Surrounded By Enemies

In 1936 the Norwegian poet Nordahl Grieg was asked by the chairman of the Norwegian Student’s Society to write a poem that could serve as a motto for its members. The result was 14 stanzas that Grieg called Til Ungdommen, ‘To Our Youth’. Seen in the light of its time, with fascism emerging around the world, it is no surprise that the leitmotif of the poem is that if you feel you are surrounded by human beings who threaten you with hate, force and violence, you should fight back with love, freedom and peace. If you can make your enemy go through life carrying “sunshine, bread and spirit” he has no hand free to carry the sword, is Grieg’s message to the youth.

Grieg died as a war correspondent in 1943 but his poem is still sung to the melody of Danish composer Otto Mortensen today whenever Norwegians, Swedes or Danes gather to exercise their democratic right to protest against something. Almost too often, if you ask me. Early last week it was sung by 30-odd Danish protesters raging against the felling of a bunch of half rotten firs in Østerild Plantation to make room for a wind turbine testing facility, half of them in mourning over the “massacre of nature”, the other half full of woe and despondency at the prospect of having the view from their houses disturbed by a few wind turbine blades.

But only a week later, after the incomprehensible tragedy in Oslo and on the island of Utøya last Friday, the poem has regained its rightful proportions. If you watched any news coverage of the event, you’ve probably already heard it. If not, here’s what it sounds like when 200,000 Norwegians insist on fighting terrorism by “protecting the beauty, the warmth, as if we carried a child gently in our arms” at the town square in Oslo last Monday (Grieg’s original poem, a somewhat bland attempt at an English recreation, and a literal translation can be found here):

The message of the poem and the attitude of the Norwegians was rammed home by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in his speech at the memorial ceremony at Oslo Cathedral:

“We are a small country, but a proud people.

We are still shocked by what has happened, but we will never give up our values.
Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity. But never naïvety.

No one has said it better than the Labour Youth League girl who was interviewed by CNN:
“If one man can create that much hate, you can only imagine how much love we as a togetherness can create.” “

I don’t care if he’s a Social Democrat and I’m not. I want a Prime Minister like that in my country.

Unfortunately I and my fellow Danes are not blessed with politicians of such stature. Not because of a general inadequacy in our gene pool, but because we, the people, don’t possess the intellectual refinement it takes to recognise true courage and fruitful reason when it’s right in front of us.

Our internalisation of Grieg’s poem furnishes an incisive example of that. In Denmark, the song isn’t known by its title, but by its first line, Kringsatt av fiender, ‘Surrounded by enemies’. And its point about standing firm in your belief in the power of good when facing evil has gone completely over the heads of the Danes.

Two hours. That’s how long it took from the death of 76 people in Oslo and on Utøya on July 22nd until Danes began to use the absurd tragedy to once again assure themselves that this was just another example of how Denmark was the best country in the world. Our 24 hour news channel, TV2 News, saw no reason to wait for the actual facts of the event before they constructed the narrative. Instead of using the airtime to talk to people who actually knew what was going on, like say Norwegians, they invited two Danes to the studio: the historian, Scandinavia whiz and royal family connoisseur Lars Hovbakke Sørensen and the TV station’s own ‘terror expert’ Niels Brinch.

Both of them quickly and briskly determined that these horrible acts had the unmistakable watermarks of Al Qa’ida and were the inevitable result of Norway’s “naïve and political correct resilience against enhanced border controls and surveillance of the lives of civilians”. They got so caught up in their own misconstrued version of reality that even when the first descriptions of the tall, blond Norwegian-speaking perpetrator started to roll in, they still held on to their theory explained by Hr. Brinch as “an example of Al Qa’ida’s new strategy of using home-grown Muslim converts who are able to operate under the radar of homeland security”.

Later the next day when the identity, motives and inspiration of the culprit were known as being respectively: 1) Christian Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik, 2) killing as many as possible of those responsible for ‘the Muslim invasion of Europe’, and 3) Denmark’s attitude towards immigration, Danes had the choice between self-examination or construction of a new narrative that could reinstate Denmark to its natural position as the envy of the rest of the world. You’ve probably already guessed the chosen path.

