By Claire Walla
On July 22, when the Scandinavian nation of Norway suffered two brutal attacks which killed a total of 77 people, the world reeled. Headlines around the globe broadcast reactions from communities shaken by the grisly events and political leaders expressed their deepest sympathies for the country.
Here in Sag Harbor, Anton and Christine Hagen — who lived in Norway for four years in the late 70s and even gave birth to a son there — hung a Norwegian flag on the gate outside their home.
On Thursday, July 28, that flag was burned.
“I have no idea who did it,” Anton said on the afternoon the charred flag was first discovered. “But I think what it could point to is an individual who doesn’t understand that that’s a Norwegian flag and just sees another flag and has hostility toward anything foreign.”
According to an incident report at the Sag Harbor Village Police Department, the Hagens also received a suspicious phone call on Friday, July 29 from a caller who said she was looking for a man named Eric, whom she said had called her from the Hagens’ home phone. Neither Anton nor Christine knew who the caller was, and when Anton asked her identity, the woman allegedly replied: “I’m am not in f***ing Norway, f*** you,” and hung up. She has not been identified.)
As for the flag, Anton continued, “Anyone who would be aware of what happened in Norway would understand it, of course, and couldn’t possibly object to it.”
The killings in Norway were pre-meditated acts committed by an extreme Christian right activist named Anders Behring Breivik, a native Norwegian. On the morning of July 22, he set-off a car bomb outside the Norwegian parliament building in Oslo, which killed seven people, before dressing as a police officer and traveling to an island just outside the Norwegian capital where he proceeded to kill 70 people with an automatic weapon. In a 1,500-page manifesto he published on the Internet shortly before the killings, he ranted against the left-wing Labor Party, which he felt was too sympathetic toward Muslims.
The Hagens’ flag — which was left hanging for several days before being replaced — appeared to have been burned from the bottom right-hand corner. The flames ate away at the right side of the red, white and blue rectangle, burning long oval holes into the material before fading away. The fence itself, which was made of wood, was undamaged.
According to the Hagens, Pierce Hance — former Sag Harbor Village Mayor — was the last person to have seen the flag on Wednesday night, and the first person to have seen the charred version of it the next morning.
“I was on the other side of the street when I saw it,” he said. “And I thought, ‘For God’s sake, why did somebody do that?’”
Hance was out walking his dog around 9 p.m. when he last saw the flag intact. He said the flag had been there several days at that point.
“The next morning at 7 a.m. I was again walking the dog and it had been burned,” he confirmed. When he told Christine about the incident, he said he encouraged her to leave the flag where it was. “Let people see it, for what it’s worth,” he said.
The Hagens, who rarely fly flags at all, said they put the Norwegian flag up out of solidarity for the Scandinavian country, where they still have some family members. Since the flag was desecrated, several community members have expressed disbelief and shock.
A caller to the Sag Harbor Express last week said he was “horrified” to see that the flag had been burned. “It’s just terrible,” he said. “I was really upset by it.” And Maryanne Calendrille, who works a few feet away at Canio’s Books, said the sight was “unnerving.”
“You think [Sag Harbor] is this sweet, sleepy resort town, and then you realize there are these other things going on,” she said of the incident.
While the motivation for such an act is unclear, the Hagens tend to think it was committed by someone in thecommunity with a particular aversion to anything appearing to be foreign, rather than any political comment on the incidents in Norway. This is mostly because, they say, unfortunately they’ve been privy to such events in the past.
“Over the years, we’ve been subjected to foreign vandalism,” Anton said, which he and his wife link to the prominence of their German heritage. Both he and Christine speak fluent German, as do their kids, and Christine was raised in Germany. (Anton was actually born in France, where he lived for 12 years before moving to Bridgehampton.)
Not only has their home been vandalized, but Christine said it was once shot at by someone with a BB gun in the middle of the night — a pellet even hit Christine in the head. “The last straw,” according to Christine, was about five years ago when local kids poured acid into the fuel tank of their son’s car.
“We make no apologies for being German, at all,” Anton said. “In fact, there’s a great deal of anti-militarism in Germany… They’re really careful with flag-waving, which is why I’m also still very careful about flag-waving,” he said with a slight smirk, recognizing the irony of the situation. “And then… there goes our Norwegian flag.”
But the Hagens don’t believe this event is anything that targeted them personally.
“I just think it’s some ignorant person…” Christine began.
“Who doesn’t know the difference between a Norwegian flag or an Earth flag,” Anton continued.
The Hagens have since replaced the totem with a new Norwegian flag. It is hanging, like the last, over the gate that leads to their front door.
Like the Hagens, Hance said he felt the flag was burned on purpose, but without any tie to the recent killings in Norway.
“It was obviously deliberate,” Hance said. “You don’t accidentally set a flag on fire on somebody’s gate.” But Hance said he could not reasonably speculate on why a person would do such a thing. “There’s no motivation that’s acceptable,” he continued. “You can speculate from a very, very foolish, ignorant prank to some editorial comment.”
Hance said he’s inclined to believe the act was random — not a statement of protest.
“If it were someone who recognized the flag and was cognizant of current events, you’d have to assume that person was burning it in support of the person who committed the murders in Norway…” His voice trailed off. “And you don’t want to go there.”