‘Too many roses, not enough anger’

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NEWS ANALYSIS: It’s taken three years, but Norwegians are finally beginning to publicly display pent-up anger over a home-grown right-wing extremist’s murderous attacks on July 22, 2011. As the grieving process reached its third anniversary on Tuesday, it became more clear that all the roses and early attempts at reconciliation weren’t enough to heal all the wounds.

Hundreds of thousands of Norwegians responded with quiet gatherings where they waved roses and later decorated their cities with the flowers. PHOTO: Views and News

Hundreds of thousands of Norwegians responded to the attacks of July 22, 2011 with quiet gatherings where they waved roses and later decorated their cities with the flowers. Now, three years later, questions are rising over whether there were “too many roses and not enough anger.” PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Norwegians gathered in Oslo and around the country on Tuesday for memorials to honour the 77 people killed on the day that arguably changed the country forever. There’s still a fervent desire to hang on to the values and relative innocence of the “pre-July 22” period, but it’s clearly becoming more acceptable in the politically correct society of Norway to also be angry — not just with the young Norwegian man who carried out the country’s most deadly attacks since World War II but also with the culture of hatred behind them. Questions are rising over whether all the calls for “more openness, more democracy” that came right after the attacks have actually allowed such hatred to persist.

Norway’s immediate response to the attacks, led by former Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg who’s now taking over the top post at NATO, was hailed around a slightly mystified world because of its baffling lack of anger and lust for revenge. “Other countries pointed at this strange little country in the far north that responded to terror with rose parades and songs,” wrote Lars Kristiansen and Trude Andreassen, parents of two children who survived the attacks, in a recent column in newspaper Dagsavisen. “Norway was praised internationally, but was this the right medicine? Is more democracy and more openness the right answer to endless sorrow and despair?”

Prime Minister Erna Solberg pays her respects to the victims of the July 22 attacks in 2011 at the site of the bombed government headquarters in Oslo. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

Prime Minister Erna Solberg paid her respects on Tuesday to the victims of the July 22 attacks in 2011 at the site of the bombed government headquarters in Oslo. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

Kristiansen and Andreassen, among the few brave enough to start raising such questions, noted that they waved roses, too, and joined huge gatherings to sing songs and attend memorials. They supported Stoltenberg’s effort to highlight “the right values” at the time, and not fall prey to any desire for revenge.

“But where was the anger that should have been directed at the perpetrator, who almost consistently isn’t referred to by name?” they wrote. “Where is the anger against the forces and people behind the culture of hate that, dare we say so far, has cost 77 innocent lives and caused huge physical and psychological injures for the survivors and their families? We raise the question of whether there were too many roses and too little anger.”

Similar questions were raised throughout the day on Tuesday, as Norwegian political leaders and dignitaries gathered for a series of memorial events in Oslo and around the country. There were still a lot of roses, not least at the late afternoon memorial held on the island of Utøya, where 69 mostly Labour Party summer campers were gunned down. Commentators noted, though, that the politicians’ tone was “sharper,” and their speeches more critical than in past years. Many, from Prime Minister Erna Solberg to Acting Bishop Trond Bakkevig, responded to rising calls to confront the hatred and intolerance that’s not only still found in Norway but seems to be flourishing on what Bakkevig called “social and anti-social media.” While Solberg, speaking at her first July 22 memorial as prime minister, thanked Stoltenberg for his leadership after the tragedy, she also stressed that more must be done to fight the hatred that fueled the attacks.

Kristiansen and Andreassen seem relieved that the Labour Party itself is finally coming to grips with the hatred that still rolls over the Internet. Both the outgoing Labour Party youth leader Eskil Pedersen and new Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre referred in speeches on Tuesday to a need now to address and suppress hatred and intolerance. They were careful not to criticize Stoltenberg’s approach to dealing with the tragedy at the time, but they encouraged efforts to tackle hatred.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg at the main memorial for victims of the terrorist attacks on July 22, 2011. PHOTO: Views and News

Former Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, shown here speaking at the first major memorial for victims of theJuly 22 attacks in 2011, set the tone for how Norway dealt with the tragedy three years ago. Now the tone is sharper while Stoltenberg, widely praised for his leadership at the time, is poised to become the new secretary general of NATO. He attended Tuesday’s memorials in Oslo but has resigned as Labour Party leader and did not speak. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Solberg, from the Conservative Party, placed the blame for July 22 squarely on “the perpetrator” (Norwegian politicians also refrain from calling Anders Behring Breivik by name) in her speech in front of the bombed government buildings in downtown Oslo Tuesday morning. She seemed to agree that a “day of reckoning” was overdue in dealing with his violent extremism. “He was a young Norwegian man who had terrible ideas about politics and violence,” Solberg said later in the day. She and other politicians now see the need to address how such ideas can flourish, and how they can be prevented.

“There are no simple answers,” Støre told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) after speaking at another memorial service in a packed Oslo Cathedral at midday. “But we must be on guard.” His party has admitted that it didn’t want to play the “victim role” in the days, weeks and months following the attacks, for fear of being seen as trying to gain political mileage from them. Now, three years later, “we see more clearly,” Støre said, and know there’s a time for everything, also for tackling the attitudes of those who hate, who preach intolerance and reject diversity. That time, Støre said later on Utøya, had now come.

‘Boy next door’ not as easy to hate?
Kristiansen and Andreassen noted how some Norwegians responded individually right after the bombing, and before Breivik was arrested and identified, by randomly attacking and harassing immigrants in Oslo. “Everyone thought Muslim extremists were behind the bombing until the shock rolled over us, that a seemingly ordinary Norwegian from the best Oslo neighborhood of Frogner was the terrorist and mass murderer against his own people,” they wrote. “So to whom should we address our anger then? The man who must not be named, and who could have been the boy next door to any of us isn’t, perhaps, as easy to hate?”

Breivik is now in prison, serving a lengthy sentence by Norwegian standards and regularly complaining about his isolation in a specially designed three-room cell at enormous taxpayer expense. Norway was widely praised for the civility of his trial and treatment, but his 30-year sentence plus possible protective custody has been branded as lenient. Since the entire justice system is built on rehabilitation and return to society, Breivik also remains eligible for parole and official release some day. That day of reckoning will have to come, but in the meantime, bigger issues are at stake.

Getting out of the trauma
“The terrorist attacks put this nation in trauma,” Kristiansen and Andreassen wrote. “We need to get out of this trauma. There must be room for anger directed at this mad man and those who share his views. We need to show our fury towards the forces that, so far, have killed 77 and injured many for life. The anger must be released, not to create more hate, but to stop the hatred that exploded on July 22, 2011.” As hymns were sung and time devoted in the midst of summer holidays to remembering Breivik’s victims three years ago, officials seemed to be listening.

“It can’t be taken for granted that time heals all wounds,” Støre said, and Solberg agreed that “many still need help and follow-up.” Solberg was invited to the afternoon memorial on Utøya, her first trip to what for decades has been a bastion of the rival Labour Party. Støre thanked her for coming and promised Labour’s support for government efforts to combat hatred. Both top politicians stressed that Norway still “gathered as a nation” after the attacks, will continue to do so on July 22 in the future, will tackle hatred and that the victims will never be forgotten.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund