- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 27, 2002

OSLO On a chilly January night a year ago, 15-year-old Benjamin Hermansen left his mother's apartment to go swap cell-phone covers with his best friend.
If Benjamin had been white, he would have made it home that night. Instead, the Oslo-born son of a West African father and Norwegian mother was stabbed to death.
Two young Norwegian men, linked to the neo-Nazi group calling itself Boot Boys, were sentenced to 15 and 16 years in prison this month for what appears to have been a random slaying that the court said was clearly motivated by racial hatred. A woman with them was sentenced to three years as an accessory.
The murder last Jan. 26 shocked this oil-rich Scandinavian nation of 4.5 million people, home of the Nobel Peace Prize, proud of its record of tolerance and progressiveness, especially in social issues such as sexual equality and homosexual rights.
Tens of thousands of people marched against racism and violence after the killing. Smaller demonstrations were held in neighboring Denmark and Sweden to show solidarity.
But a year later, advocates for racial equality say not much has changed in Norwegians' unease toward the blacks and foreigners in their midst since the murder of Benjamin, an outgoing boy nicknamed Baloo by his friends.
"It was a big wake-up call when it happened," said Grete Brochmann of the Norwegian Institute for Social Research. "Then it quieted down. Attention came back a little with the trial, but very little."
Benjamin had spoken out against racism on Norwegian television months before his death, relating how he had been attacked by young extremists at a soccer tournament in Denmark. He also had done a school project on neo-Nazism.
Although many Norwegians concede that racism or at least suspicion of foreigners simmers under the surface of their orderly welfare state, the nation had largely been spared such overt racial violence.
Benjamin's murder was called by then-Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg "a turning point for us."
A government panel quickly recommended legal revisions, including a ban on the public display of racist and Nazi symbols. But the proposals are still under review.
Police are studying racism in their ranks and examining their own awareness of racial motives in crimes.
"There has been a lot of working on plans, but working on plans has never changed the world. We need to keep up the attention and the pressure," said Torgeir Myhre, a lawyer in the national prosecutor's office.
Norway has few neo-Nazis anti-racist groups say about 200, far less than in neighboring Sweden and Denmark. The problem, many say, is low-key, everyday racism in finding a job or a home, or even getting into a nightclub.
Living in quiet isolation on Europe's northern rim, almost every Norwegian used to be white and Lutheran, often with roots in a specific valley or village going back generations.
Even now, the 140,000 residents of non-European origin make up just 3 percent of Norway's population, but that's a staggering increase on the 3,549 who lived here in 1970, according to government figures.
Many now live in places such as Holmlia, the drab Oslo neighborhood where Benjamin lived and died.
Iranian immigrant Walid Kubaisi, who marched against racism after Benjamin's slaying, was moved to write a book "Racism explained for children: A book for children of all ages and all skin colors" that is now used in some schools.
"There is the racism where people shout and point at you. I haven't seen that here. Norwegians are nice and polite," Mr. Kubaisi said. "But when I want to rent a place to live, I realize they don't want me as their neighbor."

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