Government leaders, former and current Labour Party officials, survivors and those mourning murdered loved ones gathered together again on Friday, to mark the 11th anniversary of a right-wing terrorist’s attack on them all. It’s more than a “ritual obligation,” stressed one commentator in noting how Norwegians must never forget what amounted to an attack on both Labour and the country’s democratic system.
“The memorial culture around the 22nd of July will become steadily more important,” wrote commentator Harald Stangehelle in newspaper Aftenposten on Friday. “It can be demanding and it can be painful, but the memorial culture must never be static.”
The gatherings began at the site of the bombed government complex in Oslo where eight people were killed and ministerial offices were left in ruins. They continued later in the afternoon at the new memorial erected to the 69 people killed by the bomber-gunman on the island of Utøya, where the Labour Party’s youth group AUF holds it annual summer camp.
The right-wing terrorist, angry at Labour and the government for allegedly allowing too many immigrants into Norway, struck at a time when Labour held government power. Now Labour holds government power again, with Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre playing a major role in Friday’s ceremonies and Labour’s former prime minister Jens Stoltenberg standing by. Stoltenberg has been facing other huge challenges in recent months as secretary general of NATO, after Russia invaded Ukraine, but he took time once again to attend the ceremonies in his home town.
‘Sorrow still follows us’
Støre claimed at the outset that the most important thing in the aftermath of the July 22 terrorist attack in 2011 “is to stand up for one another.” He noted how it was good “to meet today, gather in sorrow, hail those who died and show compassion and sympathy” for the parents who lost children, for those who survived the attacks and those who were wounded or otherwise directly affected.
“The July 22 terror was a targeted attack against AUF and the Labour Party,” Støre said in his opening remarks. The bombing of the government complex affected everyone from passersby at the time to “competent government employees working for democracy.” He thanked the national support group that still works to help survivors of the attacks and those left behind.
“Eleven years later, sorrow still follows us,” said Støre, who also lost many friends, colleagues and party fellows. “I want you all to know that we think about you, and follow you, and stand together with you in that sorrow.”
While “only one (Norwegian) man carried out the attacks,” and is now serving what’s expected to amount to a life sentence in prison, “many other shared and still share” the right-wing extremist’s opinions, Støre noted. He continued to appeal to “established” right-wing politicians to speak out against extremism, and he broadened his appeal in light of a mass-shooting in Oslo that targeted the Pride movement late last month. The gunman, now in police custody and undergoing psychiatric evaluation, “most probably was motivated by Islamic extremism,” Støre said.
He also noted that the terror threat in Norway remains high following that event, “a reality we must take seriously.” He stressed that “we’re living in troubled times, with social unrest, rising prices, climate change, record high temperatures and forest fires, and millions of people fleeing Ukraine (after Russia invaded the country in February). We see brutal murders in our neighbouring countries. This shows us that peace and security cannot be taken for granted. Democracy is being challenged by strong, authoritarian forces.”
Norway remains safe, the prime minister added, but also vulnerable, as shown by the July 22 attacks, the attack on a mosque in 2019 and the mass shooting last month. Støre stressed the need for tolerance, inclusion and claimed that “never before has the welfare state been more important. Strong fellowship is our most important defense.”