A small, big city

As the clouds open, thousands of green spots in the dark blue become visible. The nearer the plane comes to the ground, it becomes evident that these green spots are green trees on small islands thrown into the North Sea. The water flows into the bay, which becomes narrower at last, but following the trees far inland, forming the Oslofjord.

In the mind, the green of healthy trees and the powerful strength of the sea create the idea of nature in its purest form, not the approach of a capital city such as Oslo. At the northernmost end of the fjord, a city of 600,000 inhabitants appears, enclosed by hills and mountains of green.

Oslo is one of Europe’s smallest capitals. The metropolitan area of Oslo counts just under 1.4 Million inhabitants. In comparison, the population of London’s metropolitan area is estimated as 12 to 14 Million. However, London and Oslo have one fact in common: They are rated as the world’s most expensive cities. Over 8 GPB for a simple burger in Oslo can be considered cheap.

The waterfalls of Akerselva river powered Norway’s first industry in 1840, which in turn gave rise to the social and economic division of the city into the East and West Ends. Architecture was the main indication of the social class, worker-class or bourgeois, of that area. Nowadays, the division between east and west is significantly accentuated by income, property prices, possessions, and surprisingly also a life expectancy difference of up to 5 years.

Immigration is a relatively new trend in Norway. It is only since the 1970s that larger numbers of immigrants came to Norway. While immigrants from other Nordic countries, the EU and North America are dispersed almost evenly across the city, immigrants from the Third World have mainly settled in the East. This is due to employability problems, level of education and difficulties  adapting to Norwegian lifestyle. 26% of Oslo’s population has an immigration background, making Oslo very ethnically diverse.

This diversity was the target of Anders Behring Breivik on 22 July 2011. The city, hosting the Nobel Peace Prize every year, was struck by a terrorist attack. At 3.25pm a car bomb detonated near the government building in the Regjeringskvartalet. The shockwave from the explosion was so great that it was felt several kilometres away. The explosion in Oslo centrum took 77 lives.  As though this act of violence had not been enough, Breivik, dressed as a police officer,  committed a mass shooting on the  island Utøya, where 650 young people were staying at the AUF’s summer camp.

Whilst international countries went into debates about multiculturalism, Norway focused on uniting as a nation. A couple days after the attacks, a Facebook event spurred over a hundred thousand people to come and lay down roses in the city centres of Norway in commemoration. In his speech at the remembrance ceremony on 21 August 2011, King Harald of Norway stated: “‘As a nation we will carry this time with us in our hearts, in our life experience – and remember that we were awakened to a new awareness of what truly means something to us.”

Due to Norway’s small population size, almost everyone knew a family of which a member was under the 77 victims, thus making the attack a very personal issue to everybody. Katarina Birkedal, a Norwegian student, described her feelings  “to lose one life is a tragedy, and to lose 77, and to such pointless hatred, is a tragedy beyond comprehension. But I think we can and should be proud of how we …as a nation handled this; we met terror with a promise of more openness and more democracy, met hatred with a sea of roses, and proved that the love of freedom is indeed stronger than the fear.”

Even though Breivik committed the attacks to ‘cleanse’ Norway of multiculturalism, his actions have achieved the exact opposite. His act, aimed to bring attention to his racist thinking, was answered by the Norwegian population with further tolerance towards immigrants. It appears as if, in the eyes of most Norwegians, the Somalian woman on the train has not become an outlaw, but an equal Norwegian citizen.


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