North Dakota radio personality tours Norway, brings listeners along

Scott Hennen, a popular radio personality based in North Dakota, finds himself far from home on a Juven tour of Norway. The tour takes Americans, mostly with North Dakota and Minnesota roots, on tours throughout the country and helps to connect them with family and ancestral homes. Tourists also get to explore the Norwegian countryside and Fjords.

Today, the bus takes them from Oslo to Lillehammer, with a few stops along the way.

“This is my first time in Norway,” Hennen said. “I feel like I am in Disneyland just taking it all in.”

Hennen and his wife have a special interest in the genealogical aspect of the tour, as his wife is of Norwegian descent and has relatives in Tynset. They have also brought along their two children to meet their younger cousins for the first time.

The Hennens are not alone on this trip, however. Juven Tours and Travel worked with Hennen to bring dozens of Hennen’s listeners along for the ride. Many of them are also meeting their own relatives and diving into their Norwegian backgrounds.

Don Glesne, North Dakota, is one of these listeners. However his ties to Hennen run a bit deeper, as their wives are cousins. Glesne will be heading to Tynset to visit his great grandfather’s homestead later on the trip.

Bonnie Benson, Jennifer Benson, and Larissa Green, all from North Dakota, had the unique opportunity to meet a family member who they had previously only contacted on Facebook. “It was truly like we had always known each other, it was like oh! There you are again,” Bonnie Benson said.

As a radio personality, Hennen is also documenting his trip to Norway for his show back in North Dakota.

Hennen is known on air for holding right wing political views – a stark contrast to the Norwegian political system, which is based on democratic socialism and where the population leans further left than the American Left. While he notes that the political system seems to be working for Norway, he does express doubt about the system and questions whether or not it could be applied in America.

“Lots of people say Norway has figured out the quality of life,” Hennen said, “and they have no national debt, all of which is true but they also have an enormous amount of taxation and its a smaller country too. It’s only 5 million people and it makes it easier to do what they did here.”

One of Hennen’s loyal fans, Patrick Baranski from North Dakota, joined the trip just for the experience of travelling with Hennen. He is a political poet and pastor who shares very similar conservative views. He has even read some of his work on Hennen’s radio show. Regarding Norway’s political system he said, “there are some people that I would send here because they would love it, but I wouldn’t want to live here.”

Whether these North Dakotans agree with the political system in Norway or not, they can all agree that the country is beautiful and they are excited to experience all it has to offer.

After Lillehammer, the group will travel to Andalsnes in the middle region of the west coast. They will then continue downwards until they reach Bergen to conclude their trip and return to the U.S. on July 2.

To learn more about Juven Travel and Tours and Scott Hennen’s trip to Norway, visit www.oslorocks.blog or HPR Abroad online.

SERVING UP YOUR BIAS AT THE BIAS BAR

An unusual bar is serving up biases and its patrons are sending their own biases right back.

The bar is the Bias Bar, an interactive exhibit at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway. It shares space on the first floor with Detours, an exhibition about people who find themselves forcibly displaced from their homes. It is a floor below Hope Over Fear, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize exhibition that presents a strong portrait of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and his efforts to integrate members of the FARC rebel group with the rest of the Colombian people.

Participants at the Bias Bar get small cards designed to look like drink coasters. A bias is written on the front of the card. On the backside of the card is a blank space where people can write and share biases of their own. The cards are displayed on racks mounted on the museum wall.

The front of a typical card has a bias such as, “I am not a racist but…” Turning around the card people have written their own biases such as, “I’d rather live in a white than black neighborhood,” “You don’t look like a foreigner,” “But you are white,” and “#BREXIT.”

Another bias card reads, “All terrorists are Muslims. What do you think?” A patron’s reply to that was, “If all terrorists are Muslim that means all Italians are Mafia, all Russians are part of the Bratva and no one is a human being. Everyone is different, everyone is special and everyone needs an opportunity prove themselves [sic] and be who they are. Be proud of who you are.”

“We have printed, I think, 2000 cards since March and people are writing and sharing biases and their thoughts,” said Ingvill Bryn Rambøl, Director of Information at Nobel Peace Center. “It’s quite entertaining to explore the cards on the wall there and see what people write. People are very open about the fact that they have biases themselves and that they have met biases.”

The Bias Bar even has its own version of an open mic event.

“A Bias Night is where we invite Norwegians with different backgrounds to sit and discuss biases and people can sit behind and talk to them afterwards,” Rambøl said. The first Bias Night “was very popular and we had a lot of visitors that night with an immigration background or with different ethnic backgrounds, and they were very excited about discussing something very dangerous in such a light manner.”

The next Bias Night will be in August. “It will focus on Islam,” Rambøl said.

Exhibits like Detours and the Bias Bar have connected with Norwegian school children, because topics such as immigration are covered in school curriculums, but the school books have not been updated yet on the current refugee crisis and the war in Syria.

“They have been very happy to have the opportunity to come here and learn about that issue with updated information,” Rambøl said.

The Nobel Peace Center was opened in 2005. The building used to be a railway station, which closed in 1990 and was reinvented as the home for Nobel in Oslo. The museum depicts stories through a variety of permanent installations, and temporary exhibits of paintings, photographs, interactive digital films and other art.

Rambøl said the museum is famous for its modern, artistic design conceived by the British architect David Adjayeand.

“He did what he calls ‘room manipulation.’ You can tear down the whole museum from the inside and you will have the train station the way it used to be,” Rambøl said.

Nobel prizes are awarded in six categories including Literature, Physics, Physiology/Medicine, Chemistry, Economics and Peace. The Nobel Prize in any category is one of the most prestigious awards in the world. It was founded by the multi-millionaire philanthropist Alfred Nobel in 1901. Nobel created his immense wealth by inventing and manufacturing modern explosives into dynamite and patented it in 1867. He left his estate (the modern equivalent of $200 million) to be used as award money for the betterment of the world.

Swedish institutions choose winners in five categories (Literature, Physics, Physiology/Medicine, Chemistry, Economics) and the awards are presented in Stockholm, Sweden. The winner of the Peace Prize is chosen by a Norwegian committee and is awarded in Oslo.

The challenge for the Nobel Peace Center is to create an exhibition honoring the winner in just eight weeks. That exhibition is created within the context of the permanent and temporary exhibitions. The Peace Center, including the Bias Bar, is open seven days a week and the center has averaged more than 100,000 visitors annually since it opened in 2005.

FORMER NAZI BUNKER NOW SERVES AS LEARNING TOOL

BY NICOLE GARDNER

In the years since the end of WWII, little has ever been recognized in history books about one of the most important places in Nazi-occupied Europe: Norway. The Norwegians themselves don’t often acknowledge it, since it is collectively seen as a glaring blemish on Norwegian history, and justifiably so.

What is now The Norwegian Center for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities, used to be the home of a man with a name now synonymous with being a traitor. In fact, after the execution of Vidkun Quisling the Oxford English Dictionary added his name and defined it as “a person cooperating with an occupying enemy force; a collaborator; a traitor” .

Much of the world is unaware that there still stands a once fully functioning Nazi bunker beneath his Oslo, Norway home.

Tucked away in the Huk Aveny neighborhood stands the former residence of Quisling, a former Nazi. His former home now houses The Norwegian Center for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities to provide information about the Holocaust, and take a peek into Quisling’s life as a Norwegian Nazi.

Henriettae Ieda Borchgrevienk, an archival researcher for the museum, has ties to the house through family, and ties to the then-Norwegian military. Her grandfather was involved in the National Assembly party, which was Quisling’s version of the German Nazi Party. “Once he realized what was going on as far as the Nazi agenda he fled to Scotland due to the fact that Norwegian military officers were being arrested and he became a resistance force man instead,” Borchgrevienk said.

This bunker is not the only one in existence in Norway. In Kristiansand there are numerous bunkers spread along the coastline and even in the forest if one is just wandering around. Those that are on the coast can often be seen from boats. Oslo and Kristiansand are not the only places in Norway with former Nazi Bunkers.

The Germans were technologically ahead of their time, and they built Quisling’s bunker with curved walls to better withstand air raids. There was a Norwegian-built air purifier that could sustain the underground fortification for up to a year, and a food storage room. The living room has benches that could be used as a sitting room, hospital beds, or as additional shelves. At the back of the bunker sits Quisling’s office and bedroom with the original artwork still in it, though he used it only once during his time in the house.

He had a hand in sending thousands of Norwegian Jews to their deaths. In 1945 Quisling, then 58, was charged with high treason and, though Norway had abolished capital punishment in 1905, the government reinstated it momentarily for Quisling and his followers, and they were executed by firing squad.

“To see how they treated the Jews is terrible, I thought,” said Donald Gudmensen, a North Dakota native and veteran who served during the 1961 Berlin Crisis. Gudmensen and his family are on a weeklong vacation, meeting Norwegian relatives and touring the homeland.

