General News of Tuesday, 6 February 2001
Source: Associated Press Writer
OSLO, Norway (AP) - A slain black teen-ager who has become a symbol of Scandinavia's battle against racism and neo-Nazism was buried Monday following a service led by Norway's head Lutheran bishop and attended by 800 people.
In what was seen as Norway's first racially motivated murder, 15-year-old Benjamin Hermansen was stabbed to death near his Oslo home late on Jan. 26. Six suspects linked to a neo-Nazi group have been arrested and charged in the murder.
``You died because you were different, but we are all the same,'' sang five of his friends who wrote ``Song to Benjamin'' for the service.
The murder touched a nerve in Scandinavia. Norway has a small, hard core of neo-Nazis, but has seen little extremist violence compared to neighboring Sweden and Denmark.
In the Danish capital of Copenhagen, about 1,000 people demonstrated against racism Tuesday, lighting 15 torches in front of a stage, one for each year of Hermansen's life. Anti-racism demonstrations also were held in Stockholm, the Swedish capital, and schools throughout Norway flew their flags at half-staff and paused for a minute of silence.
Last week, as many as 40,000 people, most with torches, marched in the cold night in Oslo to protest racism.
On Tuesday, hundreds of people, many standing in the corridors, packed the modern brick Holmlia Church for the service. It was led by Bishop Gunnar Staalseth, at the family's request, although they asked that the service be secular.
``The protests and cries against injustice have a deeper note - the belief that evil will not have the last word,'' Staalseth said.
Hermansen's mother was Norwegian and his late father was from Ghana. His friends talk of a smiling, friendly boy. Many Norwegians remember him speaking out against racism on television last year after he was attacked by neo-Nazis in Denmark.
``Your death was unbelievably gruesome, but even then your warmth and love shine through,'' his mother, Marit Hermansen, said about her only son.
Hermansen's casket was surrounded by wreaths, from his family, friends and even the prime minister. The Lutheran church was secluded in a small patch of forest, a remnant of what existed before the Holmlia neighborhood was built 20 years ago - a relatively new and multiethnic neighborhood.
``We are Christians and Muslims and people of other faiths and no faiths. We need each other,'' Staalseth said.
The murder caused an anguished debate in Norway on banning neo-Nazi groups, which experts warn could force them underground and even strengthen them. The six suspects, four young men and two 17-year-old girls, are all associated with Boot Boys, a neo-Nazi group.