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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

‘Honour the dead by celebrating life’

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, speaking in the shadow of his bombed-out former office, marked the first anniversary of last year’s terrorist attacks in Norway with an appeal to his fellow Norwegians on Sunday: “Be grateful for all the good moments we have … and honour the dead by celebrating life.”

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, arriving for a memorial church service at the Oslo Cathedral on Sunday to honour victims and survivors of last summer's terrorist attacks. PHOTO: Views and News

Stoltenberg launched a long day of memorials tied to the bombing in Oslo and massacre on the island of Utøya by speaking at a ceremony on the site of the home-grown Norwegian terrorist’s primary target: Norway’s government, led by Stoltenberg’s own Labour Party. The prime minister made it clear that he thinks the promises made right after the attacks, that Norway would respond with “more democracy, more openness, more caring,” were not hollow.

Rather, he claimed, the initial solidarity created through “shock and despair” evolved into “an unyielding determination to defend the humanity and diversity that are the hallmarks of our way of life, the openness and trust that characterize our society.”

Hundreds showed up for an earlier memorial ceremony amidst the damaged buildings of Norway's government complex on Sunday morning, where Stoltenberg spoke. Norwegians gathered all over the country for similar memorials on the first anniversary of last year's attacks by a young Norwegian man who wants to halt immigration and blames the government and Labour Party for Norway's emerging multi-cultural society. PHOTO: Views and News

The “bombs and bullets that were intended to change Norway” instead re-enforced Norwegians’ fundamental values, Stoltenberg claimed. Political debate since the attacks has strengthened the country’s democracy, he said, and proved that Norwegians pull together when needed. Several opposition party leaders attending Sunday’s ceremony seemed to agree, hugging one another as they met even as they gear up for next year’s election campaign where some of their parties are leading public opinion polls.

What’s needed now, Stoltenberg suggested, was continued compassion for the survivors of the attacks and the families of the 77 persons killed last summer. Memorial ceremonies held all over the country on Sunday were first and foremost meant to honour the dead and support survivors. “It has truly been a difficult year,” Stoltenberg said, referring to the grieving, the trial of the terrorist that ended last month and the criticism over the emergency response to the attacks.

“Today,” Stoltenberg stressed, “it is important to remind each other that love is eternal. The pain will always be there, but the memories of goodness and joy cannot be erased. We will remember our loved ones who died with gratitude.”

Stoltenberg’s theme was repeated throughout the day at other memorial ceremonies around the country, at a gathering back on the island of Utøya and at a special church service held at the Oslo Cathedral that was broadcast live on national TV. It was attended by the ambassadors of several countries including Germany, the US and UK, as well as by Labour leaders from Sweden and Denmark, with the Danish prime minister delivering a powerful speech on Utøya.

Wreaths and more roses were laid down at the government complex on Sunday, where a permanent monument to the victims of last year's terrorist attacks will eventually rise when the complex is rebuilt. That may take years. PHOTO: Views and News

“A year has gone by, not a day without hearts in sorrow,” Oslo Bishop Ole Christian Kvarme told the standing-room-only crowd inside the Oslo Cathedral, which also was an important gathering spot in the days and weeks immediately after the attacks of July 22, 2011. The bishop appealed for Norwegian “life, diversity and fellowship” to continue to be strengthened, without bitterness.

Church officials praised the “light in the darkness” that started appearing immediately after the attacks, “when we sought each other, to create the light that comes when we meet,” and how “the darkness wasn’t allowed to take over.”

Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang (left) and former Prime Minister Kåre Willoch strolling away from the morning memorial at the government complex in Oslo, neither with a security guard, as politicians aim to remain open and accessible. PHOTO: Views and News

If scenes on the streets and in the cathedral were any indication, Norwegians remain united and are resisting threats to their open society despite growing recognition of security needs. While members of the royal family had security escorts in and out of the memorial ceremony at the government complex and at the cathedral, government ministers mingled freely with spectators as did other dignitaries including leaders of Norway’s political parties. The mayor of Oslo, Fabian Stang, walked down a city street with former Prime Minister Kåre Willoch when the ceremony ended with no signs of security guards, as did Trade Minister Trond Giske and most of his colleagues.

Party leaders including future potential prime ministers, some of whom are bitter political rivals, had greeted each other with hugs at the ceremony and then also walked to the cathedral without escort. While the US ambassador was driven to the front door in a black SUV with blue-light escort, Progress Party leader Siv Jensen walked with only a lone adviser and then sat next to the leader of the Socialist Left party (SV), Audun Lysbakken, all political animosity set aside.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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