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Unearthing a fragile root of democracy

By Pia K.R. Beiermann

This Saturday I wake up slowly, a bit later than usual. Still in a morning fogginess best described as half-asleep, half-awake, I mindlessly open Instagram. The first thing I see is a story by Amnesty Norway that reads “It’s heart-breaking what happened in Oslo last night (…)”.

Still not in a state to comprehend what I just read, I quickly open NRK, the government-owned public broadcasting company of Norway:

At least two people dead and 21 hurt in a mass shooting outside the gay bar “London Pub”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Norway. Commemorating the abolishment of the penal code act 213, the cultural sector has funded what is publicly named the Queer Cultural Year (‘Skeivt Kulturår’). The Queer Cultural Year has come about through artists, historians, museums, libraries, and governmental bodies earnestly and humbly celebrating the queer reality and history of the country, and on this Saturday – the 25th of June – the biggest Pride celebration ever was supposed to go off in the capital city, Oslo.

I have a lot to say about Pride, and identity politics for that matter, but in the wake of last weekend, my contentions dissolved as salted water. To be very honest I can barely recall the first hours of this otherwise unlatched Saturday, as the fear, confusion, and despair blurs my memory thereof. Not being home with my dearest, one of them whom I knew would be more impacted by this than the rest of us.

Oslo Pride 2022 was officially cancelled as advised by the national police force. Not only was the queer community left in shock, fear, and sorrow – they were deprived of the exigency of gathering in grief – upholding each other as they have done through each other’s life journeys in the past. Despite the Pride assembly’s cancellation, however, thousands of people emerged in their pride and glory: the amount of love that was shared in the streets that day was unprecedented.

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KJÆRLIGHETEN (love) Photo courtesy: Frode Fjerdingstad / NRK

After numerous attempts, I generally end up dodging the issue of writing about Norway, the country in which I was born and raised. A strong democracy with a reputation of high equality and high social welfare, I find it scary – and particularly as a devoted student of anthropology – to describe this place. Cultural relativism seems insufficient to not make awkward the descriptions of the problems in a country that scores so high on most indexes (for all they are worth); a country where most people have what they need and more than that. And this moment – a liminal state of personal crisis and a country in grief – merely becomes a lens that highlights the awkwardness of existing at top of the construction we call a hierarchy. Real nonetheless, the fragility of one of the world’s most democratic countries solidifies and I am feeling it fervently.  

Don’t get me wrong – the fluidity of the world is not unknown to me, and my childish beliefs in a world controlled by sensible adults are merely existing as memories. People who know me will recognize what I have called the paradoxical lack of political awareness in Norway, which I have reasoned to occur only in places wherein such attendance seems unnecessary to a generalized public. Not to be mistaken as being cause for the occurrences of last weekend, I am referring here to the overrating of our own political system and a subsequent inadequacy of a profound comprehension thereof. There is a blooming vulnerability that emerges out of our almost blind trust in governmental bodies, and we are not equipped with the tools to recognize it.

This arrogance has not decreased after a few years abroad, and not at all after starting my studies. Despite any critiques I may throw at this country (I feel very entitled to do so), including that of political naïveté, I have always carried with me the sensation of Norway as my political safe haven. In a potpourri of new learnings and awakenings in a world that goes crazy, this illusion is slowly dissolving as I simultaneously realize that the general awareness and lack of gratitude was perhaps not so absent, after all. It may be more like an armoury resembling my grandmother’s China, in the sense that it only sees daylight on the most extraordinary of occasions – and that it may very easily fracture.

The shooting in Oslo is no exception to being exemplary of how crisis highlights certain processes. In this case, that is a particular fragility within my home country and within myself. Contemplating about a shooting that caused the deaths of two people, the injure of 20, and fear amongst thousands has brought up thoughts and feelings ranging from an uncomfortability in choosing to write this text to the tragic rosiness of witnessing the amounts of love shared between people in pain. The attack on everything I stand for, on the question of loving, so close to home – humbles me in my dealings with topics and people who bear experiences I am lucky to have lived without. In Norway, we tend to call ourselves something that badly translates to the differentiated country of Norway (‘annerledeslandet Norge’). Perhaps we were not so different after all. And perhaps it is me who has been naïve.

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Photo courtesy: Frode Fjerdingstad / NRK

Pia K.R. Beiermann is a bachelor student of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and a member of the Standplaats Wereld team.

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