After Black Teenager Is Slain, Norway Peers Into a Mirror

Updated 21.01.2002

OSLO — In the perfect land, (The Norwegin society is not perfect, only about 53% anarchy, that is somewhat far from the 100% anarchist ideal, ed. no.) could there be self-doubt? (The difference between 53% and 100% anarchy indicates a lot of self-doubt, ed. no.) The sad story and violent death of Benjamin Hermansen suggest that there could. (Yes, it was quite a shock, but it is not a 11 september event, and not very rare in European context, broadly defined.ed.no.)

For many years Norway, long on forests and fiords, short on people, has peered down from an aerie of virtuous prosperity, offering praise, cash and counsel to those less blessed with social cohesion and oil riches. "It is typically Norwegian to be good," a former prime minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland, once remarked famously. (The marxist matriarch spoke only for herself. The anarchists are very well aware that nor she neither the country is close to perfect. It is as mentioned ca 53% anarchy, and that is a bit far from 100%. Furthermore, this nationalist point of view from the present ex-matriarch has never had much support among the Norwegian people. Similar expressions have for several years been a joke by comedians; say "Prima Vera" had a song with the following text: "Det er Norge som er bra. Det er nordmenn som er best, det er nordmenn som kan drikke mest og spy litt på hver eneste fest, etc..." ed.no.). This year the United Nations Human Development Report, indeed, ranked this Scandanavian nation as the best place in the world to live. (Yes, it is probably the truth that it is among the best, but that does not say so much about Norway, more about the bad situation for the people (not the authorities) other places, ed.no.)

But the case of Benjamin Hermansen, a 15-year-old African-Norwegian boy who was stabbed to death on a sidewalk by neo-Nazis, has offered a disturbing challenge to this tranquil country's vision of itself, raising the question of what it means to be Norwegian and European in a demographically changed continent. The questioning has intensified since the trial of those accused of being his killers began last month. "People realized that Norway is not the country they thought," said Nadeem Butt, the director of the government-financed Center Against Racism. "Most of the people thought racism is not a problem. That has changed quite radically. People do understand now that this is a problem." (It is of course a problem with neonazis and racistical ochlarchists, and it has been about for several years, and is historically rooted back to Quisling's NS, and racism in other groups, but they are very few and have always been. Nazism was a much greater problem in the 20th century than it is today. Hate and repression against Jews, "Travelling people" (tatere, sigøynere og fantefølger), the Sames and other minorities were much greater problems several years ago. Most of the people we know are friendly and open to people of different origin, so racism is not a general problem. It must also be mentioned that people of foreign origin with patriarchical, authoritarian cultures do more killings, say, antifeministically motivated, than racists, but this must not be considered as a general or big problem. Youth mobs with foreign origin also do killings between different factions, similar to neonazis. However this is not a general or big problem either. Thus, the racist problem and problems with people of foreign origin must not be exaggerated, however these problems should not be neglected, but reduced as much as possible. But you can't expect spokesmen that are paid by the government to be "antiracist" to have a close to objective opinion in this matter; ed.no.)

For the last few months Scandinavia has pursued its own version of Europe's strained debate about immigration and race, and has lurched in parts to the political right as a result. In Denmark, an anti-immigrant party did well in elections in November. In Norway, elections last September ousted the Labor Party after 80 years of dominance and ushered in a coalition supported from outside by the anti-immigrant Progress Party. ( In fact the "Progress Party", Fr.p's most brown tendencies have no significant influence on Norwegian politics at all, and the Labor party also has had some bad brown spots in their history, however not a large problem, ed.no.)

But it is the killing of Benjamin, the son of a Norwegian mother and Ghanaian father, that has most deeply challenged the country's view of itself. (Yes, it has! Ed.no.)

Immigration and racial tension are not new in Scandinavia. For many years, foreigners have been drawn here by accommodating asylum laws and comprehensive welfare systems. But many countries are only now grappling with the fact that they have become mixed societies with the emergence of a second generation made up of the immigrants' children.

