Youth parties in Norway are political

By Ethan Reddish

As part of my journalism study abroad program, I attended classes in Norwegian language and culture. My instructor, Lene Ness, provided a basic understanding of Norway’s political landscape. Her introduction to the subject was helpful when I interviewed local politicians and became better acquainted with how Norwegian politics work.

Ness is on the faculty of Alfaskolen, a Norwegian language school in Oslo. She primarily teaches newcomers the native language and – in the case of us at Oslo Rocks! – the history, culture and political structure, as well. Her work with those new to Norway, largely recent immigrants, has given her a unique opportunity to become familiar with politics and governments around the world.  She described her political experiences both growing up in Norway and as an adult, and compared it with what she has learned about American politics.

“Norway has always put a great value on society, participation, and being an active citizen. Norwegian schooling focuses a lot on teaching children about the political system, how to get involved, who to talk to, what to do, and how they can influence their own situation, she said. In Norway there are active youth political parties and Ness described them as a logical next step for children whose school curriculum emphasizes civic engagement.  “And as a step further from this, it really is only the natural progression that they see the political parties and the political structure and want to get involved in that, as well.”

She said it isn’t unheard of for people to start very young in these youth parties and go on to have significant positions. “When I was in the Labour Youth organization, I would recruit people as young as 13. I remember once I got an email from a nine-year-old wondering if he could join as well, and I had to say, ‘Yes, you can join, but you have to tell your parents first.’ And he joined, and he was very politically active. Actually, I think he’s a member of the local Parliament now.”

From Ness’ perspective, the United States’ political workings seem completely different. “It seems like, in Norway, everybody can get politically involved, no matter what background you have, socially, economically and family-wise. Whereas in other countries, especially in the U.S., one of my students told me, if you’re from a political family you get involved in policies and politics, but if your family is not politically active, you probably won’t be either, and that there’s not a lot of focus on recruiting and training.”

While people’s definition of politically active may be different from Ness’, it shows just how limited her exposure to American politics has been.

Ness’ somewhat inaccurate view of American politics, mirrors the limited understanding of a Socialist country I had when I arrived in Norway. My first few conversations with Ness and a handful of politicians offered a gradual learning experience, but I learned you must talk to a lot of people to avoid getting a skewed perspective. I am leaving Norway with a better (but still imperfect) understanding thanks to interviews and conversations with more politicians and citizens. I hope Ness will continue to expand her own understanding of U.S. politics, just as I expanded my own.


Oslo Mayor Marianne Borgen talks about car-free Oslo

By Ethan Reddish

With dozens of metro tunnels running underground, tram lines criss-crossing most of the roads, and articulated buses around every turn, it seems as though there is little need for personal transport in the city of Oslo. While there is still car traffic, it is far less than in large cities such as Atlanta or New York City. And if Mayor Marianne Borgen has her way, the city will be mostly car-free in a few years’ time.

There certainly are political motivations for this push. “As you know, Oslo has been elected by the European Commission to be the European Green Capital for 2019,” she said in an interview.  According to the Commission’s website, the European Green Capital Award (EGCA) recognizes and rewards local efforts to improve the environment, the economy and the quality of life in cities. It is given annually to a city which is leading the way in environmentally-friendly urban living and is a role-model to inspire other cities. The goal is to share concrete examples of what a European Green Capital can look like.

In Oslo, the proposed initiative includes the tram, metro, and bus systems, as well as giving incentives to people who choose to drive electric cars or use the public bike lanes. Mayor Borgen said she is advocating a car-free Oslo for more than just political reasons, “Since I am a grandmother, I would like my grandchildren to grow up in a healthy city.”

The recent move to eliminate on-street parking in Oslo’s Frogner neighborhood to create bike lanes has been contentious. Residents don’t want to lose their parking and business owners who fear a lack of parking will drive away customers. An article in The Guardian details the reaction to the Mayor’s move.

Mayor Borgen doesn’t expect a complete elimination of personal vehicles. “We will not remove the private car totally in a city like Oslo,” she said. “That is not possible. That is not our intention,” but she hopes it will encourage people to use their cars in more efficient ways. “So I think people can be part of a car-sharing system,” she said. “That is also very important. I have three grown-up kids myself, and two of them are members of a car-sharing system.”  Opponents believe that, if her plans continue, there will be very little space to park either shared cars or the electric cars for which incentives are given .

Borgen understands her push is controversial, but she sees it as a good thing for the people. “People are saying that you are taking away freedom to drive wherever they will, whenever they will. I would say it’s the opposite, what we are doing,” said Borgen. “What we are doing is giving the city back to the people.”

She hopes continue with her plans if her administration is re-elected in 2019. It seems voters will decide if her plans will be allowed to continue.

Oslo Ukulele Festival stands out among rock festivals

By Ethan Reddish

Inflatable plastic parrots and pink flamingo pool toys adorned a small, hidden courtyard in an Oslo business park on a recent Saturday in June. Nearly 100 people, many wearing bright Hawaiian leis, sat drinking beer, smiling, eating pastry, and listening to music. An orchestra of string instruments performed classics by Nancy Sinatra and the Rolling Stones. However, the renditions of “These Boots Were Made For Walking” and “Honky Tonk Woman” had a higher pitch and lighter tone than expected. That’s because these songs were being played on the ukulele and the lyrics were sung in Norwegian.

Ukeleles displayed for sale
Three vendors were at the Oslo Ukelele Fest. The prices for these ukuleles range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand.  Photo by Ethan Reddish.

Stine Lindset, herself a ukulele player, organized the first Oslo Ukulele Festival in 2017. She took her first ukulele class in 2011 while a music education student. “I started playing ukulele, and I understood that learning ukulele was a fast way into learning music,” Stine said. “So I wanted to start courses so people could start playing music themselves, quick and easy, and have that joy.”

