Oslo Journal: Liberation Day
9:26 AM, May 9, 2011 • By SOHRAB AHMARI
Oslo—During the Second World War, Nazi Germany occupied Norway over five brutal years. By the time the Scandinavian nation was liberated by Allied forces and its indigenous resistance movement, more than 10,000 Norwegians had lost their lives and almost as many had spent time in German concentration camps throughout Europe. The experience indelibly shaped the generation of Norwegians who lived through it. In the post-war period, Norway became a transatlantic stalwart determined to help resist the totalitarian terror looming to the East. Today, Norwegian armed forces are actively supporting NATO missions in both Afghanistan and Libya.
I arrived in Oslo yesterday to cover the Oslo Freedom Forum, a vibrant annual gathering of human rights journalists and activists. With the official start to the Forum a day away, I hit the streets in search of some smørrebrød, a Nordic-style open faced sandwich and a cold beer, and ran into a large group of Norwegians marching loudly toward the ornate Parliament building, at the heart of downtown.
The rally bore all the familiar hallmarks of a European anti-war march. Hammer and sickle flags fluttered alongside hand-drawn placards showing crossed-out bombs. Smartly dressed young hipsters marched alongside veteran trade unionists; kaffiyehs and Converses were in abundance. Organizers with the “Red Youth”—an extraparliamentary far left grouping—sold party newspapers and pamphlets emblazoned with prominent red stars. When I asked a thirty-something woman hawking the same material if she was also with Red Youth, she was offended: “No—I’m a member of Rødt, the adult wing of the party!”
I spoke with two younger women who did not seem obviously party or union affiliated. One was carrying a rainbow flag with pace (Italian for peace) written across it. “The goal today is to bring the [Norwegian] troops out of Afghanistan,” one explained. “Today is Liberation Day. It’s about how, you know, Norway was liberated from Nazi Germany, and it’s related to Afghanistan being liberated from NATO. You know.”
Were these young Europeans seriously equating Nazi occupation of their homeland with NATO’s mission to root out al Qaeda in the Hindu Kush and break the Taliban’s cruel, medieval grip on Afghan society? “What about LGBT rights?” I asked the other. “You’re carrying a rainbow flag, so you must care about gay rights.” I was about to ask her about how the Taliban treats sexual minorities.
“Oh, this is just a rainbow, it means peace,” she replied. “It has nothing to do with gay rights.” She must have noticed the puzzled look on my face. “Look, I do support gay rights. But the two have nothing to do with each other.”
Such internal contradictions permeated the political attitudes behind the rally. Flustered by my questions, the two girls introduced me to Federico Aurora, a bearded doctoral student from Italy. Aurora was one of the rally’s main organizers. But he seemed just as incapable of grappling with the ideological tensions underlying his activism. When I asked Aurora what a Norwegian withdrawal from Afghanistan could mean for the country’s democrats and reformers, he was quick to point out that the two official slogans of the rally are “Norway out of Afghanistan!” and “Stand with Afghanistan’s democratic forces!” But how could he claim to support Afghan democrats, while advocating a policy that would deliver them to the Taliban? (I was reminded of Orwell’s observation about WWII-era pacifists: “Objectively, whoever is not on the side of the policeman is on the side of the criminal, and vice versa.”)
We reached Parliament, where a makeshift protest stage was already assembled just outside the building. In a message to Norwegian MPs, a huge banner depicted the legislative chamber with dozens of ominous military jets menacing the sky above it. “Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya … What’s Next?” it read. The unwritten rules of far-left theatrics command that every such rally begin with a musical performance, and this one was no different. A pretty young girl took the stage. With the slightest hint of a Scandinavian accent, she crooned in English,