I would also like to thank Rania Elias for being with us, from Palestine, reading the poem “Think of Others”, by the Palestinian poet and activist, Mahmoud Darwish.
Rania is the director of Yabous Cultural Centre and the Jerusalem Festival. She is one of several dear colleagues and friends in Palestine, who all throughout the region are deeply affected by the unspeakable events that have unfolded over the last weeks.
As a mother, as a fellow human being, and as a festival director, it is impossible not to be outraged and terribly saddened by the abuses against the civilian population and the massive loss of civilian life that is happening in the Gaza Strip right now.
In the early morning of October 7th, I was horrified by the attacks in Israel and the brutal massacre at the Nova music festival. But the scale of retaliation from the Israeli government is completely unacceptable. I am shocked by the ongoing brutality against civilians in Gaza, I am shocked by the carte blanche the Israeli army has to kill, bomb and destroy. It is dreadful that the world is almost paralyzed in confrontation with this brutality.
This violation of humanity must stop.
In the weeks leading up to the festival, we have tried to help friends and colleagues. Since the beginning of Oslo World, the Middle East has been central to the festival. We have invited countless artists and activists to Oslo from the region. We have traveled there, created strong and lasting bonds. In 2012, we helped to start the festival Beirut & Beyond International Music Festival, this year we celebrate 10 years together and it is an honor for me to have the Beirut team present in the hall tonight.
We are all frightened at the prospect of war on a larger scale in the region.
Oslo World joins organizations, colleagues and citizens around the world in calling for a ceasefire, more humanitarian help, and a final end to the occupation of Palestine. As many have pointed out, including several voices in Israel - there can be no lasting peace and safety without justice and freedom for the Palestinian people.
As the director of a festival ready to celebrate its thirtieth anniversary, I want to make the case for the role of music and art in all of this. That it can stir people to action, bring people together and create some much needed comfort and unity in times of crisis.
These are difficult points to make at the moment - both from a professional and a personal perspective. I think we have to face the possibility that it might be fruitless, that culture sometimes might only be a distraction from the horrors. But I nevertheless want to believe that art and culture has the ability to foster solidarity, and unite people.
Oslo World began 30 years ago, based on the belief that introducing people to culture from places from all over the world might open new perspectives. There is a naive optimism in this task, but also something true.
The thirty years we have existed, the world has suffered countless setbacks - war, suppression, rising inequality and a failure to deal with some of humanity’s greatest challenges. But people have also become more open. And the range of voices being heard, has become drastically more diverse.
Oslo World started off as an outsider among the many Norwegian festivals. Throughout the years, this has changed. The cultural diversity we try to represent and strengthen to the best of our ability, is no longer viewed as a curiosity - but as something near the core of contemporary musical culture.
New generations grow up, treating pop music from African countries, Spanish speaking cultures and Asia on equal terms with the English mainstream. This tendency is real, and it is growing.
Tonight, we are graced with the presence of some of the greatest Sami musicians and artists working in Norway today. Many of them are raising their voices, calling for justice for indigenous groups. This year, The Commission to Investigate the Norwegianisation Policy and Injustice against the Sámi and Kvens/Norwegian Finns published their report, laying bare the great injustices faced by many of our fellow citizens.
The struggle continues, as evidenced by the ongoing conflict surrounding the wind power plants at Fosen. Hopefully, the majority population will be able to listen, reflect and set things right. I think the work of musicians, authors, dancers, choreographers, visual artists from Sami and other indigenous backgrounds have played a substantial part in bridging the divides.
This night is a celebration of that work - but also a reminder of all the work that remains to be done. I hope this week, where Oslo’s best cultural venues are filled with artists, activists and audience members of every stripe and colour, and from all corners of the world, can work in a similar fashion: Not as a distraction, but as a way of gathering focus, strength and solidarity, together, in dark times.