More than 1,000 young members of the Norwegian Labour Party will be gathering this weekend for their first summer camp back on the island of Utøya, site of a massacre four years ago. The new leader of Labour’s youth group AUF claimed the camp’s record registration proves that campers haven’t been scared away.
“The record registration sends a strong and important signal that youth won’t be scared into silence,” AUF leader Mani Hussaini told reporters before the camp was set to open on Friday. He said he was looking forward to welcoming the young party members back to Utøya.
Many of them are likely to make up the next generation of Labour Party politicians, and that’s exactly what a lone, ultra-right-wing extremist wanted to wipe out when he killed 69 campers and camp personnel in his rampage of July 22, 2011. Scores more were injured and some of them making their way back to Utøya this weekend.
Emilie Bersaas, deputy leader of AUF, was among those who survived the shooting on Utøya and has been back on the island many times since. “I thrive so well here,” she told state broadcaster NRK while guiding reporters around the island that now has a memorial to the dead along with newly repaired buildings and other improvements carried out by committed AUF members, survivors of the massacre, their parents and other volunteers.
She said she was glad that so many were interested in AUF’s return to Utøya. “The summer camp of AUF is perhaps the most important political workshop that’s arranged,” she claimed, even though members of the other political parties’ summer youth camps were likely to disagree. “Many ideas that end up becoming Norwegian policy are launched on Utøya,” she insisted.
Former AUF leader Eskil Pedersen, now head of public relations for the dominant Norwegian meat and poultry producer Nortura, will also attend the camp this weekend, but only in a support role. He was among the first to claim, right after the massacre, that AUF “would take the island back” but he met resistance from many campers who’d been traumatized by the killings and who questioned his leadership. Undaunted, Pedersen told newspaper Aftenposten that he now simply wants new young Labour Party members to be able to experience what he claims is the unique Utøya feeling.
“There’s nothing I want more that for new youngsters to go and have a fantastic time,” Pedersen told Aftenposten. “I think that they’ll quickly feel that this is very much the right thing to do and normal. Never completely the same, but quite normal.”
Among those scheduled to address the campers are Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre and former prime minister and Labour Party legend Gro Harlem Brundtland. Hussaini stressed that throughout the speeches and football games and sleeping in tents, the massacre victims “will always be remembered.” Future AUF members will also, he said, “always be told about what happened, so that it never happens again.”