YOU SHOULD KNOW

For more information on The Norwegian Center for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities visit www.hlsenteret.no.

CAN JESUS COME BACK TO NORWAY?

BY ANGIE PEREZ

Religious affiliation in Norway has been on a steady decline in recent decades. For the first time ever atheists slightly outnumber believers, demonstrating modern society’s move toward secularization.

According to Norway’s Ipsos MMI 2016 social-cultural survey, 39 percent of Norwegians who were asked about their faith considered themselves atheist, 37 percent confirmed to believe in a higher power, while 23 percent were uncertain. Oslo, the capital of Norway, reported the lowest percent of believers in the whole country where the the older demographic had higher number of believers than the youth.

This disinterest in religion might not affect most Norwegians but St. Mark’s Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Oslo has found a modern and creative approach to preach the message of the Christian gospel in a way they hope young people can more easily relate to.

Oddleiv Sandtorv, 31, an artist and member of St. Marks, has devoted 8 years of his life in mission work. Two years ago, Sandtorv and his wife, Debora Sandtorv, a hip hop choreographer, were inspired by their desire to share the good news of “who is Jesus?,” and how he has changed their life and how he can change others’ lives. Now, in 2016 they have successfully toured all over Europe with St. Mark’s mission organization, Jesus Revolution.

“We asked ourselves: how can we make Jesus and the gospel’s message available to the youth, in a way that they can relate to and understand,” Oddleiv said.

Since a little girl, Debora has dreamt of creating her own dance show, and Oddleiv has always had a passion for singing and music. Combining their love for the arts and Jesus they decided to start musical performances and concerts with Jesus Revolution.

“This whole idea came, and we immediately started working. We took some time and prayed about it until we sensed that God was leading us to do this,” Oddleiv said.

For the last few months they have been all over Europe performing their first Jesus Revolution tour, booking shows at Pentecostal and Evangelical churches. Their last stop was in their home church, St. Marks, where they gave a performance Thursday, June 9th.

They started this dream of theirs with no money, resources, or team members, but little by little they started forming a crew of dancers, music producers, multimedia directors and sound technicians.

What makes the performance special, according to Oddleiv, is the narrative that unfolds. They share the gospel through lyrics and simultaneously telling different people’s stories with multimedia on a screen of how their life was before, what kind of a mess they were in, and then how Jesus came into their life and changed.

The mix of music, song, dance and multimedia enhances the performance, and demonstrates the variety of styles used such as EDM, hip hop, house, dubstep, drum step as the dancers dance ballet, tap dancing, floorwork and more.

“We think that we have something that is unique and different from other people, and we hope that many people can be blessed by this.” Oddleiv said.

Besides Oddleiv’s talent on stage he considers himself a preacher more than an entertainer but always dreamt to use music and art that comes with a message.

“I think I’m a preacher first and foremost and I preach through arts… I haven’t heard or seen anyone else that is doing exactly what we are doing, where you have a mix of media, dancing, music and preaching put together,” Oddleiv said.

He and his group have made an album set to come out this summer and are looking to expand their tour to the United States in the future.

“I think people focus more on the well use of religion but don’t search for the relationship with Jesus,” Debora said. “And that’s what we are trying to do – to portray the gospel in a good and relevant way that people are able to relate to and ultimately have a good time.”

OSLO PRIDE MARCHES ON

Oslo Pride 2016 marches on in the wake of the Orlando tragedy, with a message of solidarity and a determination to celebrate acceptance and equality.

“It’s been a couple of very intense days,” Petter Ruud-Johansen, information officer for Oslo Pride 2016, said about the effect the shooting has had on the festival starting this Friday. “It does something to our pride.”

Oslo Pride, running June 17 through June 26, takes place across the Norwegian capital and boasts a diverse array of over 200 events, free of charge, that include art exhibits, musical guests, debates and drag queen makeup classes — a line-up of politics, parades, parties and performances. Many of the events are self-produced by volunteers, which makes Oslo Pride, according to Ruud-Johanson, the largest free Pride festival in Europe.

The police are making their own efforts to keep the 10-day festival safe, with increased visibility and increased invisible operations. There are reportedly no threats to be concerned with and the organizers are also encouraging attendees not to be fearful.

“We are hoping for the opposite effect,” Ruud-Johansen said. “Now is the time to stand up, to show support.” He expressed a hope that this year’s crowd will break records from previous years, to help promote acceptance.

