A city square thronged with people standing up for what they believe in: It’s become a familiar scene around the world in the past 15 months, ever since Tahrir Square emerged as the epicenter of the Arab Spring. These mass demonstrations of popular outrage and political will have been a vivid reminder of just how important public space is to civil society.
Yesterday in Oslo, Norwegians took their own stand in Youngstorget Square, where 40,000 people gathered to sing a simple song – “Children of the Rainbow” – in defiance of the admitted mass killer Anders Behring Breivik and the racist ideology he represents.
Last July 22, a short distance from where the crowd gathered, Breivik detonated a car bomb that killed 8 and injured 250, before heading to the island of Utoya and massacring 69 people, most of them teenagers attending a youth conference.
The song the crowd sang in Youngstorget Square is one that Breivik has said he hates. It was adapted from a Pete Seeger tune, “My Rainbow Race,” by the Norwegian folk singer Lillebjorn Nilsen. And its message, a celebration of multiculturalism, is infuriating to the white supremacist Breivik. The Wall Street Journal reports:
"He makes pedagogic songs that are used to brainwash Norwegian pupils," Mr. Breivik told the Oslo District Court during questioning Friday, referring to Mr. Nilsen.
Mr. Breivik's comment provoked Lill Hjonnevag, a 42-year-old student, and Christine Bar, secretary of a Norwegian labor union, into creating a Facebook protest where they urged people to come out and sing the song Mr. Breivik despises so loud that he could hear it inside the courtroom.
The organizers expected perhaps 5,000 people to show up. The turnout was eight times that.
We may never know if Breivik actually heard the song yesterday. What we do know is that 40,000 people showed up in the rain to sing it, waving roses, standing together, and taking back the streets that he tried to shut down with terror.
Top image: NTB Scanpix / Reuters