Which is what led to Lindset starting a ukulele orchestra in 2015. As the Oslo Ukuleleorkester’s popularity grew, Lindset wanted to share this music with others and bring together ukulele artists from around the city. “Then, last year, I thought, ‘Why don’t we make a ukulele festival?’ because there are a lot of groups, not only us, a lot of groups around the place, and we don’t have anything to collect us all.”

This year marked the second Ukulele Festival, with 30 volunteers showing up in the morning to set up. Christian Valentiner, the festival co-chair and another ukulele fan, described the planning process. “So we started in August, planning for this year,” he said. “Even as the festival is going we are planning for next year, because we are learning that we have to do it early. It’s a really steep learning curve for us.”

The greatly increased number of volunteers was a welcome change from last year, he said. “Last year we did everything ourselves, including sound and food, etc. With volunteers it helps with a lot of the tasks. And this year we’ve hired professionals for the sound, because that’s one task you really want to outsource.”

Festival volunteer Finn Bjerke is very fond of the ukulele as an instrument. “It’s like a mini-guitar, but it does a lot of things a guitar can’t.” Bjerke proudly displayed his prized plastic ukulele, made by a company in Bend, Oregon. He said it’s perfect for traveling and allows him to play whenever and wherever he wants – even in the bathtub. He is excited about the upsurge of interest in the instrument.”You have the ukulele revival that came out of the U.S. It provides a sort of anti-guitar, said Bjerke. “You have people in Sweden, in Japan, all getting involved in it. It’s become a global trend.”

For Lindset, the event offers a chance for her to show her appreciation for the ukulele. “I think the ukulele is such a pure instrument. When you play the ukulele you can’t hide anything. It’s a really honest instrument.”

Video below: Backed by the Oslo Ukuleleorkester, Åse Kleveland performs her rendition of the Tin Pan Alley classic “Ain’t She Sweet” on the ukulele and kazoo. Kleveland is a well-known Norwegian singer, guitarist, politician and activist. She has served as Norway’s Minister of Culture, president of the Film Institute, and Chairman of the Board of Human-Etisk Forbund, a humanist organization.

Exploring the drinking culture at concerts in Norway and the U.S.

By Ethan Reddish

When I came to Norway, I noticed how prevalent alcohol was in daily life, at least compared to my home in small-town south Georgia.

A man drinks a beer and smiles.
A concert-goer enjoys a cup of beer at Bergenfest. Photo by Ethan Reddish

In Norway, people seem to drink with every meal but my family never drank at lunch or dinner. My college, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, is a dry campus, but at Alfaskolen where we hold classes, students could have a beer with lunch off-campus and still be accepted in class in the afternoon — provided their behavior was unaffected, according to school officials. In the Bible Belt, a social stigma applies to most alcohol consumption, but in Oslo people seem to judge others on their actions after drinking, not on the drinking in itself.

With the drinking age at 18 and bars everywhere, I thought music festivals would be much looser than at concerts back home. At events in Georgia, venues may limit how many drinks someone can buy each time they return to the bar.

At Musikkfest, a city-wide event in Oslo, people could wander from venue to venue taking food and drink with them.

At Bergenfest, which seemed like a typical Norwegian music festival in regards to alcohol, people were not allowed to bring their own alcohol, but there was an abundance sold at the event itself. I saw people go into the bar and lounge, then come out with a half dozen beers in a carrier.

A music lover carries a carton of beer cups. Photo by Ethan Reddish.

“The general policy is, you cannot be drunk at a public event,” said Ole-Morten Algerøy, one of the Bergenfest promoters. “If security sees someone who looks like they’ve had too much to drink, they will ask them politely to sober up. If they don’t, they ask them to leave.”

Dalton Spangler, an ABAC student and music critic, says this seems to be a more proactive approach than at American events, where security tends to intervene only when the drunk person in question becomes a nuisance.

Concerning Norwegian drinking culture, Algerøy said, “The regulations here are quite strict. You can’t buy it (alcohol) past 8 p.m. in the shops on weekdays or 6 p.m. on weekends. And not at all on Sundays in shops. But we don’t have many of the alcohol-related problems compared to countries with looser regulations. In Norway, either we have a party, or we don’t have a party.”

I was surprised to find that Norway managed their alcohol more proactively compared to concerts in the US, and even stricter in general life. In truth, Norwegians drink less than people in Georgia, by about 20 percent, according to sales data from the US and Norway. It shows that appearances are really only surface deep.

Rock ‘n Roll Around the World Makes an Influence at Oslo Musikkfest

Mark Steiner fronts his band on the roots rock stage at Oslo Musikkfest 2018. Photo Liam Carroll
Mark Steiner fronts his band on the roots rock stage at Oslo Musikkfest 2018. Photo Liam Carroll

When I came to Norway for the Oslo Musikkfest, I expected to hear songs with a different musical style sung in Norwegian, a language I don’t understand.

Imagine my surprise when I attended a concert with artists performing country and rock tunes, some in English, complete with a familiar country accent. The songs wouldn’t sound too out of place on any American radio station.

We interviewed the first band we heard, Mark Steiner and His Problems. We assumed the band was made of native Norwegians, as they seemed fluent in speaking it to the crowd. We were surprised to learn the band has members from around the world: Lead singer Mark Steiner is from New York, and American drummer Ted Parsons has experience with the British band Killing Joke, to name only two. When asked what influenced his music, Steiner cited Australian bands as more of an influence than American. Mark Steiner and His Problems exemplify the growing internationalization of music.

Video: Mark Steiner and His Problems

(This blog post was written by Ethan Reddish, with photos by Liam Carroll. The blog was produced by Ethan Reddish.)