use, sexual assaults and other violent acts reported in recent weeks is ruining what’s supposed to be a time of celebration.
The warnings are erupting in the middle of the long Ascension Day holiday weekend, traditionally a highlight of the russ season and a time when russ gather for large regional events. Several won’t be making it this year.
In the past week, police in Bergen have had to deal with a reported rape, other sexual assaults and, most worrisome, several incidents where russ, mostly young women, have been drugged and subjected to sexual abuse. In one case, an 18-year-old girl who had been drugged was later allegedly dumped into a garbage container, where she woke up dazed and unable to account for what had happened.
On Friday, news service DRM24 and news bureau NTB reported that police in Drammen halted and raided a russ bus during the night on its way to this weekend’s huge russ gathering at Kongeparken in Stavanger. They ended up arresting eight russ on board, all young men, charging them with use and possession of narcotics. The drugs were seized and another 20 on board the bus were allowed to go home, while the bus was towed in for police investigation.
In Sarpsborg, police were summoned earlier this week after some young russ women were accused of dousing a 14-year-old boy with urine, while more cases of harassment and abuse were pouring in from outdoor parties around the country. Police and state highway authorities have also halted several of the elaborately decorated and equipped buses that russ ride around in, on the grounds they’re dangerous. In one case, at Kokstad on the west coast, police found gas cannisters alongside the generators used to power sound systems: “It was like driving around with a bomb on the roof,” inspect Nils Rune Nævdal told newspaper BT.
‘Only about sex and drugs’
“This russ partying is only about sex and drugs,” the mother of another 18-year-old found drugged told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Parents have no idea what their children are being sent into.”
Tormod Saue, president of the russ in Hordaland County, was delaying his own departure for the huge russ gathering at Kongeparken outside Stavanger this weekend, to re-examine plans for other russ events in Bergen, and try to make them safer. He’s especially worried, and surprised, by the proliferation of drugs this year, and admits that many russ are now afraid to attend major events.
“This is supposed to be a time of celebration, but I feel like I’m unfortunately seeing far too many sad faces this russ season,” Saue told NRK. “Many people are really scared.” He’s had calls from worried parents and russ themselves, who say they don’t dare join in big parties for fear of being drugged.
“We’re seeing a lot of cannabis but also other drugs,” Saue said. “What’s shocked us the most is the quantity and the serious nature of the drugs, and how open it all is.” He blamed himself for not being better prepared for the prospect of drug use and violence, and said he felt like he’s done a bad job. “I feel a huge responsibility,” Saue said. “There’s huge pressure, especially because of the increase in russ busses and cars. We don’t have control over the situation.”
‘Worst … I have witnessed’
Stig Hammersland, a longtime high school administrator in the Bergen area, said the increased drug use and trend towards russ drugging others “is completely new this year, at least around here.” Police have now closed off the russ’ outdoor partying area at Hordnesskogen, where several incidents of drugging and assaults have been reported, until the russ season ends after May 17th.
“This is clearly the worst russ season I have witnessed,” Hammersland said, referring to the prevalence of drugs, the violence and even the lyrics of russ songs that promote both. He worried that many russ are also excluded from events by others, often because of the huge amounts of money spent on russ vehicles and parties.
The fears and concerns extend far beyond Bergen. In Oslo, a 16-year-old girl wrote in newspaper Aftenposten this week that she feared how the mostly 18- and 19-year-old students also can harass and humiliate younger students. “I don’t have a problem being sprayed with water, or beer or liquor,” she wrote, “it’s all the other stuff they can do, like kidnapping us and tying us to light poles. We never know what they’ll do, and a lot of us dread coming to school during these weeks.”