Spring 2017 newsletter from the NECORE project at PRIO
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Spring Newsletter 2017

Photo: Rojan Tordhol Ezzati

News from the NECORE team


Visiting Fellowship in France

From September to November 2016, Rojan spent two months as a visiting researcher at Migrations internationales, espaces et sociétés (Migrinter). The research stay was part of the project Negotiating the nation: Implications of ethnic and religious diversity for national identity (NATION), which has many synergies with NECORE. Rojan worked on combined NATION and NECORE related material, among other, analyzing the news coverage of the 22 July 2011 terror attacks in Norway and the 2015 terror attacks in France on Norwegian and French TV networks. 



"Må vi være enige med hverandre?"

On February 1, we held a seminar about agreements and disagreements in public debates, with Rojan Ezzati, Marta Erdal, and Henrik Syse from PRIO, alongside John Olav Egeland, editor at Dagbladet, and Lars Laird Iversen of the Norwegian Free School of Theology (MF). The seminar in various ways addressed the question of how we create safe and open spaces for disagreement, maintaining a climate of debate that does not become violent or scare people away from the public sphere.


"Memory, Conflict and Reconciliation"

On April 3, the School of Public and International Affairs at Florida International University hosted a seminar built up around a recent NECORE article by Henrik Syse and Asbjørn Bjornes, entitled "Memory and Conflict: Reflections on the Abuse of Memory – and on Finding Community through Memory" (in Mikalsen, Skjei & Øfsti (eds.), Modernity: Unity in Diversity?; Oslo: Novus press, 2016), soon to be made available at the PRIO website. The conference explored how memories of traumatic events can be used as a basis for dialogue and reconciliation.


Rojan and Marta have published an article titled ‘Do we have to agree? Accommodating unity in diversity in post-terror Norway’ in the journal Ethnicities. The 21 interviewees include politicians, NGO representatives, bureaucrats and common voices in public debate across the political spectrum. The findings in the article point to the diversity of opinion which exists across ethnic, religious and political lines. For example, while the interviewees agree that contestations are important for a liberal democracy such as Norway, they disagree on how, and to what extent, such contestations are, and should be, facilitated in the current debate landscape in Norway. The article is open to access online here

Henrik recently published an article entitled "After the Tragedy: Reflections on Norwegian Values", in the book Nordic Ways (eds. Andràs Simonyi and Debra Cagan; Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press). The article analyzes the values enumerated by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in the wake of the July 22 attacks on Norway. We are working to make this article available on the PRIO website soon.

Research Reflections


‘Our values’ in times of terror

Last fall I spent two months in Poitiers, France as a visiting researcher at Migrinter. The last time I lived in France before that was in 2008, just when the financial crisis fully hit. A lot has changed since then, some of it directly or indirectly linked to the financial crisis: high unemployment rates; several terror attacks carried out by ISIS (sympathizers); the growth of the opposition party Front National. In this landscape, it is said that the primaries leading up to the presidential election in France have to a great extent circled around ‘identity’. And indeed, the ever so strong égalité, liberté, fraternité are a repeated mantra written in bold letters on public buildings, from town halls to schools and other institutions. They were also repeated references in the one-year commemorations of the November 2015 terror attacks in Stade de France, and in the Bataclan theatre and restaurants and bars nearby, killing 130 people. 

Similar to what was the case after the July 2011 attacks in Norway, references to ‘values’ have also been common in the French response to terror attacks. President François Hollande’s words on the day of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015, provides an example: ‘France has always defeated its enemies when it has known precisely to stand united around its values. That is what I invite you to do. Gathering, the gathering of everyone, in all its forms, that is what should be our response.’

A sense of unity seems to be particularly important in the immediate aftermath of terror attacks, as they make tangible the need for society to pull in the same direction. To do so, societal values such as equality and freedom serve as good reminders of ‘who we are’.  However, also taking into account ‘who we were’ and ‘who we want to be’ brings to the fore the dynamic character of ‘us’ and of ‘our values’, and how they have evolved, and will continue to evolve – ‘prior to’, ‘alongside’, and ‘regardless of’ current patterns of ethnic, religious and political diversity.

Rojan Ezzati

Memory and Conflict

The relationship between memory and conflict is one of several themes highlighted by the NECORE project, and it has recently come into focus again in an emotional way, related to the tragic events of 22/7.

The bone of contention is the projected Utøya memorial. Where should such a memorial for the victims and events at Utøya be placed? And how imposing should it be? The residents of the local residential area reacted sharply against the original proposal. Firstly, they said it would be a far-too-present, up-close reminder of an event they wanted gradually to put behind them. And secondly, they felt that their voices and concerns had not been properly heard, since the initial part of the process had taken place without their active participation. This feeling of being left out remains a key point of tension between the local residents on the one hand and the Norwegian government, the official project owner, on the other. Because of this conflict, the residents have decided to go to court over the monument.

