Friday, July 29, 2011

Strong Tears in Oslo

            In Oslo, one of the major peace capitals of the world, violence has shaken the Norwegian spirit to its core. However, while it is shaken, it will not break, and will not compromise its commitment to globalization and democracy.

            For posterity's sake, I refer to the terrible tragedy that engulfed Norway on 22/7/2011. A man, who desires media fame, and who will thus remain completely unnamed here, exploded a bomb in the city center and murdered dozens of children on an island in the Oslo Fjord. To quote the Charlie Brooker of the Guardian:

"His name deserves to be forgotten. Discarded. Deleted. Labels like "madman", "monster", or "maniac" won't do, either. There's a perverse glorification in terms like that. If the media's going to call him anything, it should call him pathetic; a nothing."

            For Norwegians and all those who love peace, this will be forever marked as a day of greatest loss and sorrow. For me, it has been a harrowing, poignantly painful time to be in this city. I weep for the people whose lives have been forever altered, and yet, as a foreigner, I cannot fully share in their pain. All I can offer is an ear to listen and a shoulder for tears. And yet, I have seen the Norwegian people gather together in fitting and strong solidarity. No act of senseless violence and hateful terror will alter their spirit or crush their ideals. That is not Norway; resilience is.

In Honor of the Fallen

Requiescant in Pace

Monday, July 18, 2011

La France!

The Tomb of Napoleon

            This past weekend saw the completion of a goal I have held since childhood: the visit to the most powerful of cities, Paris, France. Truly, it was one of the best weekends of my life. As I mentioned, the city and its allure has fascinated me from boyhood. First, I became wonderfully obsessed with Joan of Arc. A powerful heroine, the Maid of Orleans saved her country from the oppressive occupation of meddling England and then died at the torturing hands of betrayal - all before turning 18. Joan of Arc's history has filled my head, and I longed to see her idyllic homeland, but another figure fueled my desire to see La France as well.

Joan of Arc
            During my sophomore year of high school, I was tasked to conduct research on a topic that fascinated us. I had seen a book sitting amid a dusty shelf in the classroom. It was about Napoleon, and although I had heard of him and his accomplishments, the particulars of that history were still unknown to me. Thus, I decided to research the man and his government to see if he was the decried authoritarian that many claimed. Rather, I found that he was, at worst, a democratic dictator whose interests were for French success rather than personal empowerment. The research led me to J. David Markham, the President of the International Napoleonic Society. This scholar, one of the most famous in the field, took the time for an interview and then donated a book to our school library and sent a wonderful handwritten note to me. Not surprisingly, I caught his passion for Napoleonic History and have been extensively studying that era for over half a decade now. Additionally, I had taken a year of college French in that hope that I might one day see the city and land of my dreams.

            So, Paris has many layers of significance to me. As such, I was incredibly excited to plan a trip to the city, on Bastille Day no less!
The Eiffel Tower at Night

            For four days, we had bliss. Together, the four of us toured the city and attempted to see everything. I cried at the tomb of Napoleon and museum of the French Army. We stared in wonder at the works of the Louvre. We ate Tiramisu in the rain of a windy night. I gazed around the city's horizon on top of the Arc de Triomphe. We walked under the Eiffel Tower at night. We drank wine and ate cheese on the banks of the Seine River. I attended mass in Notre Dame. We looked through the towering stained glass windows of Sainte Chapelle Cathedral. I practiced my French and could even understand much of the written French placards at museums. We wandered in absolute wonder at the majesty and wasteful opulence of Versailles. We strolled through the gardens of the Tuileries palace.
The Glorious Stained Glass Windows of Sainte Chapelle

            The trip was an absolute joy to me. I am sure that I will return, but the wonder of France was a fitting and wonderful break to my studies in Oslo. In addition, I took many pictures, which can be seen on my Facebook account here:!/media/set/?set=a.10150377103639966.435948.616864965

            Vive L'Empereur!

