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NATO chief paid his respects to homeland’s own terror victims

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was present once again at annual memorial ceremonies in Oslo on Saturday for victims of the terrorist attack on his homeland 12 years ago. He was Norway’s prime minister at the time, and his response then remains relevant as he now leads western allies’ response to Russia’s war on Ukraine.

“We are a small nation, but we are a proud nation,” Stoltenberg said in a memorable speech made on the night of July 22, 2011, after a right-wing extremist had bombed his own office and destroyed Norway’s government headquarters. “No one shall bomb us to silence.” The terrorist, who turned out to be a young Norwegian man, then went on to massacre young members of the Norwegian Labour Party that Stoltenberg also led at the time. A total of 77 people were killed in Norway that day, and Stoltenberg has made a tradition of taking part in annual memorial ceremonies held where the attacks began in downtown Oslo. (ALL PHOTOS: Arbeiderpartiet, except where otherwise noted)

Stoltenberg waited until it was his turn on Saturday to also place a single red rose, symbol of the Labour Party, between wreaths placed in front of a monument featuring the names of the 77 people who died on July 22nd. His tribute followed that of Jan Christian Vestre, a survivor of the attack on Labour’s summer youth camp on the island of Utøya. Vestre is now a member of the current Labour-led government, serving in the same position Stoltenberg once held in the 1990s, as minister for business and trade.

“No one shall shoot us to silence,” Stoltenberg also said in his address to a stunned nation that rainy summer night 12 years ago. “No one shall ever scare us from being Norway.” It was raining again in Oslo as Stoltenberg stood with others attending the outdoor memorial ceremony on Saturday. His words more than a decade ago are eerily similar to what Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky has been telling his own nation over the past 17 months, since Russia started bombing neighbouring Ukraine on February 24 last year. Stoltenberg told state broadcaster NRK after Saturday’s ceremony in Oslo that it’s important for him to take part in the annual memorial to Norway’s own victims of aggression: “I had my office here, I knew many who were killed. It has become a part of my life.”

Stoltenberg has maintained his message of solidarity and support from when he spoke at the first of many ceremonies held in the days immediately following the bombing and massacre, like here outside the Oslo Cathedral on July 23, 2011. Norwegians responded in force by placing roses and other flowers all over the city, in an effort to fill the streets with love, not hate. “We must never give up our values,” Stoltenberg had gone on to say, claiming it was imperative that Norwegians “show that our open society will withstand this test, that the answer to violence is even more democracy, even more humanity, men never naivete. We owe that to the victims and their families.” (PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst)

Norway’s current prime minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, picked up on that during his own speech at Saturday morning’s memorial ceremony, which was followed by services at the Oslo Cathedral and another gathering back on Utøya later in the day. It’s important, Støre claimed, “to gather together, to never forget. Together we have shown ourselves to be strong.” He also stressed that “we support Ukraine’s fight,” that Norway will also continue to build up its own defense forces and, most importantly, “defend democracy.” Støre served as Norway’s foreign minister during most of Stoltenberg’s two terms as prime minister from 2005 to 2013.

Several other speakers on Saturday, including the founder of the July 22nd victims’ families’ support group Lisbeth Røyneland (right) and the current leader of Labour’s youth organization AUF, Astrid Hoem (center), also expressed concerns about Russia’s war in Europe and threats to democracy worldwide. “We were bombed, shot and killed because we worked for democracy,” said Hoem. “We can’t let extremism become normal.” Røyneland, whose daughter was killed by the gunman on Utøya, vowed that “we will continue to be brave” and never forget the victims of July 22, 2011. She and fellow support group leader Trond Blattmann, father of another victim, were both honoured by King Harald V just the day before Saturday’s memorial ceremony, and she was wearing her new royal decoration for the first time.

TEXT: NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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