It was meant to heal and unify Norwegians, not divide them. Instead, the construction of a memorial to the victims of a massacre on the island of Utøya will now be postponed at least a year, to allow for more time to try to settle neighbours’ objections to it. Government officials still want the memorial to be ready for unveiling on July 22, 2016, even though the dispute now seems destined to land in court.
That would be the fifth anniversary of a lone gunman’s attack on Utøya that left 69 people dead and hundreds more injured and deeply traumatized. Another eight people were killed in the gunman’s bombing of government headquarters in Oslo a few hours earlier.
There have been no protests lodged against the memorial planned in Oslo, and Swedish artist Jonas Dahlberg’s plans for Utøya were initially greeted warmly by the victims’ support group, state officials and the professional jury that selected it. Shortly after Dahlberg’s design for the memorial won an international competition, though, residents living across the water from Utøya began protesting. They later hired a high-profile lawyer, Harald Stabell, to represent them and their complaints about the planned memorial.
It would literally cut through the southern portion of the island to leave a symbolic scar on the landscape, with earth extracted from the island moved to Oslo to be part of Dahlberg’s memorial planned at the bombing site. The neighbours don’t like the design at all, claiming it would indeed scar the landscape and they’d see it across the water every day, forced to be constantly reminded of the tragedy that changed their lives forever, too.
Jan Tore Sanner, the government minister in charge of municipal affairs, and his colleague Thorhild Widvey held another meeting with all affected parties Monday evening. It proved difficult if not impossible to satisfy everyone, leading to the postponement and threats of a lawsuit to halt its construction.
“We must remember that this issue has several different aspects and viewpoints,” Sanner told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Regardless of the outcome, somebody will be disappointed.”
On Monday the neighbours’ group certainly was, especially after Widvey declared that the choice of the memorial’s design and placement were set. “The Parliament has allocated funding for a memorial at Sørbråten (the southern portion of Utøya) in Hole Township,” Widvey said, dashing neighbours’ hopes that it might be moved.
‘Will keep fighting’
“We’ll never come to accept that alternative,” said Jørn Øverby, the neighbour who has involved himself the most in the issue. “We will keep fighting against it. If we’re not heard, we will consider taking the case to court. We are very disappointed over the process and the lack of consideration.”
Sanner is clearly disappointed, too, that the state’s effort to help people most affected by the tragedy has instead led to more ill feelings and may even wind up in court. That was never the state officials’ intention.
He told NRK he hopes the dispute will be settled out of court now that there will be more time for negotiation. Its construction will require rezoning approval from local politicians, however, and NRK reported that also lacks majority support.