Survivor assumes top advisory post

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At age 24, Tonje Brenna has become the youngest person ever to work as a top aide to a Norwegian prime minister. She started her new job as political adviser for Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg after the summer holidays, and many predict a bright future for the survivor of last year’s massacre on the island of Utøya who testified during the terrorist’s trial last spring.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and his young new top aide, Tonje Brenna, watched together as Judge Wenche Elizabeth Arntzen sentenced last year’s terrorist to Norway’s maximum prison sentence. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

Stoltenberg headhunted Brenna himself for the high-ranking job, and she left her position as general secretary for the Labour Party’s youth organization, AUF. Brenna and Stoltenberg stood side by side in the PMs temporary office when terrorist Anders Behring Breivik was sentenced to Norway’s maximum prison sentence last month.

“I was asked and I accepted, I didn’t take long to decide,” Brenna told newspaper Dagsavisen before starting her new job. “This is cool. Very cool.”

She called Stoltenberg “a great prime minister, a very wise and good person who I think will be fun to work for and with.”

Asked whether she was surprised when offered the position, Brenna said: “Yes, a little, but more overwhelmed. A bit like, ‘are you asking me? Wow, really?'”

Brenna, who’s from Jessheim just north of Oslo, said part of her job will be to organize Stoltenberg’s daily schedule and make sure it runs as smoothly as possible. “I’m sure I’ll contribute with writing some speeches,” she added. “I will be the youngest person in an office that works slightly different than that which I’m used to. My background and experience from AUF will be helpful.”

Stayed on the island
More than a year has passed since the terrorist attacks on July 22 where 77 people were killed, 69 of them at Utøya where AUF holds its annual summer camp. Brenna was on the island that day, ran for her life and hid with a group of other youth.

Tonje Brenna is the youngest top political aide ever to work in the Office of the Prime Minister. Many think she’s destined to be a government minister for the Labour Party herself one day. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

She has earlier said she did not want to try swimming away from the island or flee by other means, fearing others would follow because of her leadership position as secretary general. Brenna also said she felt she had to stay to take care of a wounded girl next to her.

Her colleague Eskil Pedersen, the leader of AUF, decided the opposite, fleeing at the insistence of his adviser on the island’s only ferry with just nine people onboard. Pedersen’s decision to run has later been criticized by some who likened him to a captain leaving a sinking ship, but it was supported by others who say nobody knew what was really unfolding and no one could be expected to stay and face down a terrorist unarmed. The gunman, meanwhile, said during his trial that he viewed Pedersen as a major target in his attempt to eliminate the next generation of Labour Party leaders.

Pedersen’s adviser at the time has also left AUF after a tough year. Pedersen himself has said he is anxious to carry on his work and confirmed in May that he wants a spot in Parliament representing the Labour Party. His candidacy for a spot representing his home district of Telemark is disputed, though, with some Telemark locals saying Pedersen should run in Oslo instead, where he now lives. Meanwhile, he’s standing for re-election as AUF leader and will continue in that past pending the results of next fall’s national elections.

Historic 2013 campaign
With the Norwegian Parliamentary election coming up in 2013, Brenna thinks she has found the perfect time to support Stoltenberg in his bid to be re-elected for the second time. He clearly has confidence in the young woman who grew up in Holmlia, one of Oslo’s most multi-cultural districts.

Stoltenberg, however, has faced major criticism after a government-appointed commission report harshly criticized the government and police for its lack of preparedness for emergencies, saying lives could have been saved and the terrorist could have been stopped sooner. Some have demanded he resign his post as Prime Minister.

Winning a third term would be an historic achievement in Norway, a feat not accomplished since Einar Gerhardsen did just that in the 1950s.

Views and News from Norway/Aasa Christine Stoltz

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