In the latest ISSP International Values Survey only 24% of the Danes disagree with the postulate that one should defend one’s country even if it’s doing something wrong. So when everyone could read in Breivik’s Manifesto that “Of all the Western nations, Denmark has mounted the strongest popular resistance against Islamisation” and “In contrast to Denmark’s defiance, other Scandinavian countries surrendered to Islamic pressure as fast as humanly possible”, 76% of the Danes had a problem.

The solution was this: Breivik wasn’t inspired and encouraged by the deeds of the Danes – he was just completely misunderstanding the words of the Danes.

So that’s the situation in Denmark right now. We are not in any way discussing the 24 revisions we’ve made to the Immigration Law since 1984. We are not discussing why Denmark heads the list of countries voicing agreement with the ISSP postulate that “interaction with foreign cultures is a threat to our own”. We aren’t discussing if limitation of immigrants’ right to vote is counterproductive to successful integration. We are not talking about the implications it has for our national character that we calculate the income and expenditure of different ethnic groups in our national budget. We are not debating the reasonableness of punishing Danes who fall in love with non-Danes. We are not confronting our government ministers when they tell us that “certain nationalities only come to Denmark to lay a burden on our society”. We are not discussing the validity of our conception of ‘difference’ as ‘hostility’ and how it constantly constitutes the paranoia of being ‘surrounded by enemies’.

The only thing we’re talking about in the wake of events in Norway is that we are defenceless victims of Anders Behring Breivik’s misinterpretation of the frank and open debate culture that is the envy of every other country in the world.

I disagree. Words don’t kill. Opinions in the hands of undisputed ignorants kill.

Let me exemplify this by sharing my opinion about what should be the destiny of the killer from Norway.

I don’t want him to rot in Hell or whatever kingdom of death his sick and twisted belief system provides him. Here’s what I want for Anders Behring Breivik: I want him to rot in the Kingdom of Life. I want to make sure he stays alive long enough to comprehend the scale of the evil that he has perpetrated. And for the rest of his, hopefully, many living days I want him to witness the fruitful interaction of different views and ways of as many cultures, nationalities, political parties and ways of life as possible. But whenever he looks one of us in the eyes I want that useless piece of shit motherfucker to see only this: The expression of disgust at one man’s deeds mixed with the firm belief in the goodness of mankind, as demonstrated by Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway.

By Peter Andreas • July 28, 2011
Categories: , , , , , , , , , ,


14 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Posted July 28, 2011 at 12:40 pm by Kelly Draper | Permalink

    I love Norway soooo much.

    Denmark should be mortified that what everyone else in the world is calling “extreme right wing views” is mainstream here.

    It just about sums it up that the response is “he misunderstood”, that is every apology that ever came out of the administration here.

    “Sorry that my offensive statement offended you, you were not supposed to get offended.”

    “Sorry that my extreme right wing views radicalised you, you were not supposed to get radicalised like that.”

  2. Posted July 28, 2011 at 2:57 pm by Heidi | Permalink

    One of the best blogs yet on this tragedy. Thank you.

  3. Posted July 29, 2011 at 6:12 pm by Chris | Permalink

    Insightful and reassuring, as usual, but I’m still left with the same problem:

    Given how loosely Danish media outlets use the term “expert” when handing a microphone to just about anybody with a pulse, how come the masses never get a good dose of Peter Andreas’ commentary streaming over the airwaves?

  4. Posted July 29, 2011 at 8:58 pm by DreaminginDanish | Permalink

    Thank you so much for writing this. Very well said.

  5. Posted July 30, 2011 at 1:11 am by emdrup | Permalink

    Chris: that will never happen. He threatens the hygge :)

  6. Posted July 30, 2011 at 11:29 am by Heidi | Permalink

    Exactly, emdrup. Peter upsets the self congratulatory narrative.

    A scary thought occurred to me earlier this week, and I wanted to run it past you, Peter and friends: I’m starting to wonder if instead of the attack in Norway swaying Danes to the Left and more openness to immigrants, what if they react out of fear and go the other direction?

    It wouldn’t be unprecedented, given the decisions of WWII, as Peter wrote about so recently.

    Is it possible that hygge wins out, and they decide it’s best to be “pragmatic” once again? Conservatives in the US have started asking if governments need to start listening to terrorists on the right and address their grievances. What if Denmark behaves in an equally craven manner, similar to their capitulation in WWII?

    Anyone else have the same thought?