Businesses or organizations can buy a booth at Pride Park where more than 60,000 visitors will wander into the heart of Pride and the center of Oslo. There is also a percentage of beer and food profits that contributes to the Oslo Pride fund. Ticket sales to major events at the Rockefeller Music Hall go into the fund as well. Many performers also volunteer their performances or cut their prices for Oslo Pride. The combination of contributions and public funding from the city of Oslo go to organize a festival that doesn’t put pressure on the pocketbook.

The festival begins with a political debate at club Elsker, which translates to “lover” in English. Before the Orlando event even happened, Oslo Pride planned to feature a panel discussion on current topics including religion and violence. The panel includes two Muslim people, one a Norwegian citizen and one a politician. There has been long-existing support between the LGBT community and the Muslim community in Oslo, something that Ruud-Johansen expects to remain.

A main debate topic this year will be about intersex people, or those born with male and female reproductive organs or chromosomes. Non-consensual surgical procedures have been practiced for many years, but are now coming under scrutiny. People can expect to hear more about the choice being taken away from intersex individuals.

Last week, the LGBT community celebrated the passage of a Norwegian national law that will allow transgender individuals to legally declare their gender without surgery, psychiatric evaluations or forced sterilization. Even so, transgender rights and acceptance will be a hot topic at the debates.

The Norwegian Armed Forces will be represented in the parade, as they have been in previous years, which might be an unfamiliar sight for many Americans. The army is also expected to have an information booth in Pride Park.

The Norwegian Church will take a more visible role in pride this year. Sunday mass will be hosted there, celebrating equality and faith.

The Church voted this year to allow same-sex religious marriages, even though marriage equality for gay couples has been legally recognized since 2009 in Norway. The parade will celebrate such equality victories by marrying three gay couples on floats in the parade procession. The couples were chosen from thousands of applicants. The floats are sponsored by the corporation 7/11, which has 8,600 stores in the U.S. and Canada, and 47,800 more stores spanning the globe.

The parade march takes place on Saturday, June 25 and begins in Grønland, a diverse neighborhood near the center of Oslo. The parade came under some media fire when the parade was moved from the west of Oslo to Grønland in 2010, a move that Ruud-Johansen insists is not a political one.

“When we decided that the parade would start there, some politicians tried to make a political point out of it,” he said. “But it’s not a reaction to anything. The reason we start at Grønland is simple: many LGBTI people live there and work there – our community thrives there.”

Ruud-Johansen said Oslo Pride 2016 is a celebration of equality, solidarity and acceptance. In a time where a global tragedy has shaken the LGBT community to its core, Oslo Pride is showing no signs of slowing down.

The whole festival can be followed on social media: #OsloPride.

MURAL ARTIST CASSIUS FADLABI

BY KAITLYN HUSS

Our interview started in front of a mural that filled the entire side of a building. Brilliant with an electric blue background, the piece featured a Somalian man dressed in a spacesuit. Its creator, Cassius Erixon Fadlabi, posed for a photo in front of it with his arms crossed over his chest and a huge grin spread across his face. He titled it ‘The Sky’s the Limit.’

The mural towers over a playground in an area called Tøyen that Fadlabi explained was occupied primarily by Somali and Pakistani immigrants. Tøyen is known for its multicultural ambiance, stunning botanical gardens and The Munch Museum, which contains the largest collection of Edvard Munch’s work.

We walked to a café not far from the playground after only a few moments under the mural. The coffee shop was like most I have been to in Oslo; clean, shiny and trendy. Fifteen minutes into our discussion, Fadlabi exposed some context in the neighborhood we were in. “This area’s under gentrification. And you see it from this café. So it wasn’t this fancy before. And now what holds it a bit more diverse is that they have subsidized housing. If those disappear, you’ll see no foreigners here.” Leaving the neighborhood, however, is the Munch Museum. The museum that has existed in Tøyen for 53 years will be relocated to the bay area by the opera house in the Bjørvika area. The museum has been steadily seeing an increase in the number of visitors and has outgrown their current space.

Earlier, he had elaborated on racism in Norway, touching on how Somalis are discriminated against in particular. “Oslo is like this: there is a hierarchy of superiority, you know, that goes all the way, even among foreigners themselves. That was basically why I wanted to make a guy from Somalia who looks really cool, like really fly, with a nice haircut and he’s even a spaceman.” When asked if his work was meant to inspire the kids Fadlabi said, “I just got the wall like that and then I made the sketch to be site-specific for that neighborhood, wanted the Somalian kids that live in that neighborhood.”

