July 22 attacks left many scars

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New studies are showing how the attacks of July 22 last year have left many scars and changed various aspects of Norwegian society. More than 70 percent of those who survived the massacre on the island of Utøya now suffer from anxiety or depression, Norwegians have less faith in their police, and a vast majority now want even more public surveillance.

There will be more security around Norway's Parliament when the new session opens next month. The aftermath of last year's July 22 attacks is manifesting itself in many ways. PHOTO: Views and News

The rose parades and calls for more openness, tolerance and democracy that immediately followed the attacks have given way to new feelings of insecurity and even fear, according to Norway’s Institute for Social Research (Institutt for samfunnsforskning), a foundation conducting research independent of the state universities. While the ideals and solidarity of Norwegians shown in the wake of the attacks remain, the aftermath has also shown that Norwegians’ confidence in their society was severely shaken.

The institute reported that public confidence in the police, for example, has declined, from 82 to 69 percent from May to August 2012. The release on August 13 of a report by the government-appointed commission charged with examining the emergency response to the attacks highlighted even more problems with the police than expected.

Confidence in the police has been further shaken by a string of recent incidents unrelated to the July 22 Commission’s report. On Monday, for example, a woman with two children at home told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) how it took police in Oslo more than 40 minutes to respond to her call for help after finding an intruder in their bathroom. The police once again had to apologize and claim that they’d “examine their routines” to learn what went wrong.

Calls for more control
The institute’s study also shows that public confidence in the Parliament, state and local government and the bureaucracy administering their policies also has declined, but only back to the levels prior to the attacks. Norwegians were generally impressed with how the state government reacted to the attacks and confidence initially soared, only to fall back again now.

Research shows nonetheless that more Norwegians are now willing to give their authorities more power to monitor society, not least through surveillance of public places and, not least, the Internet. More control is deemed necessary to further protect Norwegians from future attacks. Institute researchers stressed that there was no “collapse” after last year’s attacks, and government and public agencies continued to work. Their findings, they believe, tell a story of Norway’s ability to handle a dramatic crisis, and actively seek to learn from it.

Survivors struggling
Meanwhile, survivors of the massacre on Utøya that left 69 persons dead and scores wounded are still suffering a year later. More than 70 percent of the young survivors, who’d been attending a Labour Party youth camp on the island, are plagued by bouts of depression and anxiety and can have trouble tackling daily life.

A new study by the Norwegian Knowledge Centre for the Health Services (Kunnskapssenteret) found that a vast majority of Utøya survivors were traumatized by the violence and murders they witnessed. Some have earlier admitted they even feel guilty that they survived when friends and acquaintances were killed.

“Daily life is different, you’re more quickly frightened by things, can have anxiety attacks or simply be depressed,” survivor Kristoffer Nyborg told NRK. “It can just be difficult to do things.”

The 26-year-old Nyborg admitted that the past year has been extremely tough, and he’s occasionally had to go on sick leave from his job as a communications worker for the Labour youth organization AUF that organized the summer camp on Utøya.

“Some days it feels like I just woke up on the wrong leg,” Nyborg told NRK. “The whole day can be full of things that are difficult, combined with nightmares and lack of sleep.”

He’s far from alone, while many survivors struggle at school and work, and more than 40 percent of the parents of survivors and victims also have suffered anxiety and depression. AUF leader Eskil Pedersen called the numbers “dramatic” but not surprising.

“The terror of July 22 is the most dramatic we have experienced here in Norway, and something people have to get through,” Pedersen told NRK, adding that public health services now have responsibility for helping those suffering to do just that.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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