The drama is far from over, although many believe that the case is moving closer to being resolved. Some are hoping that this will happen without a court case, although that remains uncertain. The Labor Party Youth Organization (AUF) has offered the quay where the ferries leave for Utøya – a fateful part of the 22/7 narrative and events, situated on AUF's own property – as a site for the memorial, rather than the Sørbråten area, the more public and open spot from which several rescuers launched their mission to help fleeing youth. The monument will be less imposing at the quay. It is likely, if such a solution is chosen, that a different and less conspicuous monument than the one planned for Sørbråten will be chosen. This means that the memorial will not end up as close to where local residents spend much of their time, and where they regularly pass by, and that it will be less "ever-present".

The dispute reminds us of the importance as well as the complexity of memory. Three points come to mind:

Firstly, memories always have an agent – someone who remembers. The problem is that we remember things differently, depending on where we were and who we are, and we also take away different things and learn different lessons from historical memories. The debate about the Utøya memorial represents in many ways a question of whose memories should primarily be preserved. It is my opinion that the direct victims of the attack as well as the next-of-kin are the main memory agents on behalf of whom – and for whom – such a monument is erected. That does not mean that others, including the bystanders and the many helpers, are at all irrelevant. But their concerns, while both relevant and important, have to take second place behind those to, for, and about whom this memorial primarily speaks.

Secondly, most memories – such as those about the 22/7 event – are geographically located. It is, therefore, important that physical memorials be tied to a relevant place, preferably a "historically correct spot", meaning one of the places where the event or events actually took place. Why is this important? For one thing, one wants to preserve the historicity of the event: that it is re-told rightly, and in a way that does not easily become victim to revisionist history or accusations of lying. Also, such a memorial fills the role of a gathering spot, a sacred ground. It goes without saying that such spots cannot be erected just anywhere.

Finally, memories of crises and death are painful. There is no way around that. No matter how much we want to put the pain behind us, our potential for honoring the dead and learning from history is so much greater when memories are re-told rightly and honestly. Will that mean that some people will have painful memories imposed on them? Yes, indeed. This is true of the neighbors of Treblinka, Sachsenhausen, and Auschwitz, as well. But the alternative, sanitizing the past and hiding the disruptive memories, amounts to a lie. It is true that the memorial will be a burden for those living there. But the mere fact that we need this memorial is essentially a burden for all, and not least for those whose lives were most directly affected.

Any process that properly takes into account the feelings and opinions of the local population at Utøya should be encouraged and supported. Hopefully, we are closer to that now than what we have been. Not everyone will be happy with the outcome. But we can make sure that everyone feels that it represents the truth. This is after all not a memorial that celebrates happiness. It is a memory that reminds us of the truth of death and hatred. It should do so, however, while also honoring the joyful happiness that was taken away on that fateful day in July 2011, and while celebrating the ideas and forces that can prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

Henrik Syse

Collective Memories after National Traumas

I represented the NECORE project at a one-day seminar held in February, entitled “Collective Memories after National Traumas: 22 July in an International Perspective”. The seminar was highly relevant to the themes explored by NECORE, and among the most important points raised during the seminar was that of a national story. Does a national narrative about the 22 July atrocities exist? And if so, are we telling one single story, or many different ones? Who enjoys the privilege of telling it? Perhaps more importantly, a theme discussed at the seminar was whether or not we need such a narrative. Arguably, it is easier to create a consistent story when talking about internal enemies and external enemies. However, bringing forth one singular narrative also means excluding others, and puts us at risk of erasing important nuances – if not upscaling or downscaling established historical facts.

This leads to a second point highlighted by one panelist: the role of courts and judicial decisions in the writing of history. What happens when a court’s ruling is contradictory to the historian’s account of a given event? If we consider legal statements also to be historical descriptions, the legal job of allocating and deciding guilt is often expanded to “psychologization”, potentially making the story of what happened less complex than it was, maybe even removing aspects of guilt. This can have a large impact on our collective memory after a national trauma, not least because judicial archives used as historical sources dictate what was in fact important, who were the perpetrators, and who were the victims. Furthermore, the effect of media coverage from the courts can oftentimes be personal re-traumatization, and a sense of loss of ownership to the individual’s experience.

Finally, a new generation is coming of age that does not itself remember 22 July. How the story of what happened is taught in schools is a challenge facing teachers and historians writing the curriculum. Where one could say that history is often a "perpetrator-centric" field, a balance must be found between that on the one hand and making the victims’ voices heard on the other. It will also be important to tell the story without anyone claiming the singular authority to do so. History is multifaceted, and we need, perhaps now more than ever, to find a way to teach it without separating too strictly between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Ida Rødningen
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