More than a million Norwegians committed and even forced themselves to watch state broadcaster NRK’s highly acclaimed TV series about their national trauma on the 22nd of July, 2011. It’s taking a long time to recover and not least rebuild Norway’s heavily damaged government complex after the twin attacks that day by a lone right-wing Norwegian extremist.
The series wrapped up over the weekend, just as one of its creators won the Nordisk Filmfond’s drama prize at the Gothenburg Film Festival for her script. Sara Johnsen, her colleagues and NRK itself have also won accolades from critics, commentators and many victims of the attacks, for their portrayal of how ordinary Norwegians’ lifes were forever changed on “22. juli,” the series’ simple title.
The terrorist himself, a young Norwegian right-wing extremist who hated how immigrants have been allowed into Norway over the years, was all but dismissed in the series. It focused instead on how his bombing of government headquarters and massacre at a Labour Party summer camp affected so many other ordinary Norwegians. The key roles included a doctor leading the emergency room at Oslo’s biggest hospital, an immigrant man responsible for mopping up victims’ blood and otherwise cleaning the hospital’s operating rooms, a police officer from the area around the summer camp, a teacher caught in the explosion and a journalist who asked many critical questions when it became clear that preparedness for such a catastrophe was woefully lacking.
NRK had held off promoting the series until after the Christmas holidays, while victims and survivors of the bombing and tragedy were offered advance previews and warned that its content could be disturbing. Reaction was generally positive, however, with even the head of the national support group for those who lost loved ones in the attacks calling the documentary-type series “correct and important, respectful and dignified.” It was praised for its sometimes brutal realism, its summary of the issues raised and lessons learned from the attacks and, most importantly, that the events of the 22nd of July 2011 must never be forgotten.
“With regard to how quiet things have become around July 22nd, and how poorly we as a society have handled debate around terror and right-wing extremism, I think the series has a very important function,” Lisbeth Kristine Røyneland, the leader of the support group whose teenage daughter was killed on Utøya, told newspaper Dagsavisen. “I hope it will fire up proper debate again.”
That’s likely, after Norway’s police intelligence agency PST announced Tuesday that right-wing extremists pose just as large a threat to Norway as Islamic terrorists. Perhaps even moreso, given that Norway already has had two such attacks, including another young white Norwegian’s attack on a mosque last summer. Politically motivated attacks now pose the biggest threats of all to Norway, according to PST.
The NRK series alone sparked lots of discussion in Norwegian media and in social media, also over the role played by a right-wing blogger whom the July 22 terrorist credited for inspiring him, much to the blogger’s distress. He has repeatedly stressed that he bears no responsibility, and that the terrorist acted on his own. PST chief Hans Sverre Sjøvold, meanwhiles, stresses how far-right extremists are often prodded into action by bloggers and other often anonymous like-minded opponents to immigration, cultural diversity and alleged threats to Norwegian culture.
Now it’s been professionally determined that they indeed pose threats from within Norway, as does the rhetoric exhorted by far-right websites. Right-wing politicians can also lend legitimacy to their extremism. Johnsen stressed that the Norwegian blogger, who objected to not being consulted during production of the series, “is not the victim here, that’s important to remember. Our focus was on those affected by July 22nd.” PST’s focus now is on the bloggers and those who may be affected by them.
Johnsen, meanwhile, has proposed mounting a “July 22 Amnesty Day” every year, for immigrants in Norway whose applications for asylum were rejected but who can’t be returned to their home countries. “That would also be punishment for the terrorist, ” Johnsen told Aftenposten’s A-magasinet, that his actions ultimately led to the opposite of what he sought. The terrorist himself is serving what’s likely to be a life sentence.
The government complex he bombed, meanwhile, is likely to take at least 17 years to rebuild. Aftenposten reported on Tuesday that costs have already hit NOK 9 billion (USD 1 billion) after the bombing forced the relocation of thousands of state workers and government politicians, massive clean-up, the razing of several buildings, planning for new buildings at the site and all the groundwork involved in that.
Some of that groundwork has gone underground, with Aftenposten also reporting on an apparently top-secret project that’s been going on, shielded by a massive tent, since 2015. It’s described as only “a shell for technical infrastructure” under what used to be the building housing the health ministry. All documents related to the project have been classified because of “national defense and security interests,” reports Aftenposten. Journalists have not been allowed access and no photography has been permitted.
When work began, a project chief at the time said that a new “civil situation center” would be built at the site, with a cellar strong enough to support a 25-story building above it. Such a center was built at the site in the mid-2000s, including an operations room, advanced communications equipment and a meeting room, but it was rendered inoperable after the bombing.
Work crews are now believed to have dug 20 meters deeper under the site of the former health ministry, and discovered an apparently unused bomb shelter with a capacity for a few thousand people. Expenses for current construction at the site alone have thus far cost NOK 2.1 billion, and work continues, with the Office of the Prime Minister due to move into the new so-called D-blokken building to built above the deepened foundation. The foreign ministry will also move into the same building. A spokesman for state property firm Statsbygg said the tent “would remain standing for a while longer.”
The adjacent low-rise building known as Y-blokken is expected to be controversially torn down soon, while the high-rise building that housed the justice ministry and Office of the Prime Minister will be shortened by two floors to return it to its original appearance when built in the 1950s. Construction of the new government complex is due to start in earnest in 2021 and be completed by 2028, 17 years after the attack that traumatized a nation. Total rebuilding costs from the bomb damage are estimated at NOK 20 billion.