Norwegians in US hope culture isn’t affected
As Norwegians living in New England watched the death toll in their home country climb, they said they hoped the violence that rocked Oslo on Friday afternoon would not change its deep-rooted culture of peaceful solidarity.
Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old Norwegian, has been arrested in connection with the fatal car bombing that ripped apart a busy square of government buildings and offices in downtown Oslo and subsequent shooting spree at a youth camp on an island north of the capital. As of last night, the death toll stood at 93, the bloodiest attack in the country since World War II.
“Norwegians pride themselves on being such a peaceful people - in everything, we stand for peace,’’ said Anne M. Noll, 66, who is on the board of the Providence Lodge of the Sons of Norway.
“This is our identity in a way. To have something like this happen is an extreme violation of the national psyche.’’
Noll drew comparisons to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings, as have some officials in Norway.
All those interviewed yesterday said the bloody attacks seemed out of place in a country better known for the Nobel Peace Prize and the 1993 Oslo Accords, the first direct agreement between the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
“This is the worst calamity that’s happened to Norway in peacetime ever,’’ said Terje Korsnes, 62, the Boston consul for the Norwegian government. “But it’s a very strong feeling in Norway that we’re not going to let this change the way we live our lives.’’
If security tightens, however, the Norwegian way of life may change whether its people like it or not, Korsnes said. Heightened gun laws and reduced access to government officials would mirror crackdowns in the United States, England, Spain, and other Western countries after fatal terrorist attacks.
“We’re not going to let this incident change that - that we are a peaceful country,’’ said Julie R. Andersen of Oslo, 24. A native Norwegian, she spent six years in Arlington while her father was finishing a PhD at Harvard University. “It’s very important that we don’t react with feelings of revenge, anger, or paranoia. You can’t let terrorists change who we are.’’
When the bomb exploded in a cluster of office and government buildings where Andersen works, she heard reverberations as she waited for a bus 10 minutes away. The explosion, which killed seven people, shattered the windows of business news website E24 and sent Andersen’s co-workers running for cover.
“I assumed it was some kind of construction work going on at the train station,’’ Andersen said. “I didn’t realize what had happened until everyone I knew started calling, checking to see if I was alive.’’
Andersen hadn’t gone to work that day because of tendonitis in her wrist. She learned later Friday about the shooting spree on Utoya, a heavily wooded island 19 miles from Oslo, where hundreds of young people, many of them teenagers, had gathered for a summer conference for the ruling Labor Party.
“That’s when it really got scary,’’ Andersen said. “I felt this shock that this was, even in a historic sense, a major event.’’’
One of the most shocking parts of the dual attacks for Norwegians was learning that the suspect arrested was one of their own, said Hans Christensen, 75, of Lexington.
“This is going to have an impact that will affect Norwegians forever,’’ said Christensen, whose nephews live near the bombing site. “At first, the assumption was that it was some foreign attack, but for a Norwegian person to do this is unbelievable.’’
Elisabeth Taraldsen of Oslo, 35, said she can see the tops of the mangled buildings if she walks five minutes from her apartment. She passes the downtown square where the bomb detonated multiple times a week.
Before the bombing, it felt similar to Copley Square, she said. Taraldsen is Norwegian, but knows Boston: she attended school in Belmont while her father taught at MIT.
Taraldsen described the sirens, smoke, and fear that followed the bombing, then the shock that seeped into the city following news of the island shooting.
“Norway isn’t quite as innocent and quaint as most of the news reports make it out to be,’’ Taraldsen said. “But something like this is impossible to fathom.’’
Laura J. Nelson can be reached at email@example.com.