The Oslo Center for Peace

Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik

            As a state known for its work in maintaining and enacting peace, Norway certainly possesses many institutions designed to continue that work. One such place is the Oslo Center for Peace. Led by two-time former Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, the center has done pivotal work in the Middle East, the horn of Africa, and North Korea.

            Situated in a cozy, relatively small home-like building, the Center and its small staff manage to traverse the globe frequently. In North Korea, they helped an American-led law firm gain information on the terrible humanitarian violations occurring within that state. Currently, nearly two hundred thousand political prisoners exist within Kim Jong-Il's state. Furthermore, Bondevik and the OCP were involved in the Middle East in the months leading up to the Arab Spring. As a prolific and successful politician, Bondevik gained experience in establishing coalitions of political parties who all compromise to ensure the state functions well. Based on this experience, Bondevik met with Middle Eastern politicians and warned them of the dangers of oppressing their citizens. Furthermore, he met with dissident leaders and offered them advice on how to establish a successful new government. Thus, those that ignored his advice were overthrown, and the democratic up-risers were better prepared for what followed.

            Bondevik also worked in ensuring a peaceful transition for the newly independent Republic of South Sudan. As a member of the prestigious Club Madrid (an organization of past head of states who band together to offer governments advice on how to establish successful governance), Bondevik was able to offer assistance and advice to the Sudanese for their near future.

            All together, Bondevik and the OCP have done an incredibly admirable job in advocating peace around the world. And we, ten lowly peace students, got to spend an entire afternoon of coffee, tea, ice cream, and conversation with this Prime Minister and his staff on a warm patio amid a sunny Norwegian afternoon.

            Ahhh, this life.

             P.S. Find out more about Bondevik and the OCP at

A Terrible and Tragic Irony

The Center

            While irony is occasionally humorous, in this case, it is only painfully fitting.
            We have only recently returned from Norway's Holocaust and Religious Minorities Memorial center. The center, a highly moving and powerful museum of commemoration, displays pictures, diaries, clothing, propaganda posters, and movies from the Holocaust and the Norwegian sufferers of this catastrophe.
           We were welcomed with a short lecture on Norway's involvement in the Holocaust. As was the case until the recent immigration diasporas to Norway, the Norwegian people have been almost entirely ethnically homogeneous. In fact, it has been argued that the Nazis truly didn't want to invade the country; the Norwegians provided an a fitting example of the lauded Aryan race. Yet, an invasion did indeed happen. During a series of night missions conducted by German ships and paratroopers, the neutrality of Norway was viciously violated, and the country was taken over. After only several weeks of resistance, the once-proud Norwegian people were subjugated in early summer 1940. The Norwegian monarchs were forced to flee to exile in England, and bitter long years of occupation arose.
            However, while this occupation was oppressive to some, it proved to be deadly to the small Jewish population of the country. After pre-war legislation opened the country to immigration by Jews, a small group of them traveled to Norway to start their new lives. Thus, when the Germans invaded, 2100 Jews lived in Norway. Since they were such a small portion of the population, discrimination was limited at first. However, by December 1942, nearly 800 Jews were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz; thankfully, the other 1300 had escaped to Sweden. At Auschwitz, nearly 3/4 of the arriving Norwegian Jews were immediately murdered in the gas chambers. The rest were forced into slave labor. Of the 800 deported from Norway, only 26 survived the war.
            Oslo's memorial center does not shirk the blame for this travesty. Although the numbers of Jews arrested and deported was relatively small, the arrests were all conducted by Norwegian police in order to be more thorough, as well as easing the Nazis tasks. After the war, several police commissioners were put on trial for these war crimes; sadly, all were found innocent. However, the museum clearly states the guilt of Norway in her failure to limit the Holocaust.
            Although the entire museum was in Norwegian, images do not need translation. Hundreds of arresting images lie in the museum, and tears filled my eyes as I glimpsed once more this terrible picture:

            Within the victim's eyes, you can see all sadness that has ever engulfed God's world. Although horrifying, it is important to show. Even now, I feel truly sick looking at the image, but we can never forget what happened here.
            The irony I mentioned early lies in the museum's location. It is located in the massive home and estate of Vidkun Quisling, the Norwegian Nazi-collaborator and head of the Norwegian Nazi party. Once used for evil, the home has now been changed for good.
            Yet, the museum also focuses on modern tragedies as well. One hall of the memorial was dedicated to the Rwandan genocide. It is also important to remember that the Holocaust is not the only genocide of the world.
            As a student of peace in a nation renowned for its peace work, this memorial was powerful and fitfully unsettling. It reminds me why I study peace and the true need for enacting that ideal around the world.

