Norway may be a Kingdom, but the power is undoubtedly in the hands of the people and the elected representatives in the parliament – the Storting.
Storting means the Great Thing. The Thing was the nothern germanic name of an assembly of free peoples who make and decide on the conditions and rules of their society. A sort of forerunner of the European parliaments that we see today.
A parliamentary system is not new to the Norwegian peoples. This system in some form or other was in use till the 1660 when an absolute monarchy was declared. The nation re-obtained its parliamentary reorganisation in 1814 after it lost a war with Sweden. The Kingdom of Norway was given its own constitution and parliament despite being part of a personal union of of the King of Sweden.
While the laws of the land are debated in the Storting, the heartbeat of politics in Norway, the true centre of politics and is centred around an innocent looking square called Youngstorget. The name of the square had nothing to do with it being a place for young people but merely that it was named after a former landowner and Storting representative who owned the area – Jørgen Young.
Located next to all the governmental offices, the square became an excellent location for political parties and trade unions to set up headquarters around the square. The square is the most political in Norway, because it is surrounded by the political headquarters of three left leaning political groups (Labour, Liberal and the Worker’s Youth League) as well as the headquarters of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions.
It may be represented mostly by groups on the left of the political spectrum but it in a way represents the majority of the nation since the countries has been rule either by either of the left parties (Labour or Liberal) since 1945, a streak that has only been broken by the Conservative party on rare occasions.
Since workers are so well represented politically here, it makes sense that annual Labour Day protests take place here.
Such a politically charged space can sometimes lend itself to an outburst of madness. A member of the political minority, a right wing terrorist called Anders Breivik committed one of the most atrocious mass murders in the history of Norway. Blaming political left ideology for the cultural suicide of the country he set out on two sequential lone wolf attacks targetting against the Norwegian Labour Party, killing eight individuals at the square and another 69 teenagers from the Labour party youth affiliate (Norwegian Workers Youth League) on a camping trip. A reminder, that extreme thoughts can wreak havoc.
The year 2011 was right at the time when the wars in the middle east were being raged and the narrative of a cultural war between Europe and Middle East (a sort of modern day holy war waged through cultures) was beginning to catch headwind. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, when the police had no idea of perpetrator, fear gripped the city and the widespread general impression was that the attack must have been coordinated by extremist Islamist radicals.
The discovery that the attack was by a right wing, arch-conservative Christian was a surprise to the public not just in Norway but arguably the world over. According to his friends, Breivik was a regular person, slightly more introverted but with no signs of the mad violence that would possess him to kill.
Up till then the last time a Christian conservative had caused mass terrorism was during the Troubles in Ireland and many people had forgotten that religious radicals of all stripes were capable of mad brutality. It prompted a form of national soul searching in the country.
Due to Norway’s focus on rehabilitating criminals however Breivik was never sentenced to death but was sentenced to jail and rehabilitation. A move that certainly sparked anger world wide, but was met with greater agreement in the actual country where the crime was committed. Strange considering Breivik seemed inpermeable to any attempt at rehabilitation and did not feel any remorse for his actions.
The murderer was a political terrorist and he committed his killings at the square most akin to politics. The tragedy passed over, the aftershocks lingering, the square still remains at it place still the heart of politics in Norway.
ON THE MAP (Oslo Storting)
ON THE MAP (Youngstorget)