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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Prime minister’s office won’t return

Norway’s Office of the Prime Minister (Statsministerens kontor, SMK) won’t be returning to the top floors of the government complex that was bombed by a Norwegian right-wing extremist in 2011. Security and memorial issues mean that when reconstruction of the complex is finally completed, the prime minister will move into another building on the refurbished and expanded downtown site. 

Norwegian prime ministers had their offices on the top floors of this building in downtown Oslo for just over 50 years until a right-wing terrorist bombed government headquarters during Labour Party leader Jens Stoltenberg’s second term. He lost to Conservatives leader Erna Solberg in 2013 and she’s always worked from substitute offices set up near the Akershus Fortress. Now her government has decided that the Office of the Prime Minister will move to another location in the rebuilt complex when it’s finally ready around 2025. PHOTO:

“It would of course have been symbolic to move back there,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg told newspaper Aftenposten, “but there will be other ministries there.” Or perhaps a new reception area for visiting dignitaries to see the view over Oslo, or for other special events.

Solberg said her government has decided that the prime minister’s office, which quickly moved to the area around Akershus Fortress after the bombing,  will now be located in another portion of the new government complex. That’s because the government also wanted to allow the museum devoted to the attack on July 22, 2011 to remain in the high-rise known as Høyblokken. That raised both security and design issues.

Survived the attack
The Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Justice were located in the high-rise when the Norwegian white supremacist, protesting the former Labour-led government’s immigration policy, drove a van containing a high-powered bomb right up to the entrance. The blast destroyed adjacent buildings and caused heavy damage inside the high-rise, but it remained standing and became much more popular with the public as a symbol of national resilience when under attack.

After years of debate over how the government complex will be reconstructed, it was decided that Høyblokken would be preserved while most other damaged buildings around it will be torn down to make room for new government offices.

Solberg said the government had “a strong desire” to have both the prime minister’s offices and the museum in the high rise, “but we can’t have everything.” Labour’s youth organization AUF, which was also attacked when the terrorist shot and killed 69 members at their summer camp on the island of Utøya right after the bombing, wanted the museum devoted to July 22 to be in the building where the attack was centered. So did the national organization for the families of those killed.

Victims and survivors took priority
Solberg said that took precedence over the prime minister’s offices, after the new expert group charged with securing government buildings expressed security concerns over having both the museum and prime minister’s office in the same building. The justice ministry, however, is likely to return to its lower floors.

AUF leader Ina Libak appreciated the government’s decision to give the museum priority. “For us in AUF and for the sake of history it’s always been important to preserve the visible signs of the attack,” Libak told Aftenposten. “This is a decision for the next 80-90 years ahead.”

The change will further delay construction of the new complex, with Solberg telling Aftenposten she now “estimates” it will be finished around 2025. Her government is up for re-election in 2021, so it’s unclear whether she will still be prime minister on moving day.

“That’s not the most important thing,” Solberg stressed. “We’re building for the future.” Berglund



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