The Norwegian government finally decided on Wednesday to go ahead with construction of a July 22 memorial at Sørbråten in Hole Township, just across from the island of Utøya where 69 people were gunned down and killed by mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik in 2011. The government chose the plan that won a design competition two years ago, but it’s highly disputed and neighbours are vowing to take the project to court.
“We think it’s appalling that they (the government) are giving priority to people (survivors of Breivik’s attacks and the families of victims) who don’t live here, instead of to us, who do live here and struggle with the memory of July 22nd,” Maria Holtane-Berge, who represents the nearby Utstranda community of residents. She claims construction of the memorial will damage the mental health of all living in the area who will be see it every day.
Many of them helped in the rescue efforts on July 22, 2011, risking their own lives by heading out towards the island in small boats to pluck swimmers fleeing the island out of the chilly waters of the Tyrifjord. Some were shot at by Breivik themselves. Now they’re highly upset over the planned memorial and vowing legal efforts to block its construction, just as Breivik himself is in court this week, claiming that his prison conditions are damaging his health and violating his human rights.
Berge said there’s widespread understanding for the need for a permanent memorial to the victims of the attacks, but neighbours object mightily to the memorial chosen. It involves literally slicing through land at Sørbråten, to symbolize those whose lives were cut short and the permanent scars left behind. The earth to be excavated will be transported to Oslo and used in connection with another memorial to victims of Breivik’s bombing of government headquarters.
The memorial was widely praised by many and won a design competition two years ago. Objections quickly rose, though, leaving politicians like the government minister who announced Wednesday’s decision, Jan Tore Sanner, in a highly sensitive and difficult situation as they tried to satisfy the needs of all involved.
“National memorials are important so that we as a nation shall have a place to grieve, to remember those killed and to gather around the values that were attacked and tested that day,” Sanner said at a press conference on Wednesday.
He had postponed making a decision on the memorial because of the local opposition. In the end, he claimed, it wasn’t possible to reach an agreement that “absolutely everyone” could support. He said the plan is to complete the memorial by the end of next year.
He said government officials and artist Jonas Dahlberg will “gladly” launch a “dialogue” with the unhappy neighbours, in an effort to adapt the memorial as much as possible to address their concerns. Linda Hofstad Helleland, Sanner’s government colleague as culture minister, said “we will go through the project and see if we can make some minor adjustments in the form of the memorial.” That may include measures to “shield” the memorial from view.
Berge of the neighbours’ group wasn’t satisfied. “This is a decision that will harm the health of those living here,” she told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “We have all along been very clear that we will take this to court.”