From the “worst ‘russ’ season ever” to the “one of the worst things that can happen:” A 19-year-old partying high school student known as a russ was critically injured during the night in an accident that has strengthened calls to ban the spring russ season altogether.
The young man was clinging to life in a Bergen hospital Thursday afternoon after friends found him badly injured at around 2:30am on the roof of the russ bus they were riding on. Police believe he stood up on the roof of the bus, and then hit his head on the roof of the Arnanipa Tunnel as the bus drove into it.
“He has critical head injuries,” Terje Magnussen, police operations leader, told state broadcaster NRK. The elaborately painted bus, adorned with the name “Bad Brains,” was towed into a police garage as the investigation began. The tunnel itself, part of the main E16 highway leading into Bergen, was closed for several hours after the accident but police are also investigating whether the teenager suffered his injuries in another tunnel farther east on the E16. All tunnels between Romslo and Arna were being examined.
The 19-year-old was a graduating senior at Fana Gymnas, and like many others in his class was celebrating the end of school in russ tradition, with late- or all-night partying and riding around on a wildly decorated bus. NRK later reported that the 40-year-old driver of the bus from Lithuania was charged with violating traffic laws and tested for being under the influence. Police said it was unclear whether the driver knew that one of the teenagers had climbed up on the roof of the bus.
The director of education for Hordaland County set up a crisis team for students at the school and those who also were on the bus. “It’s just sad that something like this can happen,” Tormod Saue, president of the russ in Hordaland, told NRK.
It was just last week that Saue was also dealing with various cases of russ being drugged and assaulted at some of the huge outdoor parties that are regularly organized during the frantic russ season that normally runs from Easter through the 17th of May. Several school officials and ever russ themselves had claimed then that this year’s russ season was shaping up as the worst ever, in terms of drunkenness, drug use and violence. On Thursday, the principal of Fana Gymnas called the injury on the russ bus “one of the worst things that can happen.”
‘Destructive and drunken binge’
Newspaper Aftenposten was reporting, meanwhile, that a survey of principals at all the high schools in Norway showed a majority responding that they wanted to end or at least make major changes in the russ season.
Several called it a “destructive and drunken binge” that has outlived its role. “The russ celebrations destroy quite a lot for the students’ ability to learn and concentrate in the last months of their last school year,” Atle Solberg Berland, principal/rector at Lørenskog High School northeast of Oslo told Aftenposten. If it was up to him, he said he would replace the entire russ season with a more serious yet festive markering, perhaps similar to graduation ceremonies at US high schools.
Of the 200 principals polled nationwide, 59 percent said they would like to scrap or more strictly regulate the Norwegian russ tradition. That could include banning or restricting the use of russ buses and even when the graduating students can wear their trademark red and blue overalls designed for heavy partying, like some athletics-oriented high schools did this year. Berland claimed that “90 percent should have said that russ celebrations should be halted.”
Supporters likely to prevail
Others support the russ tradition in Norway and think future generations should be allowed to experience several weeks of partying with abandon. They argue that the majority behave relatively sensibly, have fun and can collect good memories for life, along with learning how to cooperate and work in a group such as those that purchase, decorate and operate buses.
They also argue that the students are mostly all over age 18 and legally able to make their own decisions. Russ season is theirs, the claim, and impossible to ban.
“We are absolutely aware that russ celebrations can escalate, but most of those involved are healthy and smart youth who are drinking less and doing better in school (than earlier generations),” Sylvia Lind, who’s taking over as head of the national students’ association (Elevorganisasjonen). “And the majority of them will hang on to the russ tradition.”