‘Grief is as heavy for many today’

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Norwegians were gathering on Tuesday to mark the third anniversary of the July 22, 2011 terror attacks that killed 77 people in and around Oslo. Labour youth party (Arbeidernes Ungdomsfylking, AUF) leader and Utøya survivor Eskil Pedersen said that while those left behind were returning to normal life, the pain was still raw.

Clean-up efforts are well underway at the government complex hit by a right-wing extremist's bomb on Friday. Now a commission will examine the attacks and the emergency response to them, a project likely to take as long as a year. PHOTO: Views and News

The government quarter in Oslo, where eight people were killed when a car bomb exploded. It was the scene of the first memorial in a day of ceremonies marking the third anniversary of the July 22 terror attacks. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The day’s official memorial plans were to begin with a ceremony at the government quarter in Oslo, where eight people were killed when a car bomb exploded. The deputy of the National Support Group for July 22 (Nasjonal støttegruppe etter 22. juli), John Hestnes, was to speak first, followed by Pedersen in one of his last official roles as the outgoing AUF leader. Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s speech was to be followed by a wreath-laying ceremony and a minute’s silence, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

At midday, Solberg, Crown Prince Haakon and other official representatives were due to attend a public service at the Oslo Cathedral, which served as a central gatheriing point during the days and weeks immediately following the bombing downtown and the massacre of mostly young Labour Party members on the island of Utøya. The theme was “thoughts of peace, the future and hope.” Speakers included Berit Torsdatter Nygaard from the National Support Group and the Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet, Ap) leader Jonas Gahr Støre.

Commemorations began on Utøya on Monday, where 69 AUF summer camp participants were shot dead by a Norwegian right-wing extremist. An official ceremony was scheduled for 4pm on Tuesday afternoon, where Pedersen and Støre would again speak before holding a minute’s silence. The National Support Group’s leader Trond Henry Blattmann was also on the program, as well as musical interludes between the speeches. Solberg, making her first visit to the scene of the massacre, would join the three for another wreath-laying ceremony, before a trumpet fanfare titled To the Youth.

A short time
“Even though three years have passed, it is quite a short time for very many,” Pedersen told newspaper Aftenposten. “The grief is just as heavy for many today as it was three years ago. As a society, it is important that we do not forget July 22. It is important to honour the victims of the terror.”

“Many have fortunately managed to get back to everyday life, going to school, working and traveling around the world,” he said. “That’s nice to see. At the same time we must be there for those who are still having a hard time. Everyone must be allowed to grieve at their own pace.”

“I think a lot about the youth who lost their lives, especially about how they would be today,” said Pedersen, who fled the island while the shooting was still going on. “I knew many of the victims and also think of their families. At the same time we must continue the debate on how this could happen. We have discussed a lot about the actions in the aftermath, but not as much about the attitudes.”

Hestnes from the National Support Group told Aftenposten it had been hard for many to move on. “The wounds heal, but the scars will remain,” he said. “Many have to go on living with this. Therefore it becomes important to take care of each other and talk to each other.”

Leaders reflect
For Solberg, it was her first July 22 memorial as Prime Minister and first time leading the government quarter memorial. She had nothing but praise for the former prime minister, Labour’s Jens Stoltenberg, whose government was in power when the terror attacks rocked Norway.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (center) laying flowers at a victims' memorial with his wife, diplomat Ingrid Schulerud, and Eskil Pedersen, leader of Labour's youth organization AUF who survived a massacre at AUF's summer camp on Friday. PHOTO: Views and News

In July 2011, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (center) laying flowers at a victims’ memorial with his wife, diplomat Ingrid Schulerud, and Eskil Pedersen, leader of Labour’s youth organization AUF who survived a massacre at AUF’s summer camp. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

“Stoltenberg did an excellent job in the days after July 22,” said Solberg ahead of the day’s ceremonies. “At the same time we all stood together as a community. So this will be special for me. I think it is important both to highlight and to remember the victims and the solidarity in Norway after July 22.” She said she would be thinking about how important it was to preserve and build on the trust and openness in Norwegian society.

Newspaper Dagsavisen spoke to several prominent Norwegians about what July 22 meant to them, and whether the community had returned to day-to-day life.

“It is a day where I think about those affected and the survivors who experienced losing their loved ones,” said Siv Jensen, the leader of the traditionally anti-immigration Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp). “We all remember the feelings and reactions we had on July 22, 2011, but in retrospect it has become a day for reflection. Everyday life is back, and must be back. It is maybe not as naive as it was. What happened here at home, and what happens in other places in the world, reminds us of the necessity of enhanced security and safety in our community.”

“It is a day I still think a lot about,” said Socialist Left (Sosialistisk Venstreparti, SV) leader, Audun Lysbakken. “Of all the great people who became the victims of terror, but also on how important it is that we don’t forget. Our most important preparation is the fight against right-wing extremism and other hate ideologies. Our society goes on without major changes, and that shows that democracy is stronger than violence. But at the same time I agree with Raymond Johansen when he says that we have not finished settling with the ideas behind the terrorism.”

“It’s a tough day,” said Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp) leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum. “I often still think of that day. For me the days afterwards were also tough. It was totally unreal. On July 24 I was at the cathedral where Jens Stoltenberg spoke to the affected and the nation. I will remember that speech for the rest of my life. I think everyone who lived in Norway in 2011 will carry July 22 with them for the rest of their life.”

“This was the day Norway suffered the most serious attack since World War II,” said author and Hate Speech International editor Kjetil Stormark. “There was reason to be proud of how people reacted during the crisis. But I am considerably less impressed that the political and administrative elite’s ability to take lessons from July 22 has been limited. Many probably need to come further. But we owe it to those who were affected that we do not end the important debates around preparedness, extremism and prevention of terrorism.”

“July 22 is one of the darkest days in Norwegian history, and I think first and foremost of it as a day where we should honour people – both the youth and adults – who are involved in politics and government,” said lawyer and leader of the July 22 Commission, Alexandra Bech Gjørv. “At the same time it is a day that revealed significant weaknesses in our collective intelligence, security and preparedness, and that must not be so in the future.”

“It is painful to think about everyone who was affected that day, of the lives that ended, and the woulds that will never heal,” said Stian Berger Røsland, the Governing Mayor of Oslo. “Most of us remember where we were when the bomb went off, the feelings that took us when we heard how many young people were killed and injured on Utøya, and the pictures of the burning government buildings in Oslo. July 22 stands as a gruesome symbol of the consequences of violent and radical extremism. We all have a responsibility to never forget that.”

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate