30 April 2016

Jahn Otto Johansen:

Self-righteous Norway

The Norwegian original of this article was published on Verdidebatt as "Det selvgode Norge" on 25 April 2016.
Jahn Otto Johansen is a Norwegian journalist, editor, foreign correspondent and writer.
The translation is published here by the author's generous consent.
Translation: Marianne Haslev Skånland

Norwegian politicians and bureaucrats have an exaggerated self-image. Criticism from outside is usually rejected, because nobody should tell "a Norwegian national from Norway" that he could possibly do anything wrong. Anybody caught having done something really reprehensible will immediately respond, "I am completely devastated". And that was the end of the matter.

We see this way of reacting in relation to the case in which our child protection service Barnevernet has taken the children away from a Romanian family because they have apparently spanked them. We have seen demonstrations around the world and they are sure to continue, to the great irritation of Norwegian diplomatic service and bureaucracy. Now we have also got the Council of Europe against us.

One matter is the fact that some of the accusations against Norway are exaggerated, not to say clearly wrong. It is quite a different matter, however, that even though there are sure to be well-intentioned and good people in Barnevernet, there is widespread authoritarianism. It has not only affected foreign families with children but Norwegian families as well.

Our legislation is clear in forbidding physical punishment of children. The coming of this law was a good thing. I was spanked on my bare bottom as a child, sometimes on mere suspicion and not on account of evil deeds. It was humiliating, something I did not wish my children and grandchildren to experience.

We also know that families exist with a violent father or mother who harms the children in a way which is potentially life-threatening or will at least leave permanent damage. In such cases the child protection unit and if necessary the prosecuting authority must certainly intervene. I know cases where this was not done, with fatal results for the children.

But in my opinion, matters should be very serious before Barnevernet takes the children away from their parents. If foreign parents are concerned, parents who are not familiar with Norwegian law, they should be informed about it. It is fully possible to enter into a dialogue and give advice without taking the children. Among Pentecostalists, Smiths Venner and the Rom people (gypsies), there has been a tradition of punishing misbehaving children physically. Our society cannot accept this. But taking the children from their parents and siblings is a reaction that can be more harmful than spanking on the bottom.

We know that children taken from their parents and placed in children's homes or foster families have been abused. We also know that serious abuse has taken place in kindergartens and that it still occurs. Nor is abuse rare in youth organisations and sports clubs for minors. I know of many such cases; I also know that religious leaders and local authorities have tried to cover it up. I can document a long, frightening list of abuse, not least in Christian communities and organisations.

Our problem with Barnevernet and other Norwegian authorities is that they are so intensely convinced that whatever they do is always right. You shouldn't come here and criticise .... We Norwegians get our back up especially if foreigners are the ones to criticise us.

Certainly our authorities should speak up and document it if our child protection service is subject to unjust accusations. But what often happens is that we immediately jam.

The result is that demonstrations will then continue around the world, demonstrations of the type we now have and which may be getting even worse.