Pilgrimage back to massacre scene

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WITH VIDEO FROM UTØYA: As Norwegians gathered around the country on Sunday for memorials to honor those killed in last year’s terrorist attacks, many survivors, victims’ families and top politicians returned to the scene of the massacre on the island of Utøya. Among them were former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland and one of her successors, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who also made a solitary trip last week.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg made a solitary trip back to the island of Utøya, where 69 persons were killed and more than 250 wounded by a lone gunman exactly one year ago. PHOTO: Statsministererns kontor

Stoltenberg candidly admitted that the hardest part of his own long day of commemoration on Sunday was his meetings with the families who lost their children, who’d been attending a Labour Party summer camp on the island. “They have to live with that loss for the rest of their lives,” Stoltenberg said at a press conference after the final event of the day, a large outdoor concert on the waterfront City Hall Plaza in Oslo.

Stoltenberg sat on the grass on Utøya in his suit and tie along with other Labour Party officials and members of the party’s youth organization AUF, listening to music and speeches and giving another of his own.

For video from Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) of a performance by anti-fascist musician Mikael Wiehe of Sweden, and images of the gathering on Utøya, click on the arrow below (in Swedish):


Sitting around Stoltenberg were Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide, Culture Minister Anniken Huitfeldt and many others who “grew up” in the party through summers on the island. Among them also was Brundtland, who went on to head the UN’s World Health Organisasjon after her multiple terms as prime minister in Norway. She’s now part of The Elders, a UN-backed group of former leaders including Desmond Tutu, Mary Robinson and Jimmy Carter.

Former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland (left, with outstretched arms) at a morning memorial ceremony in Oslo before returning to Utøya. PHOTO: Views and News

“Today it was natural for me to head back,” Brundtland told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). She had also been on the island to speak at the annual summer camp of the Labour Party’s youth organization AUF last year on July 22, but left Utøya just hours before the terrorist arrived on the late afternoon of July 22 last year and launched his massacre.

It later emerged that Brundtland was among his main targets and that he wanted to “publicly execute” her, but delays thwarted his plans. She hasn’t wanted to talk about that, but is keen to recall how the young Labour Party members were full of “enthusiasm and commitment” before the shooting started that day despite pouring rain. Many of them were later killed.

“For me, it’s important to mark this day, and to show respect for those we lost,” Brundtland told NRK, stressing that the most important thing is to never forget them.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in a reflective moment, alone on Utøya last week. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

Stoltenberg had made a solitary pilgrimage of sorts to the island last week, to quietly deal with his own grief before trying to help others on Sunday. He retraced his steps from joyful teenage summers on the island, and reflected on the tragedy of last year. He thinks Norway as a nation has learned a lot from it, and emerged stronger and more unified. Many others throughout the day agreed, although it was a lesson no one wanted.

Eskil Pedersen, the leader of AUF and another prime target of the gunman who fled the island on its only ferry, was also back on Utøya Sunday but stressed in an address made at a memorial church service earlier in the day that it’s equally important to remember the eight persons killed in the lone terrorist’s bombing of government headquarters. He worried that the 69 mostly young victims on Utøya overshadowed the deaths of government workers and innocent passersby in the bombing.

Pedersen said it also was important to use Sunday as a means of saying “thank you,” to Stoltenberg and the government ministers who led the nation through the crisis, to aid organizations and health care personnel who’ve helped survivors and victims’ families, to the court system for handling the difficult trial of the terrorist that ended last month, and to ordinary Norwegians who have shown how much they cared with roses, a hug, a kind word or delivery of a loaf of freshly baked bread.

“Tomorrow brings a new day, we must move on, not without sorrow or without loss,” Pedersen said. “We’ll manage, together.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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