This is part of a series of blog posts written by the 2012 Peace Scholars as they complete their summer program in Oslo, Norway. This post was written by Maren Engel from Augustana College.
I knew this summer would fly by but I’m shocked just the same. With each new day I am amazed at how lucky I am. I’ve just spent my summer in Europe studying how to make the world a better place. I’ve spent my summer taking naps at the beach, reading amazing literature, going to concerts, hiking mountains, walking around downtown Oslo in the middle of the night with some truly special people, swimming in fjords, researching something that matters to me more than anything and meeting world leaders who have dedicated their lives to bettering humanity, among many other once in a lifetime opportunities. I will leave this experience with a better understanding of what I really want to do with my life and the confidence that I can make positive change in the world.
This past weekend I decided to skip a hiking excursion so that I could be in Oslo for the one year anniversary of the July 22nd massacre. Last year Anders Behring Breivik, a progress party extremist, bombed the government building in downtown Oslo killing 8 people. He then carried out a mass shooting on the island of Utoya on a group of Labor Party youth activists killing 69 young people and injuring over 240. The massacre in itself was a terrible shock but the fact that this violent attack was carried out within the safe borders of a peace superpower was truly stunning to the world.
Jens Stoltenberg, the current Prime Minister, spoke last year after the attack and informed citizens that fear would not overcome the country and instead of changing the norm and tightening security, Norway would fight back by becoming more united and more open as a peaceful nation. Trust in each other would not be relinquished but would continue to grow. Thousands of Norwegians gathered for a rose parade (the symbol of the Labor party) to unite themselves as a peace nation and a proud multicultural society. During Breivik’s trial Norwegians gathered on a rainy workday to sing “Children of the Rainbow” a folk song taught to young children about the positivity of multiculturalism, a song that Breivik claimed to be a piece of Marxist propaganda, poisoning the minds of ethnic Norwegian children.
Because my research is centered on the healing power of music and the arts in the wake of trauma, I decided that the memorial would stand as an important piece of first hand source material. On Sunday, Jorgen, Clara, and I grabbed a coffee and stood in the queue outside of The Oslo Cathedral for a memorial service. We barely got a seat and the service was completely in Norwegian but I think all of us were moved by the service. With the King, Queen, and PM all present, a few hundred people prayed and sang together in honor of those lost in the massacre. I was seated so that I couldn’t see the front and when the choir began to sing with the organist and violinist the scene was pretty surreal. The church is incredibly beautiful. The entire ceiling is a mosaic with a bright, flaming sun as the center, surrounded by the worlds “Gloria in excelsis Deo”.
In the evening we attended a huge free concert outside of City Hall. It was rainy and cold but it meant a lot to our group to be present at something so significant for our summer home and family. The concert was subdued and solemn, not out of sadness but out of pride, honor, and respect. The performers represented many ethnicities, ages, and genres, but they all represented Norway. They were met with applause, tears, and a sea of roses held up by the crowd. If we passed as Norwegians for a while we were soon caught red handed when Bruce Springsteen walked on stage to sing “We Shall Overcome” and we had a hard time holding back our excitement.
I am increasingly amazed, wherever I travel, at the ability of people to help each other heal. Music, art, speeches, and symbols may help the cause, but at the end of the day, it’s people who facilitate unity and peace. It’s pretty inspiring.