King to speak again at July 22 memorial

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UPDATED: King Harald V will once again address the nation on July 22, 10 years after a Norwegian right-wing extremist unleashed terror on the country’s Labour Party-led government at the time. The now-84-year-old monarch will take part in a large, national memorial ceremony to be broadcast live from the same Oslo Spektrum arena where he tried to console traumatized Norwegians in 2011.

King Harald’s opening speech at the first major July 22 memorial in August 2011, carried live by Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), won widespread praise and genuinely seemed to comfort those in mourning. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

“As a father, grandfather and spouse, I can only imagine some of your pain,” King Harald stated in his memorable address 10 years ago while fighting back tears himself. “As the country’s king, I sympathize with each and every one of you.”

Now he’ll be back, reports news bureau NTB, as part of a national effort to remember the 77 Norwegians killed in the attacks that shocked not only the nation but the world. It was difficult to comprehend how a young Norwegian man, the son of a diplomat who mostly grew up with his mother in Oslo, could turn into a racist bomber and mass-murderer who blamed the Norwegian government for allowing too many immigrants into the country. It remains difficult, and the soul-searching goes on though a steady series of films, conferences, books and constant reassessments of what happened, and why, in Norwegian media.

It’s all an important part of upcoming July 22 memorial events this summer, as Norwegians try to come to grips with racists and ultra-nationalists amongst them, and what can trigger deadly attacks by mostly young white men on others viewed as different. It’s also been 20 years since two young Norwegian neo-Nazis cornered and killed the 15-year-old Benjamin Hermansen because he had a different skin colour. Another young man from an affluent family murdered his adopted sister just two years ago because she was ethnic Chinese, before he also tried unsuccesfully to massacre Norwegian Muslims at a mosque in the Oslo suburb of Bærum.

All the attackers have been sentenced to prison terms that are lengthy by Norwegian standards. Some defense attorneys, including Geir Lippestad who represented the July 22 terrorist, suggest that settles society’s need for justice. Others aren’t so sure, as victims’ families’ and survivors’ trauma continues. Terrorist attacks by white supremacists also continue, often believed rooted in an underlying fear of foreigners.

King Harald will be joined by Prime Minister Erna Solberg and current Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre at the 10th national memorial ceremony next month, which will also feature various cultural performances during the nationally televised event. Earlier in the day, members of the royal family and Norwegian political leaders will gather to mark both the bombing of the government complex in downtown Oslo and the massacre on the Labour Party youth group’s island, Utøya. A memorial service will also be held at the Oslo Cathedral, where speakers will include NATO’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, who was Norway’s prime minister at the time of the attacks and a target himself.

Many related events will also be held in the days leading up to July 22, among them an international workshop on Utøya itself that will concentrate on democracy, in which both Norwegian and foreign researchers and politicians will participate. Stoltenberg was quick to call the July 22 terrorism 10 years ago as an attack on democracy, which is now under threat all over the world. It’s recently been both exploited or severely damaged from Hong Kong to Turkey, Belarus, Russia and Myanmar, for example, by authoritarian leaders who can’t or won’t tolerate any form of criticism or opposition. That makes conferences and workshops on the topic especially timely.

Hundreds of thousands of Norwegians responded to the July 22 attacks in 2011 with quiet gatherings where they waved roses and later decorated their cities with the flowers. Some survivors later suggested there may have been “too many roses and not enough anger.” PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Many young Labour Party members who were on Utøya and survived the massacre that killed 69 and wounded scores more, however, have recently been raising their voices and calling it an ideologically motivated attack against them in particular. That’s the topic of a new book entitled Ingen fred å finne (No peace to find) by journalist Stian Bromark, who has followed the attacks and their aftermath closely over the years. He thinks the newfound openness and anger among survivors is “lifting the debate,” while others think it may finally result in a long-awaited showdown between both ends of the political spectrum in Norway.

The July 22nd terrorist admitted to having targeted the next generation of Labour leaders and many Utøya survivors have indeed suffered, often with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Many have even been harassed and threatened by other right-wing extremists in recent years, political debate has become more polarized than ever and they’re angry there hasn’t been broader public recognition of the threat of right-wing extremism. Many survivors of the attacks, also on the government complex where eight people were killed and many more injured or terrified, feel they haven’t received nearly enough follow-up care either, especially regarding their mental health.

Calls have also risen that all school children should be taken to visit Utøya, just like they’ve been taken to visit former Nazi concentration camps. Too many Norwegians, argue others, want to believe that white supremacists are simply “crazy” and lone wolves. “The most important thing,” wrote Bromark in a recent commentary, “is that we no longer view July 22 as simply a terrorist attack but as a goal-oriented attempt to kill, wound and terrorize hundreds of people because they held values other than those of the mass-murderer.”

The July 22 Center in Oslo, meanwhile, will open a special exhibit entitled 10 år etter (Ten years after) on July 15, featuring those directly affected by the attacks, those who witnessed them and those too young to remember what happened that fateful day. The center will also arrange “conversations” between those who survived the attacks through the rest of the year, including their thoughts and those who view terror in the light of historic and ongoing threats to democracy and diversity.

It’s been difficult to make plans for all the events and they’re still subject to change because of the ongoing need for Corona containment measures. Not everyone will be vaccinated by July 22  and there’s always a risk of new outbreaks. “We’re preparing for various scenarios,” the leader of the national support group Lisbeth Røyneland, whose daughter was killed in the massacre on Utøya, told NTB, “but it’s clear that as the date draws near, we’ll just have to land on a solution.”

Other memorials on July 22 are planned inside cathedrals around the country, including Molde and Tønsberg. Churches will be open and church bells will ring all over Norway at noon.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund