NEWS ANALYSIS: The 77 victims, their families and those who survived the bomb and guns of a young Norwegian white supremacist on July 22, 2011 finally got at least a temporary national monument in Oslo on Sunday. Recovery from the terrorist attacks has been slow, with many now openly questioning what Norway, or the world, has learned from the tragedy.
Lisbeth Røyneland, leader of the national support group set up after the attacks, was glad that a monument could be unveiled at this year’s July 22 memorial ceremony, which has become an annual event. “This (the monument) has been highly desired, it’s taken a long time,” Røyneland told news bureau NTB.
Røyneland’s daughter was among those killed by the right-wing extremist who blamed the Labour Party-led government at the time for allowing, in his opinion, too many immigrants into Norway. Røyneland was among those speaking at Sunday’s ceremony that once again brought Norway’s prime minister, other high-ranking government officials, Labour Party leaders and mourners to the site of the bombing at what used to be Norway’s government headquarters.
The area has gone from disaster- to construction zone and will remain so for years to come. Some former ministries have been torn down, others will be, while the former high-rise that housed the Office of the Prime Minister and Justice Ministry is due to be preserved when a new government complex rises around it at taxpayer expense. It’s also taken a long time to agree on how it will look and function, and the arguments aren’t over yet.
Years of arguments have also surrounded the construction of national monuments to the attacks, both in downtown Oslo and on the island of Utøya, where 69 young Labour Party summer campers were fatally shot and scores more wounded. That’s why the one unveiled Sunday is temporary, and long-delayed. It consists of a wall with the names and ages of all the victims both in Oslo and on Utøya, in addition to a base symbolizing broken glass, in reference to all the destruction and glass shattered by the bomb’s impact.
“I’m glad the disputes around the monument are being resolved,” Røyneland told NTB. “There hasn’t been any discussion over this one.”
Now discussion is rising, however, over how political leaders and others both in Norway and internationally are behaving seven years after a terrorist attack that was not carried out by an Islamic extremist or an immigrant that failed to integrate. The terrorist was instead someone who was Christian and home-grown, the son of a diplomat and reared in the very country he attacked.
There were hopes that might silence a rising tide of nationalistic, anti-immigration rhetoric, and make such leaders and their followers less likely to resort to stirring ethnic or religious hatred. Not so. Not only has the rhetoric become even more confrontational and hateful, Norwegian media reported last week that several of the survivors of the July 22 attacks have received new death threats, mostly from anonymous online right-wing radicals, who claim the Norwegian mass-murderer didn’t do a good enough job of killing off those who welcome diversity and tolerance and condemn racism.
Norway’s Labour prime minister seven years ago, Jens Stoltenberg, made a famous call just days after the 2011 attacks for “more democracy, more openness and more humanity, but never naivete.” His call was cheered by tens of thousands of grieving Norwegians and hailed around the world.
Now Stoltenberg is secretary general of NATO, prompting political commentator and editor Eirik Hoff Lysholm to wonder in newspaper Dagsavisen over the weekend whether Stoltemberg thought about his call when he sat and listened to quarreling NATO members and US President Donald Trump’s complaints and demands at the recent NATO Summit, while Stoltenberg’s father was on his deathbed.
The senior Thorvald Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian foreign- and defense minister who also worked as a peace broker for the UN, expressed concerns himself just last year: “I don’t worry a lot, but one thing that does worry me is that we have leaders in Europe and the US now who have never experienced war. Remember that the generations that built up the (international) peace institutions we have today had experienced the Second World War, some of them even the First. Today’s leaders have not. I fear that war can be something you have to experience in order to understand it.”
More confrontation, more hatred
Thorvald Stoltenberg believed in “the good compromises,” not confrontations. Lysholm wrote that he fears how there’s much more of the latter now. Political rhetoric has become much tougher, more confrontational and characterized by nurturing differences among people instead of building bridges among them, Lysholm wrote. “We see that both internationally and here at home,” he added. “In the name of freedom of expression, it’s become more acceptable to express onesself radically, and support ideology (like that espoused by the Norwegian terrorist) that nearly sent the world over the brink.”
Democratic ideals had gathered the young members of the Labour Party on Utøya whom the terrorist targeted. Norway’s current prime minister, Erna Solberg of the Conservative Party, stressed in her remarks on Sunday that such ideals must not be forgotten. “We need to conquer hatred with knowledge, we must respond to what’s unacceptable (like the death threats received by July 22 survivors)
“Seven years can sound like a long time, but many have days that are still plagued by July 22,” Solberg added. After all 77 names were read out loud, she told NTB herself that “you’d think that after seven years it should be easier to hear all the names, but I think it’s just as painful every time.” She also called the new monument “symbolic and important.”
‘Mobilize against hatred and threats’
Jens Stoltenberg, now grieving for his father, attended Sunday’s memorial ceremony once again. “It’s very dangerous to write off (hateful language) as coming just from crazy people,” he said. “It’s important to mobilize against the hatred and threats we’re seeing out there now.”
Røyneland of the July 22 support group, who still mourns the loss of her daughter, also stressed that “we want to tell the history here,” of the July 22 attacks.
“What’s so fine is that all the parents gave their permission for the names to be included,” she told NTB in reference to the new national monument. “Even though it’s temporary (pending construction of the new government complex and agreement on a permanent monument), it will be good to have a place to visit.” And, perhaps, learn.