Fadlabi was born and raised in Sudan. At 19 he attended The Sudan University, studied painting and political science and received his bachelors in political science. That was also around the time that he joined the Democratic Front because he said he felt it was the right thing to do.

Fadlabi explained that ultimately, he had to flee Sudan. “At some point it just because too much and I to leave the country. Because I’d been arrested so many times. And you know, arrested means like kidnapped in a way for like a week or even tortured… but that’s very common. It’s not like that’s just a story, that’s my story. It’s happening now to some people in Sudan.”

However badly Fadlabi wanted to leave Sudan, he found it very hard to get a visa anywhere in Europe and the West. An opportunity for Fadlabi to flee arose shortly after 9/11. “Europeans started doing these workshops to understand Muslim countries.”

He explained, “That was the ticket you know. I applied to a workshop in Germany, and it was called The Language of Colors; where they brought German young guys to meet some Muslim young guys. I wasn’t even Muslim then, but I lied anyway. That was my ticket out of that country.” A few years later rules and regulations had changed in Germany, and Fadlabi knew that if he applied for asylum in Germany he would be sent back to Sudan. He was 26 then, and he made plans to head to Norway to seek asylum.

In Oslo, Fadlabi earned his Masters at The National Academy of the Arts. In his second year at the academy, Fadlabi founded a weekly Monday night gallery exhibition called ‘One Night Only.’ This was a platform that blossomed for artists over the seven years that it existed. No artist, no matter how recognized would have said no to ‘One Night Only’; and at times artists put in their application to have their work shown an entire year in advance.

After growing little by little over the seven years the show ran, the artist-run project was dissolved as it had seemed to plateau. Because of One Night Only’smeticulous documentation, Fadlabi is now in possession of possibly the largest database of young Norwegian artists. He plans to put out a book either this year or next year outlining One Night Only’s exhibitions and detailing the artists that created them.

Fadlabi considers himself to be a visual artist. Although he works primarily as a painter, Fadlabi stated, “I work mostly with projects. I find some subject that I want to research and then I find the right way to talk about it through art.” “When you research the subject, it will basically tell you which medium to use.”

In one of these projects in 2014, Fadlabi and another artist, Lars Cuzner, completed a replica of a human zoo that existed in Norway one hundred years earlier. European Attraction Limited was named for the entertainment company that produced the original exhibition, and cost around 1.7 Norwegian Crowns (over $200,000 USD) to recreate. When asked to describe the exhibition in an interview with The BBC World Service, Lars Cuzner said, “We’re gonna try to recreate something that is very poorly documented; something that has been lost from the collective consciousness here, and try to recreate something that is a monument of misrepresentation, that has had an effect on this society.” The project’s completion coincided with the 100th anniversary of Norway’s constitution, and was funded by Public Art Norway.

For his most recent work, The Sky’s the Limit, Fadlabi was sought out by the local municipality to conceptualize and paint a piece on that particular wall. He was only required to provide a sketch. The process of approval took about four months, but the execution of the brush-painted mural took only about a week.

He fits his work into a barbershop style, or a commercial sign style. “If you go to a barber shop in Lagos and Dakar, you’ll find a chart with heads drawn, and they’re all drawn wrong. Everything is wrong about the head. But you’ll pick the haircut and the barber will give you the haircut and you’ll both agree that yeah, that was it,” Fadlabi said. The style uses distortions to be accurate and descriptive. Fadlabi also added that, “It’s also more free, it’s more jazz.”

Much like the motivation for Fadlabi’s latest mural, he sought artistic influences that he could also identify with. “You know everything is so Eurocentric; art history in Nigeria or Sudan, it’s European art history. So I was trying to find find a parallel one. The oldest recorded one that I could see was the Ethiopian church paintings. But those, they’re not really about capturing the similarity of the image, they’re more about capturing the essence of the image.”

He found parallels in art around the world; earmarked with similarity in pallet and distortions from people who had been displaced because of slavery in places like The United States, The Caribbean, and South America. “They all paint in a very, very similar way; as if they really learn it from somewhere.” After five years of research Fadlabi found work to which he could relate. “That was the whole point, trying to figure out a parallel painting history and not the Eurocentric one.

In the last five years Fadlabi has had work shown in Olso at Kunsthall and The Museum of Contemporary Art among many others. In 2013, Fadlabi and Lars Cuzner held a conference at The Tate Modern in London to discuss ‘European Attraction Limited.’ He has just wrapped up shows in Cologne, Germany at Temporary Gallery and in Cairo, Egypt at The Nile Sunset Annex. Fadlabi has an upcoming performance piece in collaboration with the Munch Museum this October in Oslo, and a solo show this November at The QB Gallery in Oslo. He also has shows coming up this year in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and in Egypt.

