Norway gets ready to remember

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NEWS COMMENTARY: One year after terror struck the hearts of Norwegians, the security walls around Oslo’s bombed government complex are gone and plans are in place for an upcoming weekend of memorial events. Sunday July 22nd will feature official speeches, wreath-layings, a large outdoor concert where tens of thousands gathered in sorrow in Oslo last year, and moments of quiet reflection.

The security fences around the bombed buildings in Norway's government complex, known as "Regjeringskvartalet," were removed earlier this month. The area will be the site of the first memorials to last year's terrorist attacks, starting at 9:30am on Sunday July 22. Other memorials will be held throughout the day, all over the country. PHOTO: Views and News

After weeks of rain and a rare glimmer of sunshine in the capital this week, it seemed almost a shame to interrupt some badly needed summer holiday time for terror-weary Norwegians and their government leaders, with more agonizing over the attacks that killed 77 persons. But gather they will and many promise they won’t be agonizing, out of respect for the victims and a need to move forward. There’s also, perhaps, a pressing need to remember the solidarity Norwegians felt last year at this time, when hundreds of thousands assembled to respond to the violence with calls for more openness, more democracy and more caring.

They waved roses, sang songs and decorated their town and cities with flowers, a uniquely Norwegian way of tackling the shock and sorrow they felt upon learning that one of their own, a now-33-year-old young Norwegian man, could bomb the government and unleash a massacre at a Labour Party summer camp, all because he wanted to punish the people he held responsible for allowing immigration in Norway.

As many residents of Oslo, a year later, are frustrated, even furious, over migrant campers from Romania and Bulgaria in their midst, it may be healthy to remember how they denounced their home-grown terrorist’s reaction to immigration and multi-culturalism in Norway. The memorials may, at any rate, restrain Norwegians from acting violently themselves as they tackle the problem of persons whom they don’t feel respect Norwegian authority or norms.

Events from early to late
Meanwhile, officials from Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg down to local mayors of small communities who lost young citizens last year were determined to conduct dignified memorials to the victims and inspire Norwegians to remain tolerant and democratic. Stoltenberg, who received much praise for how he led the nation through last year’s tragedy, planned to begin the day of remembrance on Sunday by laying down a wreath near the bombed-out high-rise where his own office was destroyed, before holding a memorial address.

One year later, mourners continue to leave flowers and mementos at makeshift memorials to the victims of last year's terrorist attacks in Norway. These were found at a memorial on the mainland across from the island of Utøya this week, with candles lit and fresh flowers in place. PHOTO: Views and News

Stoltenberg will then proceed to a special memorial church service in the Oslo Cathedral (Domkirke), which served as a focal point for mourners last year, while Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, both from the Labour Party that was the terrorist’s main target, will attend a similar service at Hole Church in the community where Labour’s summer camp was being held on the island of Utøya. Members of Norway’s royal family will be present at both church services.

Labour’s youth organization AUF, which ran the summer camp on Utøya that was the site of the massacre, will also hold private memorial ceremonies on the island for survivors and victims’ families on Sunday. Families will be invited to visit the island from 8am to noon and from 5-9pm, with AUF holding ceremonies in between and gathering for lunch at nearby Sundvollen Hotel, where terrified teens, their families and officials gathered in the hours immediately following the attacks. Stoltenberg will also take part in the ceremonies on Utøya, along with trade union boss Roar Flåthen and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

Memorial events nationwide
New monuments to the victims will be unveiled around the country, from Sarpsborg and Rygge in the south to Tokke in Telemark and Nord-Odal in Hedmark. Every municipality in Norway that lost residents in the attacks has been offered the memorial statues, financed by an anonymous donor, and most have accepted.

Ceremonies and special events will occur all over the country, with a rose parade and gathering in Fredrikstad, a memorial in the City Hall in Tromsø in northern Norway, a special church service at the national cathedral Nidarosdomen in Trondheim, a torchlight parade in Hamar and a memorial ceremony at Byparken in Stavanger.

At 8pm, a large memorial concert to be broadcast nationwide will begin in the sprawling plaza outside Oslo’s City Hall, where more than 150,000 mourners quietly gathered last year, waving roses, for an impromptu concert and speeches that caught the attention of the world. This year’s event has been planned for months and will feature not only more speeches but performances by some of Norway’s most prominent artists including Mari Boine, de Lillos, Marit Larsen, Tine Thing Helseth, Bjørn Eidsvåg, Karpe Diem and Halvard Sivertsen.

Many wonder: Will Springsteen sing?
Among them will also be folk singer Lillebjørn Nilsen, whose Norwegian version of an old Pete Seeger song Children of the Rainbow was ridiculed by the terrorist, prompting around 40,000 Norwegians to assemble in pouring rain in the middle of his trial and sing the song in pure protest along with Nilsen. That impromptu gathering also received international media coverage.

There’s been speculation for months that American rock legend Bruce Springsteen, who happens to be holding one of the concerts on his European summer tour in Oslo on Saturday night, may make an appearance as well at Sunday night’s memorial, or on the island of Utøya during the day, or even both. Springsteen will hold concerts in Bergen on Monday and Tuesday, but is free on Sunday.

Neither Springsteen, his managers or NRK will confirm or deny an appearance. “We don’t know anything about Springsteen, but if there are any changes in the program, we will announce them,” Jade Josefine Nordahl of NRK told news bureau NTB this week. Springsteen’s fellow band member “Little Steven” Van Zandt is performing in the concert tour and already has a professional and personal relationship to Norway through his appearance in the popular Lilyhammer TV series aired on NRK last winter. Van Zandt has been an outspoken supporter of Norway and publicly denounced the terrorist attacks last year, as did Springsteen. It would seem natural for them to perform, possibly even the classic number Two Hearts, given the significance of hearts following last year’s attacks on the heart-shaped island of Utøya.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), TV2 and Nyhetskanalen all planned to broadcast the various events around the country, with more than 12 hours of live coverage throughout the day. TV2 is even moving the final laps of the Tour de France from its main channel over to TV2 Zebra, giving priority to the memorial. Jan Ove Årsæther, news editor for TV2, told VG recently that the national commercial channel felt it was important to offer “wall-to-wall” coverage, while project leader Ingebjørg Sæbu of NRK said the state broadcaster also would recap not only the events of July 22, 2011 but what’s happened since as well.

“It won’t be a sorrowful broadcast, though,” Sæbu hastened to tell VG. “We want first and foremost to look forward.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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