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Mourning monarch topped memorial

The skies cried yet again over Oslo, and King Harald choked up as well, when 6,700 survivors of last month’s terrorist attacks in Norway gathered for a National Memorial Ceremony to honor victims and their loved ones. Millions more followed the ceremony from home, since it was broadcast live on all major radio and TV channels.

King Harald's opening speech at Sunday's National Memorial Ceremony, carried live by Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), drew sustained applause and won widespread praise. PHOTO: NRK/Views and News

The rain started pouring on Oslo just before the ceremony began in the large local arena called Oslo Spektrum, and it seemed to reflect the mood of a city and state still in sorrow. Flags few at half-mast all over the country on Sunday as the two-hour ceremony climaxed a National Memorial Day and formally concluded Norway’s official mourning period.

It was clear, though, that the grieving will continue for a long time and a long string of participants starting with King Harald and ending with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg urged their listeners to continue to meet those hit hardest by the terrorist’s acts with compassion.

Norway’s 74-year-old monarch stressed that those who have lost loved ones “will face especially tough times when the national grief gradually begins to lift, when the strong solidarity we have felt … isn’t as marked anymore.

“Then we will need people who see those in grief and those who are having trouble dealing with their lives, people who can be there when the attention starts to fade, when everyday life is supposed to be lived.”

Among the dignitaries attending Sunday's National Memorial Ceremony were the prime ministers and presidents of all the Nordic countries and Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden and Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark (bottom row, at left). Queen Sonja and King Harald are at the far right. PHOTO: NRK/Views and News

King Harald’s own voice cracked, and he seemed about to break into tears himself, when he told the survivors and mourners that “as a father, grandfather and spouse, I can only imagine some of your pain. As the country’s king, I feel with every single one of you.”

After experiences as traumatic as the bombing of Norway’s government headquarters and the massacre at a Labour Party summer camp, King Harald said it will take a long time for those affected to build themselves up again. “During this time, it’s important to remember that sorrow has many expressions, and there must be room for all of them,” he said, including anxiety, guilt, fury and emptiness.

King Harald also said he felt “a strong need” to thank everyone at the government complex and at the summer camp on the island of Utøya “who has decided that what they have experienced won’t break them.” The monarch also thanked “all the helpers” including police and emergency workers, and “the prime minister, the government and ministries,” as well as all political parties for showing solidarity. “It has been clear to me that everyone has done what they could to offer support and help,” he said.

The monarch, who led off his remarks by saying that nearly all words used to describe the results of the attacks had “been used up,” said he wanted to repeat what he said the day after the tragedies: “I have faith that freedom is stronger than fear. I have faith in an open Norwegian democracy and society. And I have faith in our opportunities to live freely and securely in our own country.”

He said the tragedy proved a reminder of “the fundamentals that tie us all together in our multi-cultural society. Let us take care of that, and of each other.”

Positive response
King Harald’s unusually personal and heartfelt remarks drew lengthy applause from the thousands gathered inside Oslo Spektrum and good reviews from those following the broadcast. Some said they had never seen King Harald speak so well and appear so “kingly.” Comments flew on social media sites like Twitter, the vast majority highly positive.

Sunday afternoon’s memorial ceremony attracted not only Norway’s entire government, royal family, members of parliament and other state and church officials but also the prime ministers and presidents of every Nordic country including Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland. Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden and Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark also attended.

In addition to musical interludes and readings, five of Norway’s leading actors and actresses read off the names of each of the 77 persons killed in the attacks. Many in attendance commented afterwards that the thousands listening inside Oslo Spektrum were remarkably silent throughout.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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