Today, there are two Oslo worlds. In western Oslo, shoppers bustle, some clad in sleek furs, and restaurants fill with families paying for specialities like salted lamb ribs with turnip mash. In eastern Oslo, dingy streets fill with some of the 130,000 immigrants, asylum seekers and other foreigners who live here. (A more correct view is put up at http://www.anarchy.no/report1.html , there are also many rich people and middle class with foreign origin in Norway; ed.no.)

These worlds come together in the clinical light spilling onto the pale Norwegian wood benches of Court Room 227 at Oslo's City Court. Here, three neo-Nazis accused of killing Benjamin provide a a graphic image of the hostility aroused by immigrants, who account for about one- quarter of the 500,000 population in the capital of this overwhelmingly white-skinned nation. (Nationally, the figure is around 200,000 immigrants from the developing world in a land of 4.4 million).

One defendant, Joe Erling Jahr, 20, has sought to exonerate the others — Ole Nicolai Kvisler, 22, and Veronica Andreassen, 18 — saying he alone wielded the kitchen knife that killed the boy in what he depicted as an accident in a scuffle after the three neo-Nazis cruised the streets of Oslo's multiracial Holmlia suburb last January.

All three have denied setting out to murder Benjamin on the night of Jan. 26, 2001. But the hearings so far have offered a glimpse into a lurid world of hatred among a group that, according to court testimony, talked of attacking an immigrant and of vague, unsettled business with "foreigners."

On that icy night, Benjamin Hermansen and a friend, who cannot be publicly identified under Norwegian law, met at about 11.45 p.m. so that Benjamin, who had not been at school that day, could hear what happened in class, according to Nicolai Bjoenness, the lawyer for the boy's mother, Marit.

His mother wanted him to stay home. Benjamin had argued with her about going out so late, but in the end left, promising to go no farther than their neighborhood and to meet up only with his friend.

Benjamin had already endured pain. His Ghanaian father committed suicide when he was only 4, Mrs. Hermansen has said.

A few months before the father's death, he had been assaulted by neo- Nazis skinheads at a soccer tournament in Denmark and had gone public to tell his story on Norwegian television.

Despite the late hour, the two teenagers — both dark skinned — met in a well-lit area outside a closed food store. Benjamin was about 500 yards from the home he shared with his mother, according to her lawyer.

In a different part of town, according to court testimony, other events were unfolding. Three neo-Nazis associated with a gang called the Bootboys had left a shared apartment adorned with Nazi memorabilia and were cruising the area in a car. At least one of them had a knife.

The cruising neo-Nazis came upon the two teenage boys who, sensing trouble, "started to walk away," said Mr. Bjoeness, the lawyer. "They saw that the people in the car had shaven heads and so they said to each other: `Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Nazis.' " The shaven-headed men left the car. The teenagers ran. The men with shaven heads pursued them. Benjamin Hermansen's friend ran faster, and he escaped.

One of the skinheads overtook the 15-year-old, "and there's a fight and at this time, Benjamin tumbles over a blue fence and one of the men jumps onto him and stabs him with the fatal wound to the heart," Mr Bjoenness said. The assailant ran off. Benjamin rose, staggering toward his home, but collapsed after some 30 yards. "He was dead when he fell," Mr. Bjoenness said.

Since Dec. 3, those events have unfolded anew in the hearings here, where all three defendants have denied the charges of voluntary manslaughter.

The murder has brought one more agony to Benjamin's mother. Profoundly distressed, she declined to be interviewed for this article. "I am not a pillar of strength and calm," she told a Norwegian newspaper in May. "There are days when I just stare at the wall."

There are days now when she stares at the defendants in Court Room 227. Sometimes, the trial, which is expected to end soon, proceeds with familiar courtroom languor. At one recent session, Veronica Andreassen chewed gum, Ole Nicolai Kvisler scribbled notes, and Joe Erling Jahr slumped, his head bowed.

Prosecutors say that Benjamin had been stabbed in the chest, back and arm with two different kinds of knives. But Mr. Jahr has maintained that he alone wielded the knife.

