Jens Stoltenberg, Norway’s former prime minister who’s now the secretary general of NATO, was back in Oslo on Friday to take part in a series of memorials marking the terrorist attacks against his Labour Party government five years ago. Now he’s working to fend off terror on a much larger scale, after being so personally affected by it on and after July 22, 2011, and thinks values like democracy, openness and tolerance provide a strong defense.
“We were many who lost loved ones that day,” said Stoltenberg, speaking comfortably yet forcefully in his native Norwegian at a memorial service in the Oslo Cathedral late Friday morning. He recounted a poignant string of events from the day his offices and those of several other ministries were bombed, and how the lone bomber, a young right-wing Norwegian man, went on to unleash a massacre on Labour’s youth summer camp on the island of Utøya afterwards.
For all the lives lost or forever changed that day, Stoltenberg claimed the trauma also “brought forth the best” in many other people. “The 22nd of July called forth what we want to be,” he said. “Norway, our little country, has withstood that test.”
He thanked all those who helped the injured and the grieving after 77 people were killed in the attacks, quickly cautioning that there also were many “bitter and hard” lessons to be learned. Those lessons, not least about the lack of emergency preparedness to respond to the attacks on a late summer afternoon in Oslo, now commit everyone involved, he said, to do whatever possible to fend off such attacks in the future.
Terror ‘was not blind’
He had already told Norwegian media that his speech in Oslo’s cathedral on Friday was important for him, not only to let those still struggling with losses and injuries know that they’re not forgotten, but to highlight the importance of the solidarity it nurtured. “We stood together,” he told state broadcaster NRK before speaking. “Even though the attacks were very painful, they also brought forth so much good within the Norwegian people.”
The terror that struck Norway, Stoltenberg said in his speech, “was not blind. It was directed at our core values. It was an attack on the mutual confidence and openness in our society.” Like others speaking before him at memorial ceremonies on Friday, including current Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Stoltenberg drew parallels to the terrorist attacks that have come later in cities including Paris, Brussels, Ankara, Istanbul, Orlando and “Kabul and Baghdad nearly every week.” He is now playing a major role in trying to fend off such attacks on an international basis.
“Terror will be fought back,” he said in his speech Friday, not only with police and military force “but also with our values.” In Norway, he said, “our values became our defense.” He’s encouraged by that in his new job at NATO. The fight against terrorism, Stoltenberg told his audience of Norwegian dignitaries and survivors of July 22nd, “will take time,” but when driven by the best of values like democracy, tolerance and openness, “it will be won.”
Arrived after anti-ISIL meeting
Stoltenberg traveled to Oslo straight from a top-level meeting in Washington DC of the international coalition fighting the terrorist organization ISIL. In interviews with Norwegian media published on Friday, he also claimed that “we will win the fight against terror,” and that it “can’t be done with military force alone.”
He recalled how directly he was affected by the July 22 attacks in 2011: “My office was bombed, the party I led was attacked at a place I had been every summer since 1974, and I lost friends. Also children of friends,” he told newspaper Dagsavisen. “I experienced that this was something that affected me as prime minister, as a party leader and simply as a fellow human being.” Now it’s provided more ballast for him at NATO.
Stoltenberg’s message now is much the same as it was five years ago: “It is understandable to be scared and uneasy, it would be wrong to downplay that feeling,” he told Dagsavisen. “But at the same time, in Norway and in other countries, we see the value of living in an open and free society. We can’t be scared away from that. And we should still meet terror with more openness, more democracy and more humanity,” without being naive.
He continues to equate the fight against terror with a fight for the values of democracy and openness. The main message from the meeting of the coalition against ISIL this week, he said, was also that military force alone isn’t enough. It’s just as important for people to respond to terrorist attacks by also fighting to preserve individual freedom and democratic principles. He maintains that only terrorists themselves can be blamed for the attacks themselves, while the authorities must take responsibility. “I feel responsibility for what worked on the 22nd of July and what didn’t work,” he told newspaper Aftenposten.
As NATO’s secretary general, Stoltenberg said he’s encountered strong interest in how Norway responded to its own terrorist attacks, with its rose parades, memorial ceremonies, concerts and other means of expressing solidarity. “That made an impression around the world,” he said.
“The 22nd of July will be part of our history and who we are, and it will contrbute to how we’re identified in other countries,” he told NRK. “But fundamentally, we are the same society we were before, a more open and more confident society than many others. I think that’s our victory over July 22nd.”