Plans abound to ‘take back’ Utøya

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Survivors of last month’s massacre on the island of Utøya, along with a wide array of supporters, are determined to “take back” the island and “make it even better” than it was before a lone gunman killed 69 people there on July 22, 55 of whom were teenagers. Millions are flowing into a fund to refurbish worn-down but still-loved facilities.

Labour activists and supporters are determined to "take back" Utøya and rebuild it as a new center for democratic thinking. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

The motivation, say those behind the effort after memorials were held on the island over the weekend, is to rebuild Utøya and re-enforce its role as a place for political activism and recreation. Survivors of the massacre don’t want it to become a place ruined by the massacre but rather a center for the promotion of democratic principles.

The island in the Tyrifjord between Oslo and Hønefoss has long served as the site of the Norwegian Labour Party’s summer camp for its youth organization AUF (Arbeidernes ungdomsfylking). AUF has owned the island since it was given to the group as a gift from the Oslo Trade Union Confederation in 1950, and it served for years as an idyllic place for aspiring young left-leaning politicians to swap ideas and debate the issues of the day.

On July 22 the idyll was shattered when a right-wing Norwegian man dressed in what looked like a police uniform arrived on the island and started shooting, after he’d already bombed government headquarters in Oslo. All told, he killed 77 persons in the worst attacks on Norway since World War II.

Sympathy and support for AUF has been strong, as illustrated by this impromptu memorial set up on the grounds of the Royal Palace in Oslo, spelling out the organization's name in candles and flowers. PHOTO: Views and News

Now the so-called AUFers, met with a wave of sympathy and support, say they won’t let the gunman succeed in destroying their spirit and Utøya’s existence because he opposed their political ideas. Many who attended the weekend ceremonies on the island say it was initially difficult to return to the scene of the massacre, but as former AUF leader Martin Henriksen told newspaper Aftenposten, “Utøya shall again be a place where good memories are created. It was great to see the willingness people have to take the island back.”

Some of Norway’s most high-profile investors and businessmen, including hotel owner and operator Petter Stordalen and real estate developer Christian Ringnes, have made large donations (NOK 5 million, nearly USD 1 million, from Stordalen) while money has also come in from children, newlyweds and local communities. “One couple sent in a large portion of their wedding gifts amounting to NOK 5,000, while a waffle sale generated NOK 1,026,” Henriksen said. Many attending funerals for the victims killed on Utøya also have donated money for the island’s rehabiitation.

On Monday, the trade union federation LO told newspaper Klassekampen that it will donate NOK 10 million to the rebuilding effort. “We’ve never given a donation like this before, but this is an extraordinary situation,” LO leader Roar Flåthen told Klassekampen. “Many of our members were on Utøya during the massacre and we’ve been grieving with AUF and the rest of the country these past few weeks.”

Plans call for improvements to the island’s lone boat dock, along with creation of a monument there to the victims. The island’s main house, called Hovedhuset, will likely be refurbished along with a barn and several small buildings and the so-called Skolehuset (school house). No one was killed inside the main house, best known for its sign reading UTØYA in capital letters. Flåthen spoke of building up Utøya as a center for building democracy.

The island’s Kafébygget, however, may be torn down, either partially or completely. It was the largest building on the island, and where many of the summer camp’s seminars and speeches were held, including the last speech by former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland just hours before the massacre took place. Many of those shot died inside.

Henriksen said AUF appreciates all the support and hopes it will extend to other worthy causes as well. “We hope the heartfelt support that Norwegians are now showing will continue, to the benefit of other goals as well, like easing the famine on Africa’s Horn,” he said.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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