An ugly conflict has now broken out between those living near the scene of a massacre on the island of Utøya three years ago and those who survived it or lost loved ones, leaving the state caught in the middle. Even the local mayor representing Utøya’s neighbors now says their decision to move a spontaneous memorial that emerged near their homes was an “undignified” reaction, but they’re not backing down.
Mayor Per Berger told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he was so shocked to learn how local residents had taken matters into their own hands, and moved the memorial from their neighborhood to a spot near a busy state highway, that he called police. The neighbors had done nothing illegal, tough, since both sites are on private property.
“I think it was an undignified manner in which to react, though,” Berger told NRK.
The local residents, many of whom helped rescue targets and victims of the massacre on July 22, 2011, contend that the memorial was “undignified” itself, attracting badly behaved tourists, littering and traffic congestion. They’re weary of living with daily reminders of the tragedy, with the leader of a neighbourhood group telling NRK they feel they can’t even sip a beer on the terrace of their homes without feeling uncomfortable because of mourning onlookers.
Several others directly affected by the Utøya massacre agree with Berger, but stress that it’s mostly “very sad” the local residents reacted as they did. “I can understand that it’s hard to be constantly reminded about the 22nd of July,” said Eskil Pedersen, outgoing leader of the Labour Party’s youth group that was the target of the right-wing terrorist who carried out the massacre. “But I also ask for understanding that many people still have a need to show their sympathy and visit the memorial, and reflect on what happened.”
Pedersen said it’s been comforting over the past few years to still find fresh flowers and notes of condolence left by mourners at the site that’s now been moved up the hill and out of sight from the neighbors’ homes. “We all wish that the 22nd of July never happened, not on Utøya or anywhere else,” Pedersen told NRK. “But we have to find way to live with it.”
Trond Blattmann, who lost his son on Utøya and heads a national support for the families of other victims, also was sad that the neighbors had moved the memorial, with no warning or consultation. “It had emerged spontaneously because folks visited the site, with its view to Utøya,” Blattmann told news bureau NTB. “It was a place where folks could grieve or gain support.”
Berger and others viewed the neighbors’ removal of the memorial as “confrontational,” just as they also threaten legal action to block construction on a permanent national memorial on the island itself. Left to settle the dispute is the government, which has invited all involved to public meetings where all sides could air their concerns. The neighbors felt left out of the early stages of the permanent memorial’s process. Government Minister Jan Tore Sanner has postponed work on the permanent memorial for a year, to allow more time to resolve the dispute.