The Norwegian government finally cut through several years of awkward and even ugly conflict on Wednesday, announcing that a new state-funded memorial to the victims of the July 22, 2011 massacre on the island of Utøya will now be built at the ferry pier serving the island, called Utøykaia.
A memorial design that had won an international competition and been chosen for a nearby site at Sørbråten, but which upset neighbours, has now been officially set aside. The Utøykaia site was propsed earlier this year in an attempt at compromise.
“It will soon have been six years since terror hit the government complex (in Oslo, where a bombing killed eight people and destroyed most ministry buildings) and Utøya (where the bomber unleashed a massacre that killed 69 and wounded dozens more),” government minister Jan Tore Sanner said on Wednesday. “We have several years behind us of sharp debate on the placement and displacement of the national memorial site in Hole (the local community).
“Now we hope to have a dignified end to the debate.”
Sanner thinks the Utøykaia site is well-suited as one of two national memorial sites, with the other planned at the rebuilt government site in downtown Oslo. “It was from here that the terrorist took the ferry out to Utøya (the island where Norway’s Labour Party was holding its annual summer camp for young members), and it was here the young peope who managed to escape (the massacre) arrived after being saved by rescue crews, volunteers and neighbours,” Sanner said. “The pier is close and has ties to Utøya, is shielded from noise and is less visible than Sørbråten.”
Many but not all residents of the area still object to the Utøykaia site and have not dropped their threats to sue the state to halt construction of a memorial. Newspaper Aftenposten, however, reported over the weekend that fully 17 prospective neighbours of the new memorial site supported it. What had been considered a united front among local residents opposed to having a July 22 memorial in their midst, because they claimed it would remind them of the tragedy every day, doesn’t exist after all. Some residents not only want the lengthy debate to end but they welcome a memorial to the day that changed their lives as well as those of so many victims and their families.
Agnes Moxnes, a commentator for state broadcater NRK who has followed the debate closely, has said that dropping the original memorial at Sørbråten, the objecting neighbours had already won. They continued to call for the memorial to be built high up on the hill behind their small community, which has a view to Utøya but lies next to a busy highway with lots of traffic noise.
Dropping the memorial at Sørbråten means the memorial in downtown Oslo must be altered as well, since the two were meant to be related. The Swedish artist who was behind both of them will be compensated for his efforts. Sanner said the state will now start a new process “to create a dignified and low-key memorial at the new government complex.”
He vowed that those living near Utøykaia will be involved in the process, as will representatives of the survivors of the July 22 attacks and local officials. Work is expected to begin “right away,” Sanner said, and the state will drop an artists’ competition this time around.