Survivors of the July 22nd attacks eight years ago gathered once again with top political leaders on Monday to remember victims and denounce extremism. After a difficult start to the day, the fight against right-wing extremists seemed more important than ever.
Newspaper Tønsbergs Blad reported early Monday that one of the July 22nd memorials in Tønsberg had been vandalized. Someone spray-painted a swastika over the city’s memorial to local victims of the Norwegian ultra right-wing extremist’s massacre at a Labour Party summer camp on July 22, 2011.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) and other national media outlets quickly picked up the report, and the shock it created. “I’m shocked and incredulous,” Fabian Wahl Sandvold, leader of Labour’s youth group in the area, told NRK. “This dishonours the victims of the July 22nd attacks.”
Jonas Gahr Støre, current leader of Labour and the opposition in Parliament, also called the vandalism “shocking,” adding that he was “especially thinking about wounded survivors of the attacks and victims’ families, who experience this on the day that has so many painful memories.”
City officials in Tønsberg quickly washed away the swastika that also evokes painful memories of the Nazi German occupation of Norway during World War II. Sandvold and others noted that the vandalism was another reminder of the need to fight extremism and terrorism, “and open people’s eyes so that more take part in the memorial ceremonies. We have to stand up against such hatred.”
Prime Minister Erna Solberg said much the same in her address to survivors and victims’ families at the memorial ceremony in Oslo, which was followed by another ceremony on the island of Utøya where the massacre occurred. She deplored how several survivors of the July 22 attacks have been harassed and even received death threats: “It’s difficult to understand but we know it happens,” Solberg said, calling it “unacceptable.”
Solberg also pointed to recent attacks by extremists on mosques in New Zealand and on churches in Sri Lanka, calling them “terrible reminders” of terrorists’ “us versus them” ideology.
“One of the lessons from the 22nd of July must be to defend and protect a Norway where diversity is a strength and tolerance is one of the values we fight for,” Solberg said.
July 22 information center soon to be moved
As Norway’s bombed government headquarters finally starts being rebuilt, Solberg vowed that evidence of the July 22 attacks will be preserved, also on Utøya. Her predecessor Jens Stoltenberg, who was prime minister in 2011 and back in Oslo for July 22 memorial ceremonies, stressed that a memorial center set up on the site also must be preserved.
“It has the strongest story-telling impact when the center lies at the place where (the bombing) actually occurred,” Stoltenberg told NRK. He compared it to the importance of preserving Nazi death camps where they were in Germany, and to the memorial set up where the World Trade Center was bombed in New York.
“It won’t take long before some people will start denying that the attack actually took place, just like those who deny the Holocaust took place,” Stoltenberg said. “It’s important that the history around the July 22 attaks is told where it happened.”
The current July 22 center that opened in 2015 will close August 1, before construction work begins on the new government headquarters. It will move to a temporary location for at least five years. All political parties in Parliament support preservation of the center and restoring it at the site of the attacks, while experts cite security concerns.
A total of 69 mostly young Labour summer campers were killed in the July 22 massacre on Utøya in 2011, plus another eight in the bombing of the Norwegian government headquarters in downtown Oslo. Labour led the government at the time, and the attacker believed they were too liberal on immigration and asylum policy.