In Norway, Consensus Cuts 2 Ways
by Steven Erlanger and Michael Schwirtz
Nearly all Norwegians of a certain age know where they were when Oddvar Bra
suddenly broke his ski pole in the final sprint of a championship ski race in 1982, and
Norway had to settle for a tie with the Soviet Union. But the common expression,
“Where were you when Bra broke his pole?” has suddenly way to a darker question –
where were you when Anders Behring Breivik was killing Norway’s children?
July 22, the day Mr. Breivik killed at least 76 people, shook a peaceful nation to the
core. But for many Norwegians it is also an indelible mark of a country that has evolved
away from the monoethnic, egalitarian culture that knew tragedy as a setback in Nordic
Today, more than 11 percent of the population of some 4.9 million were born
someplace else – Pakistan, Sweden, Poland, Somalia, Eritrea, Iraq. And the cultural
shock of diversity, especially incorporating the growing number of non-white Muslims,
has already meant the rise of a moderate anti-immigrant party, the Progress Party, to
become the second-largest in Norway.
The young people Mr. Breivik shot at a summer camp on the island of Utoya were
all Norwegians, but some were the children of immigrants, who have now been
memorialized in the country’s greatest modern disaster.
“When you are confronted with multi-cultural immigration, something happens,”
said Grete Brochmann, a sociologist at the University of Oslo. “That’s the core of the
matter right now, and it’s a great challenge to the Norwegian model.”
Norway’s leaders, from the royal family on down, have all praised the country’s
solidarity, democracy, equality and tolerance, and all vow that these values will not
change. Virtuous, peaceful, generous, consensual – this is the Norwegian self-image,
aided by the oil wealth that props up one of the most comprehensive social welfare
systems in the world.