Ms. Andreassen, his co-defendant, testified that he "went quiet at first" after the three returned to their shared apartment to read on a television text news service that Benjamin had died of the knife wounds. "But then he suddenly began to laugh and said he could start wearing red laces in his boots," she said. "That's supposed to be a symbol that you have killed someone." (It must be mentioned that the neonazis and similar groups are quite microscopical, and has no support at all among the vast majority of the Norwegian people, ed.no)

Public opinion appears to have swung behind the boy. Benjamin Hermansen has become such an emblem of the struggle against neo- Nazi racism that Michael Jackson, the rock star, dedicated his newest album to "Benny." (It was one of the songs on the CD dedicated to Benjamin Hermansen, as far as we know, but perhaps we are not very well informed. Few anarchists buy the poppy teenage stuff of M. Jackson, and especially not the rather averagely "Invincible" album, but Michael J. shall have an anarchist greeting for the dedication of a song to "Benny" anyway; ed.no.)

That came during unsettled times here. Many Norwegians are questioning not only race relations within their society but also a welfare state that, for decades, has drawn on some of the world's highest taxes — and highest per capita oil exports from fields in the North Sea — to provide succor and security from cradle to grave.

"We are no longer satisfied with our welfare system," said Harald Stanghelle, the political editor of the daily newspaper Aftenposten. "There's a lack of confidence in social democracy. We were used to having very good schools, hospitals, care for the aged. But now we see that the quality of these basic institutions is not so good." (The society is better now, without significant statism and the socialdemocratic marxists so called "welfare state". Say, Norway was relatively far from to be the UN's favorite in the marxist days, before the revolutionary change towards Anarchy, in 1994. The people are however still not satisfied, because they probably want higher standards, not 53% anarchy, but close to 100%, and that is perhaps a long way to go! When the people have seen a glimps of socialism and freedom, efficiency and fairness, relatively small income and rank differences, etc. they want more of the same. Ed.no.)

Certainly, tensions in this once placid society seem on the rise. Some immigrants, like Erselan Perot, 30, an Iraqi Kurd who claims that he was beaten in a racial attack in a West Oslo nightclub this month, say they sense that hostility toward Muslim outsiders has increased since Sept. 11. "People are a lot more negative toward us," he said in an interview. (This is again very exaggerated, the increased tension, if any significant, cannot be compared to the ochlarchy against muslims in the USA.. There have always been some violent conflicts and mobs, especially among the youth, in Norway, it is not necessary related to racism; ed.no)

While Norwegians insist that their racial debate is far less corrosive than the equivalent discussion in Denmark, there is little doubt that the growing presence of foreigners — increasing by up to 16,000 asylum seekers, economic migrants and reunified family members every year — has produced a groundswell of unease reflected in the Benjamin Hermansen case. (Norway has about the optimal size of the population, and thus there is not so much room for new immigrants any more. This has however nothing to do with racism, far from. This NY Times article is mixing up things in a derogative and biased manner. Ed.no)

"Norway is still a very white society and having immigrants is quite a new thing," said Oystein L. Pedersen, a spokesman for the Center Against Racism. "Norwegians still feel a threat from different cultures." (We cannot agree with Pedersen. This is simply not the general situation and opinion among the people. Everybody should know that a group/person paid by the government to be professionally "anti-racist", is not the right person to ask about the general situation on racism and similar in Norway. What about reliable, unbiased, sources NY Times? At least some more people should have been questioned. There are perhaps more of the opposite problems, to take on authoritarian, repressive cultural and organizational problems among the immigrants with "silk hands", because people are not very willing to do free, matter of fact, libertarian criticism, because they are afraid of being "racist". Conclusion: Norway is neither heaven, nor a significant racist, populist, society. It is not too bad, perhaps it is the best society in the world to live in, even for the poorest majority, of the people. Some immigrants are among the relatively poor, but far from all. However it is not more than ca 53% anarchy, i.e. far from the 100% ideal. We are perhaps on the way to such a "heaven on earth", even if the oil wells soon are getting more and more empty. However there is a lot of natural gas, that probably will last for at least 100 years... Perhaps we are not going towards more anarchy - time will show! The American idea that Norway is "heaven" is a bit exaggerated, as well as the idea that it is a populist racist society or a communist state. The American newsmedia have perhaps a slight tendency to exaggerate things, when they discuss things going on far away, as the Anarchy of Norway. Try to be more matter of fact in the future fellows! Ed.no.)

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