The Next Forum's Speaker!

De Kirk and Mandela

As a scholar sent from the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, I feel I must make this announcement more public. The keynote speaker for next year's Forum is F.W. de Kirk! He is a truly extraordinary man (of whom I need to research more) who, along with Nelson Mandela, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for ending apartheid. He is sure to share more on his admirable work and provide insight into how obsession can be ended. The Forum will be early Spring 2012 at Augsburg College in Minneapolis and promises to be a wonderful event.
Find out more about the admirable work of the Nobel Peace Prize Forum at:

Sunday, July 3, 2011


The Nobel Institute's Medal

   Sitting once more amid the perfume-scented lounge, sipping tea (which, loaded with sugar, I have recently come to enjoy), my mind turns to academics. While I am experiencing the culture of Norway and melding my own experiences with the lives of others at the International Summer School, I am also here to learn.

   Because of that, I'm taking two courses. The first is Norwegian history, and the second is a small seminar on peace. Both courses have been incredibly thought-provoking and powerful thus far. In explanation, I will start with Norwegian history.

   As primarily a French historian, I have not devoted much time to the Nordic countries. Of course, the expeditions and raids of the Vikings are well known to me, but, obviously, there is much more to learn. This past week, we have delved into the sagas and mythology of Viking-era Scandinavia. It really is interesting to note connections between the Greek and Norse pantheon. For instance, one source mentioned that the Norse gods were sons of Priam from Troy and traveled north to come to Norway. Furthermore, Zeus is often depicted as an old man, full of rage and often in disguise. Likewise, the Norse god Odin is old, bearded, and often disguised. This is done in order to instill the notion of hospitality into society; if the god can be disguised as a beggar, it is better not to refuse hospitality or care to anyone for fear it could be a god. Next, we will enter the later Midieval world. Eventually, we will come to the union of Norway with Denmark. However, the Napoleonic scholar in me is incredibly interested in what follows that: the failed attempt by Norway to escape Swedish dominance under the hated French traitor Jean Baptiste Bernadotte- or King Karl Johann to the Swedes. As you can see, there is much to learn amid the fjords of Norge.

   My next course of study is a seminar on peace. This is conducted with the ten peace scholars and includes frequent excursions into the city to visit museums and other important centers for peace. We have lecture once a week, and while the reading is very intensive, it provides for powerful discussion. What are the best ways to establish lasting peace? It is a very difficult to answer, and the answers themselves are highly varied. Perhaps I will know more by the end of all of this. Our weekly excursion was actually split into two trips this week. The first day we went to the Nobel Institute. We stood amidst the room where the prize's recipient is determined. The faces of great men and women stared around us as we looked as each winner's portrait. Next, we entered the reception hall where the winner is announced; the entire trip was quite powerful.

   The next day, we again took to the metro to study peace. Our destination this time was the Nobel Peace Center. This museum functions as an introduction to the work of the Nobel Institute and also presents various displays on current world conflicts and peace issues. On display was a wonderful photographic collection from modern conflicts around the world. The sufferings in Bangladesh, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and even Norway were offered to us through incredibly poignant images. Additionally, a collection on Nansen was also shown. It was very fun to see our old friend in Oslo once more.
The Faces of the Laureates
   All told, my summer's academic life is burgeoning once more. I am being challenged in my personal views and stretched in my historical research. The International Summer School is living up to its expectation of providing a venue for international academic growth.