  7. Posted July 30, 2011 at 2:43 pm by Chris | Permalink

    @Emdrup & Heidi:

    You really think that if one could waive a magic wand and give Peter access to a TV studio, a couple extra writers and props, and a set à la Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, he wouldn’t assemble a real cult following, even among Danes?

    Of course it would have to be in Danish, and yes, just as Jon Stewart does, there would have to be occasional feel-good optimism and beating up on both sides of the political spectrum.

    But I simply refuse to believe there aren’t 20,000-50,000 Danes who are outraged and ashamed, or at least aren’t drinking the hygge Kool-Aid and would be able to find the bitter humour in pointing out the country’s foibles and injustices.

    I haven’t met too many myself, but I don’t have many Danish pals to begin with (mind you, not for lack of trying).

    And what about all the lefties who read Information?

  8. Posted July 30, 2011 at 2:51 pm by Chris | Permalink

    @Heidi:

    As for your concern, in the short term I have fairly high hopes for the coming elections (latest November?).

    In the long term, I think DK’s real issues with xenophobia and discrimination will only gradually fade, over many generations, and that depends on a whole lot of other things influencing it: relinquishing of national power to EU, more breakdown of Danish ethnic identity through increased immigration/mixed parent children, watering down of Danish traditions due to continued globalisation/Americanisation, perhaps an importation of American-style over-the-top political correctness (hey it’s corny but it does prevent children from picking up the daily racist habits of the older generations), etc.

  9. Posted July 30, 2011 at 5:33 pm by Gabe J. | Permalink

    I worked and lived in Denmark from 2002 to 2007 and am visiting friends here this summer. Something awfull has happened here while I as away. A blanket of ignorance and anger covers the nation. How dare Soeren Pind compare Breivik to the harmless treehuggers of Oesterild? And what sick logic makes it possible for Dansk Folkeparti to make THEM the victims of the events in Oslo without anyone, ANYONE speaking up against it – not even the press that’s supposed to do it.

  10. Posted July 30, 2011 at 8:05 pm by Heidi | Permalink

    Oh, it gets worse! This from a frigging pastor of a Church!!

    http://www.b.dk/kronikker/lad-os-bruge-anders-breivik-rigtigt

    This is exactly what I fear will happen here. Mark my words. Fear and ignorance will win, yet again.

  11. Posted August 6, 2011 at 12:17 pm by Ole Saaby | Permalink

    I used to think that living in Denmark was a guarantee for living in peace, but now I’m not so sure anymore. The way the Danes have reacted after Oslo is really scary. The level of hate towards others and love of ourselves is a very dangerous cocktail.

  12. Posted August 17, 2011 at 6:00 am by Roberta | Permalink

    HELLO!!! Peter , anyone at home ?

    please tell me you are not being politically correct or something ? .. or not doing the ‘Scandinavian holiday ( let the world stop for us thing’)
    yep .. just try that theory on the floods / famines and desolation plaguing many parts of the rest of the world via global warming
    yes you are are a part of the rest of the planet..
    but never you mind, just go on summer holidays ?
    Heaven forbid that anything more serious than a cut in social benefits or stock market fluctuation ever happens to dear little Europe .

    It would seem from this end of the globe that this is the best time of the year for Europeans to get stuck into some real ‘hard Yakka ‘ if you ask me .
    and isn’t the lack of that… what plagues you?. believe me you are all going to look back and think this time was a Teddy -Bears picnic.

    So , in the past couple of weeks we have seen ;
    Breiviks massacre in Norway
    ..and the predictable DK’s Right Wing response.
    The London riots.
    a bit of a Global financial meltdown (more to come ) + the Euro bonds backdown .

    Peter , Where are you mate?

  13. Posted January 16, 2012 at 7:38 pm by Sarah | Permalink

    What you write is amazing. I am baffled by the lack of critical thought towards the state here in DK. It’s nice to know there is someone, or even a few someones, given the character of some of the comments, that are actually capable of seeing things in a way that contrary to what is spoonfed to the population on a daily basis.

    Please keep writing. You give me hope.

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  1. [...] unreported) response of Norwegians to the recent right-wing terrorist attack in their country.  Some 200,000 people – 20% of the population of Oslo – gathered to silently reaffirm that the attack would only make [...]

Downsides Of Denmark

Peter Andreas

43-year-old ad man. Very disappointed with his country and people.