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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Poignant appeal from a targeted teen

NEWS ANALYSIS: As reaction poured in to news that confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik has been declared insane, come the published thoughts of one of his young targets. Her feelings, and utter lack of any need for revenge, offer insight into how Norway is reacting to Breivik’s attacks, and how his punishment will fit his crime in line with local standards.

Some politicians and lawyers for survivors of Breivik’s victims reacted angrily that Breivik likely won’t be punished with a prison term, because he’s been deemed insane both when he carried out his attacks and afterwards. Even the head of the Christian Democrats, better known for preaching compassion and forgiveness, was upset and admitted to “feeling a form of aggression tied to the conclusion that has come today.”

Others, including the head of a local survivors’ group, simply note that Breivik will still lose his freedom, probably for the rest of his life, and they don’t seek more revenge. Nor does Aina Helgheim, age 18, who was among Breivik’s potential targets when he unleashed his massacre on the island of Utøya on July 22. She lost her dear Diderik that afternoon and, four months later, felt compelled to share her thoughts last week on a youth debate page in newspaper Aftenposten. They show how one young Norwegian is coping with her loss, and trying to move on.

Helgheim is weary of all the criticism directed at police and public officials for failing to stop him, claims she’s not angry and wonders what’s become of the love and compassion called for back in July. Then came Tuesday’s news that court-appointed psychiatrists believe Breivik is psychotic, indicating he’ll avoid a lengthy prison term and instead be committed to psychiatric care.

Is that a fitting reaction to his bombing and massacre that left 77 persons dead? According to prosecutor Inga Bejer Engh, it reflects legal practice in place since the Middle Ages in Norway. It’s common practice in other countries as well. Breivik will also get a full trial on the charges against him, even though there’s no doubt he’s the perpetrator. He was caught in the act and has confessed to his crimes, with no sign of regret.

“I’m so sad, so enormously sad, but I can’t manage to get angry at anyone,” Helgheim wrote. “I understand those who are, that they need a place to direct their anger, someone to blame. I understand that it’s tempting to shout about how someone has to find those responsible when help didn’t come as quickly as it should have.

“I have met many grieving parents, I have many grieving friends, I’m grieving myself. I have met those who are angry, and it’s so sad to see. But I don’t believe in any way that this anger will be reduced if a policeman from Buskerud is (blamed) on the front page of (newspaper) VG. I have no faith that anything will be solved by destroying the lives of others. Everyone involved in the enormous chaos of July 22 has, most probably, enough feelings of guilt already.

“It’s almost become a cliché to say that no one other than the perpetrator is to blame for all the gruesome things that happened, but that’s so very true,” Helgheim continued.

Some may think Breivik will get off easy if he is, as expected, sentenced to what the Norwegians call “compulsory mental health care.” Life might be better in a psychiatric institute than in jail, but even if he were to be sentenced to jail, his life would be much better than in many other countries. Norway has often been accused of coddling rather than punishing its convicts, in relatively comfortable prisons where inmates have private cells, access to education and can pursue favorite hobbies.

Breivik’s defense attorney had also already said he’d seek what’s called “strafferebatt” for Breivik, literally a “discount” on any prison sentence handed down. It happens all the time. Newspaper Dagsavisen reported Tuesday how Norway’s Supreme Court reduced the four-year sentence of a man convicted of rape to just two-and-a-half years, because the man had turned himself in to police. In another case, a man who shot and killed his partner and her daughter had his sentence cut by a year, to 15 years, also because he had called police himself. The Supreme Court ruled that he had thus helped police and spared his victims’ relatives of uncertainty, and was thus rewarded.

In short, cooperation with the authorities is often rewarded by the courts in Norway. Although most believe Breivik would never be released whether sane or insane, his willing cooperation so far would likely have won him points in some way. He’s already being relieved of total isolation, for example, and will have access to media by mid-December.

Young Aina Helgheim, meanwhile, doesn’t want his deeds to result in a lot of heightened security measures in Norway. Nor does she  go along with criticism of the emergency response to his attacks:

“When everyone talks about how Norway was poorly prepared for such attacks, I don’t see much negative in that. Before that day when I was a potential shooting victim on Utøya, I always said I’d rather die happy than live in fear and I still mean that.

“No one, in their worst possible nightmare, could have foreseen what happened during our summer holidays, and I think that’s a good thing. A society that is always prepared for the worst also brings forth the worst in people.”

Helgheim doesn’t write what she thinks should happen to Breivik. But she does want to revive the signs for love and compassion that were so prevalent in the weeks immediately after the attacks, and reported around the world.

“Strengthen them, show compassion for all those who need enormous doses of it now. Even though four months have passed, and the time has arrived to discuss the massacre politically, there are still around 500 youth and their families who feel their days will never be the same.

“They need love. We need love.”

For Breivik, given what the psychiatrists called his “grandiose delusions” and inflated opinion of himself, being told he’s insane may be the worst punishment of all.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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