Norway’s New ‘WEXFO Youth’ Comes of Age

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

This year’s second outing for Lillehammer’s World Expression Forum opens an extensive and dedicated new program for young people.

On the Tyrifjorden lake in Hole municipality, in the county of Viken, Norway — the site of the island Utøya. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Dennis Wegewijs

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

WEXFO Registration Moving Quickly
As Publishing Perspectives readers will remember, Kristenn Einarsson‘s inaugural World Expression Forum (WEXFO) was held last year in Lillehammer, an ambitious and welcome new program on the world-affairs scene.

Now drawing robust registrations for its second edition—which is set for May 22 and 23—the program is also moving into a speedy expansion phase with a major new three-phase offering for young citizens.

WEXFO Youth, crafted in response to an extensive pre-project study, is drawing on the remarkable and statistically reliable generational characteristics surveyed in many markets of the world, in which younger citizens appear to be both less impeded by previous generations’ legacy divisions and more personally engaged in public service and social consciousness.

First, here is information for those who want to attend the regular core conference this year: ticketing information can be found on this page. Organizers tell Publishing Perspectives that more countries are represented among delegates registered so far this year, and that more than 300 attendees were in place before the start of May.

You’ll note that there are several options, including a conference pass with an excursion to Utøya, an island in the Tyrifjorden lake; a conference pass with an additional pass to the Norwegian Literature Festival; and a conference pass with both the festival and Utøya excursion. Be sure to note that accommodations are handled separately, and when you register for WEXFO, a link will be sent for your use in booking accommodations.

‘A Catalyst for Change’

We’ll  have more about the core programming in coming days, but today we look at the extraordinary new youth emphasis arriving this month as a three-part development that arose from the results of a highly influential WEXFO report: Youths’ Participation in Society.

This has been, in fact, the first such research-based undertaking of the WEXFO framework, and it comes from the overarching goal of WEXFO to “unite defenders of freedom of expression in a strong and active global community.”

In the case of the youth program, WEXFO sees its own role, “as a catalyst for change, to give new generations the power, the freedom, and the safety to express themselves.”

And there are three parts to what now is being activated as the inaugural iteration of WEXFO Youth.

First, a WEXFO Youth: Young Experts Seminar on Freedom of Expression at Utøya is set for the weekend prior to WEXFO. In this case, 60 participants aged 18 to 35 will discuss freedom of expression before joining the core WEXFO delegates group, first on Utøya and then in Lillehammer.

Then, some 500 participants aged 14 to 18 will meet on March 23 for WEXFO Youth Lillehammer following the core WEXFO program, and with delegates to the core joining the youth group. In this phase, the program will be set at the Scandic Lillehammer, the main conference hotel, taking over from the core program there, and with the participation of the Norwegian minister of culture and education, Anette Trettebergstuen.

And in the third phase, the WEXFO Youth Network Conference, proper, will be held in Lillehammer on May 24, open to stakeholders in the effort “to improve youths’ participation in society.” This program is designed to announce initiatives brought together under the new WEXFO Youth banner and will consist both of presentations onstage and in working groups.

‘Safe Conversation, Art and Culture, Action’

Kristenn Einarsson, founding chief of WEXFO onstage in the closing moments of the inaugural 2022 program at Lillehammer. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

As Einarsson has stressed—he is also chair of the Freedom to Publish committee with the International Publishers Association (IPA)—throughout this layered programming, elements of the pre-project report will be factored in and considered.

“With all the backing we are getting for the WEXFO Youth program, we very much look forward to be able to expand on the global work to ensure the youth’s participation in the development of society.”Kristenn Einarsson, WEXFO

He says he’s grateful for the kind of support this large, complex program is finding among key sponsors. “With all the backing we are getting for the WEXFO Youth program,” he says, “we very much look forward to be able to expand on the global work to ensure the youth’s participation in the development of society.”

For example, the report’s outcome includes no fewer than 10 points that frequently are found to inhibit young people’s participation in public events and discussion.

It lists those points as:

  • Too high a threshold for self-expression
  • Lack of skills
  • Predictable patterns and structural challenges
  • Harassment and hate speech deter young people from debating
  • What is posted online remains there “forever”
  • Too little scope for healthy debate
  • Concerns about statements being taken out of context
  • Lack of access to art and culture
  • Being portrayed as representative of a group
  • Negative cultures within organizations

Once tasked with sorting out which specific issues should be highlighted in the opening year’s development of WEXFO Youth, the chosen focus points have become:

  • Safe conversation in the classroom: as a cornerstone for daring to express oneself in other arenas as well
  • Art and culture as a form of expression: introducing alternative forms of expression to students for them to try and in which they’ll find inspiration
  • Action: What will a school do to strengthen students’ freedom of expression?
‘Important Collaboration and Valuable Insights’

Sparebankstiftelsen DNB CEO André Støylen. Image: Sparebankstiftelsen, Marit Fagnastøl

Much of this has been made possible by the special and substantive provision of some 8 million Norwegian kronor (€710.000) provided by Sparebankstiftelsen DBN, the Savings Bank Foundation DNB, a highly regarded program the name of which has been associated with WEXFO and its bid to welcome an intergenerational stance.

“We have supported WEXFO Youth from the start,” says Sparebankstiftelsen CEO André Støylen, “and we recognize their success with involving young people.

“WEXFO provides a platform for people working with youth freedom of expression, with important collaboration and valuable insights as a result.

“They started nationally, and as they expand globally, we believe the network will gain broader knowledge and inspiration on shared issues concerning youth and freedom of expression.”

Sparebankstiftelsen’s own character has long been clear, its art collection’s 426 significant pieces are seen in museums throughout Norway, and its collection of remarkable musical instruments is entirely on loan to musicians, from a 1770 Storioni violin to a 1690 Rugeri cello.

Additional funding is being provided by Erasmus+ and UNESCO, at the time of this publication.

And the opening retreat at Utøya, of course, has important resonance and significance in the framework because the island is where a youth camp on July 22, 2011, became the scene of Anders Behring Breivik’s unspeakable domestic terrorist attack , which left 67 people dead and 32 wounded. That assault followed Breivik’s car-bomb attack a couple of hours earlier at Oslo’s Regjeringskvartalet.

The assailant, convicted in both incidents, is now serving a 21-year prison sentence, the maximum civilian criminal penalty in Norway, which possibilities for extensions as long as he’s deemed a danger to society.

In alignment with the WEXFO ideal of intelligent debate and inquiry, Utøya today serves as a venue of democracy both for Norwegian and international visitors, and thus is neatly positioned both to house part of the new WEXFO Youth program and to emblemize the perpetual threat, especially in so politicized an era as this, to the kind of egalitarianism and rejection of bigotry that the youth program embraces.

More from Publishing Perspectives on this year’s core WEXFO program is forthcoming.


More on WEXFO is here. More on the freedom to publish and freedom of expression is here, more on the International Publishers Association is here, more from us on Kristenn Einarsson and his work in the freedom of expression is here, more on the Prix Voltaire is here, and more on the Norwegian publishing market is here

Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s global media partner.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.