IN FOR THE LONG HAUL

A need has developed in the LGBT community recently, both politically and personally. They are looking for solidarity, for a symbol of togetherness and progression in the face of adversity. The Oslo Fagottkor may be the answer, whether they like it or not.

Oslo Fagottkor can be simply explained as a gay men’s choir located in Oslo, Norway, but there is much more to the story. A 12-year history, a World Championship and even a Eurovision performance is only a fraction of this ensemble’s impact on their craft.

Ask around town and the responses one receives are glowing remarks about the choir. They seem to be a source of pride for many Norwegians.

“It is the most fun you’ll have at such an event,” one local fan said.

“Oh, they are so wonderful,” another fan added.

“Aren’t they fantastic,” said an admirer.

Thomas Strandberg, an original member of Oslo Fagottkor, smiles sheepishly at such compliments. He seemed surprised to hear such gracious reviews. Perhaps it’s easy to forget what an outlet Fagottkor has become for the 36 members.

It all started with a small group of friends, late night parties and a piano. They were eager singers whose only outlet growing up was the church choirs or the occasional school play.

“We had the church singing in our blood,” Strandberg explained, “And we needed to process that as grown-ups.”

As the men grew from religious choir kids into adult gay men, they began to distance themselves from the church. In 2004, when the Faggotkor formed, the relations with the Norwegian Church and the LGBT community were strained. Eventually, however, the church politics would catch up to current times and the religious recognition of gay marriage came in 2016.

“Politics are slow, but church politics are ridiculously slow,” Strandberg explained. “I’m just happy the church finally got around to it.”

Strandberg’s nonchalance at the longstanding religious struggle of the LGBT community doesn’t come lightly. The fact is, they’ve been doing church, wedding and funeral performances all along, even Strandberg’s own father’s funeral. The Faggotkor is simply looking forward to adding to their long resume.

“I hope we’ll sing at many gay weddings,” Strandberg said, “Hopefully some of ours.”

They are also looking to defend their Gay World Championship title in 2017. The World Outgames is a sporting and cultural competition hosted by various cities and put together by the gay community. In 2009, the games were held in Copenhagen, where Oslo Faggotkor earned their title of World Champions. The games were cancelled in 2013, but are being planned for Miami next year. Oslo Faggotkor will be there to seek global domination once again.

It’s no easy task, traveling the world and winning competitions. The group consists of a wide range of career-oriented men. There are two doctors, a former parliament member, PR consultants, hair stylists, bureaucrats, and a few teachers. These men all go through the same audition process to join Faggotkor. “You don’t have to prove you’re gay, but you have to prove you can sing,” Strandberg explained. “You have to prove you can carry a tune, carry a tune you haven’t rehearsed, and sing in harmony with the other guys.”

The process to join may be nerve-racking, but it typically isn’t for a short stay in the choir.

“Most people stay for a long time,” Thomas said, “I think most of the guys are in it for the long haul.”

Which may explain the deep camaraderie between the choir members.

“It’s fantastic, these are my best friends,” he said. “We meet each other 140 to 150 days of the year and we have such a great time.”

Oslo Faggotkor has a sense of humor, one that is obviously seen in their onstage performances, especially when the stuffed beaver makes an appearance during the “Circle of Life” number. They don’t take themselves seriously, but they do take the singing seriously. There are also responsibilities placed on Oslo Faggotkor as representatives of the gay community.

Recently, with the hate crime in Orlando, Strandberg explained the choir’s position.

“Now more than ever is the time for us and everybody else to go out in the street and show who we are. If two men kissing can cause such a reaction then we need to kiss more than we ever did,” Strandberg said.

The attack in the United States was taken very personally by Oslo Faggotkor. The choir rededicates the song sung at Strandberg’s father’s funeral to the Orlando victims.

“We are all extremely affected by it,” Strandberg said, “The most important emotion for us about Orlando is that we feel what we do is so much more important. We go on stage now with a completely new sense of motivation. They need to know in Florida that they have a bigger family. Those who died are part of our family.”

This sort of acceptance attitude isn’t a new development for the men. The pride is in the choir’s own name, Oslo Fagottkor. Roughly translated from Norwegian, fagott means “bassoon” in English. Fagottkor was chosen to show their sense of humor and to show pride in being “faggots.”

