New Year speeches aimed to heal

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Both Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and King Harald V once again tackled national tragedy, this time in their annual nationally televised speeches during the New Year’s weekend. It’s still hard to understand the terrorist attacks of July 22, Stoltenberg said, as the job of healing the heartbreak continues.

For the first time, Norway's prime minister delivered his televised New Year's address to the nation from his home office, since the Office of the Prime Minister was bombed last summer. During this portion of his speech, broadcast on NRK and TV2, Stoltenberg was noting how Norway will soon have a population of 5 million. PHOTO: NRK/Views and News

It was hardly unexpected that King Harald, who always addresses the nation on New Year’s Eve, and the prime minister, who speaks on New Year’s night, would both begin their remarks by reflecting on the attacks that killed 77 persons last summer. “It was so heartbreaking,” said Stoltenberg, who has been widely acclaimed for his leadership during the tragedy.

He noted how the tragedy will continue to plague Norwegians well into the New Year and beyond, not least when the confessed terrorist’s trial begins in April. “We will have to tackle a reunion with evil,” Stoltenberg said.

But both he and King Harald praised the Norwegian response to the tragedy, which involved massive, peaceful showings of solidarity and left cities and sites all over the country decorated with roses. “The Norwegian people wrote history last summer,” Stoltenberg said.

He extended “an extra warm greeting” to both King Harald and Queen Sonja for their personal response and showings of sympathy for victims and their families, claiming that “never has the royal family stood closer to the Norwegian people.” King Harald, in his remarks the evening before, had thanked the prime minister and other political leaders for their solidarity and guidance in a time of tragedy.

Stoltenberg also called upon Norwegians to stand up against extremist opinions, and take responsibility for challenging extremists. He urged contradiction of extreme points of view over the Internet, because it’s dangerous for such opinions to go unchallenged “in dark corners” on the Internet. “We must do this firmly,” Stoltenberg said. “We must drive them out with the light of knowledge.”

Stoltenberg encouraged everyone “to be good, digital nosey neighbours, not to censor opinions or strangle debate. We must tolerate what’s uncomfortable, things that are irritating and shocking. But we must counter it. We shall answer.”

More drama
The year ended on a dramatic note for Norwegians as well, given the hurricane that hit the west and northwest during the Christmas weekend, followed by a string of storms extending into the New Year’s weekend. He said the nation admired the response to extreme situations.

Stoltenberg and the king thanked Norwegians who have taken part in peace-keeping work and humanitarian aid, with the prime minister also hailing the fighter jet pilots active in the NATO strikes over Libya.

King Harald, meanwhile, stressed the importance of conversations, between neighbours, between friends and family, also between police and youth who are getting into trouble. Such conversations are important in helping people understand one another, he said.

He admitted, though, that neither he nor hardly anyone else can understand how the national tragedy of last summer could occur. “Many times I have thought, ‘how good it is that we don’t know in advance what’s going to happen to us,'” King Harald said. “We must try to understand what we can and learn what we can, but not everything can be understood.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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