This unique blend of talent, empathy, humor and political progress is performed eloquently by Oslo Faggotkor. With 12 years, a World Championship and a loyal following under their belts already, Faggotkor is one to watch for the next couple of decades.

PRIDE COMES TO A CLOSE

 

By Amy Venn

The Oslo Pride Parade broke its own record Saturday with 104 organizations, an increase of 34 from the previous record. 30,000-plus individuals participated in the march, and another 30,000-plus lined the streets of downtown Oslo, according to the newspaper Dagbladat. The 2016 Oslo Pride Festival theme was solidarity, and organizers recognized the pain Americans have been feeling since Orlando across Norwegian media.

The 10-day festival celebrating the LGBT communities of the world ended on Sunday after hosting nearly 200 individual events. An evening ‘Rainbow Mass’ closed the ceremony on Sunday and was held at the Oslo Cathedral, which belongs to the Lutheran denomination Church of Norway.

The main attraction, the parade, included floats by all Norwegian political parties, the military, the police, labor and trade unions, advocacy organizations, religious organizations, and corporate sponsors. Three gay couples were married on a float sponsored by 7/11 and the Oslo Fagottkor entertained the crowd in their pink sailor costumes. Black armbands were worn in honor of the Orlando victims. It was a day full of love and acceptance as the parade marched two kilometers from the largely immigrant community of Gronland to the ad hoc Pride Park built in the shadows of the Royal Palace.

Important political topics were discussed by panels at Pride House, the Eldorado Book Store, in front of crowds eager for progress and change, both in and outside the LGBT community. Robert Biedron, the first openly gay elected politician from Eastern Europe, drew an energetic audience early on in the Pride festivities as he discussed his transition from gay activist to elected official.

Pride Park hosted free events from Tuesday through Sunday, including cook-outs, concerts like Swedish rapper Silvana Imam, and drag shows. The park was equipped with over 100 informational booths, shops, bars and food vendors. The park was completely built and torn down by volunteers.

​ROBERT BIEDRON ON POLITICAL ACTIVISM

Within the confines of the typically left-leaning liberal European governments lies a country in a bitter battle with the ultra-conservative right. Robert Biedron, a former parliament member and current mayor of Slupsk, entered the Polish political arena in 2011 as the first openly gay elected official in all of Eastern Europe. He’s been chipping away at the controversial face of domestic democracy ever since.

Poland is a country that’s testing the limits of modern democracy and putting citizens on the shaky ground of individual liberties versus religious and political tradition. In 2015, the country saw a complete political sweep of the Law and Justice party in Parliament. The party’s aim is to undo the policies that were passed by what they view as liberal, un-Christian and unpatriotic former politicians.

Biedron has stepped up as a symbol of hope, change and progress for many Polish citizens. In the face of the uphill battle in front of him, Biedron doesn’t let it get him down. “I’m an optimist,” Biedron said, “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t.” Biedron’s transition from gay activist to politician wasn’t necessarily a predictable one.

“If you had met me 20 years ago it would have been unimaginable for me to call myself a Polish politician because of the situation I was in,” Biedron said, “I am gay. I’m an atheist. In very conservative Poland, it usually means you have no chance to be in public life.”

Biedron was invited to open Oslo Pride 2016 with a panel discussion on political activism with other gay rights leaders. The next day, a discussion was hosted by Jeff Lugowe at Pride House, where Biedron was able to discuss his individual story and take questions from the audience. There was no shortage of an eager audience, with attendance skyrocketing for such an event on a Saturday afternoon. It was further proof that Biedron’s impact has gone far beyond the borders of Poland. He has become a political leader for gay rights and progress across Europe.

It’s a position that Biedron doesn’t take lightly. After he established Poland’s Campaign Against Homophobia in 2001, the first LGBTI organization dealing with social injustices in Poland, his life as an activist began. For the next decade, Biedron would spend his time promoting acceptance. Soon, however, his path would take a turn. “I found out that being a gay activist was not enough,” Biedron said, “I needed to do more.”

Biedron’s political campaign did not focus on his sexuality, but instead on him being a visible and accessible human being. His approach was simple, “People see me. People can touch me. People can spit on me. People can hate me. People can do something with me as a person because before they didn’t have any occasion to meet a gay person,” Biedron stated, “I think this was the recipe for winning the elections. I spent a lot of hours on the streets talking to people. I knew this was the only chance I had to persuade people.”

Biedron’s struggles didn’t end with his historic election to Parliament. “When I entered Parliament the reaction was terrible. I remember my first speech in front of the whole Parliament and government. I was defending my colleague by saying, ‘Your arguments are below the belt.’ And they started to laugh and I didn’t understand why. So I repeated it and they laughed again. Then the media asked them why they laughed. Many of the members of the parliament said, ‘We’re laughing because he’s gay and gay people can speak only about sex.’”

These stereotypes weren’t easy to overcome. “Being a member of parliament in Poland, the first two years it was a disaster. I was beaten up several times,” Biedron said, “In the modern history of Poland there’s not even one incident of beating up a member of parliament, except me. People were calling me names, but I knew if I wanted to change something I needed to survive that.”

Biedron saw his same battles reflected in his female associates in the misogynist society. “Many of my female colleagues were struggling with the same story,” Biedron said, “They were focusing on how they look and how they dress but not what they were talking about.”

Biedron then made an unusual decision. Before completing his first term in parliament, he made a run for the position of mayor in the modest town of Slupsk, the 40th largest city in Poland.

Biedron explained the transition easily. “Being a mayor is practical,” he said, “Being a member of the parliament is more ideological.” Biedron feels like being a mayor gives him more of an ability to influence policy. “You have direct influence on issues,” Biedron said, “You can shape the city; you can talk to people directly.”

​INTEGRATION ESSENTIAL: NORWEGIAN LANGUAGE SCHOOL ALFASKOLEN

BY LOGAN HARLE

Alfaskolen is a private language school in the city of Oslo that is entering its tenth year this coming September. The school teaches a range of students from 18 to over 40 years of age and offers language classes as well as social studies courses.

A professor at Alfaskolen, Lene Ness, said they have students that attend Alfaskolen for different reasons.

“About 90% just come here to learn enough Norwegian to get a job or a raise and then there is 10% who come to learn Norwegian to get citizenship here,” Ness said. “To get citizenship in Norway you have to pass 550 hours of Norwegian lessons and 50 hours of social studies.”

One of Ness’s students, Iveta Parole-Manzano from Latvia, took a year off of work to complete the extensive amount of hours to obtain citizenship in Norway.

“It has been a rollercoaster because at first it was very frustrating and very quick,” Parole-Manzano said. “You usually have three or four years to think about and learn a language, but here it will take me only about a year.”

Not only is the language and history of Norway taught at Alfaskolen, but according to Parole-Manzano, she has also learned the Norwegian mentality, which she finds important in order to be a citizen.

“I feel this school is better for people who come here completely new to the country and want to live here for a long time,” Parole-Manzano said. “We are learning words and how to talk, but at the same time we’re learning about what Norwegians do and what is typical for a Norwegian and that’s pretty cool.”

Many immigrants that are required to take the 600 hours are in Norway on a work visa, but many immigrants are living in Norway through the European Union.

“A lot of immigrants that are here through the European Union are not required or encouraged to apply for citizenship,” Ness said. “They can move wherever they want within the European Union and as long as they get a job and support themselves they can stay there.”

Ness said that the majority of people that come to Norway, but never quite make the effort to learn the language are typically Americans. Not only is it because most Norwegians speak English but Americans and also Australians are not required to take the 600 hours.

“We have certain agreements that have allowed Americans and Australians to only have to take tests to become a citizen,” Ness said. “You just have to take enough hours to pass the tests at a base level. If you can show you passed the test, then you can stay in Norway.”

Since 2014, Alfaskolen has lost many students who attended the school outside of the European Union in countries such as Pakistan, Nepal and India, due to the laws and regulations becoming more strict to gain citizenship or a visa.

Office manager, Fredrik Graff said this is because of the war in Syria, which resulted in many illegal immigrants crossing the border into Norway.

Despite the loss of students from outside the EU, Graff said they have a lot more students attending from Eastern Europe and some Spanish-speaking countries. Alfaskolen will be opening another school in Holland this summer, growing the school internationally.

“We are hoping to have some exchange students attend Alfaskolen in Holland from our school here,” Graff said.

Other languages can be taught upon request at Alfaskolen, according to Graff.

“We have teachers from all over the world so they can do lessons in other languages if needed,” Graff said.

Ness said that not only are her students learning from her about the culture of Norway, but that she is learning a lot from them as well.

“I see Norwegian culture quite differently than everybody else does,” Ness said. Since working here I get all these inputs of Norwegian culture that I never really thought about before.”

Graff agrees with Ness about the learning environment within the school.

“We are always trying to learn, as well as the students,” Graff said.