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Memorial divides survivors 10 years after Norway massacre

Memorial divides survivors 10 years after Norway massacre

STAVANGER, Norway — At 3:25 p.m. on July 22, a ray of sun should have illuminated the first of 77 bronze columns on a slice of land opposite Utoya island outside Norway’s capital. Over the next three hours and eight minutes, it would have brushed each column in turn, commemorating every person killed by far-right extremist Anders Breivik.But on the 10th anniversary of the attack, the memorial remains a construction site. And a monument, deftly designed to capture in sunlight the exact duration of the attack — from a bomb explosion in Oslo, to Breivik’s eventual arrest on Utoya — won’t be ready.A mix of mutating plans, delays, and court interventions, has pit bereaved parents and survivors against local residents who say they are still traumatized after seeing and hearing the slaughter on Utoya from their sleepy rural village less than a mile away across the water.For some local residents, the delay is a temporary reprieve from the arrival of visitors they fear will forever upend their community. For parents of the dead and survivors, it is an unforgivable failure.“It is a beautiful memorial, which has so many different elements that pay tribute to the victims, on a beautiful site down by the water in view of the island. It should have been ready for July 22,” said Lisbeth Kristin Roeyneland, whose daughter Synne was murdered in the attack, and who now heads a support group for survivors and bereaved families.“We are very disappointed,” she said. “A lot of the families and survivors are angry.”Breivik killed eight in the Oslo bomb attack before going to Utoya dressed as a police officer and shooting dead 69 mostly teen members of the Labor Party Youth wing who were camping there.Scores more were injured, and many were hoping to join families of their former friends to commemorate this year’s anniversary.“It is very disappointing that so many survivors and families don’t have that place to go. They still don’t have a national monument to the sufferings for that day,” said Sindre Lysoe, a survivor of the attacks who is now general secretary of the Labor Party Youth wing.Bjoern Magnus Ihler, another survivor, says the “bafflingly long” delays have caused “unnecessary pain” for victims’ families, and compares the process unfavorably with the 9/11 memorial site in New York, which was inaugurated on the 10th anniversary of that attack, and open to the public the next day.Some memorials do exist. The victims came from all over Norway, and scattered monuments in village parks and public areas are a reminder of how widely the tragedy affected the small country of 5.3 million people.In Oslo, 1,000 iron roses outside the capital’s cathedral, replicating the sea of flowers laid by shocked Norwegians in the days after the tragedy, was opened in 2019. On Utoya island, a suspended, metal ring features the name of each victim, and the cafe has been transformed into a learning center. It is surrounded by 495 wooden posts representing the survivors, and 69 inner posts memorializing the victims.But the public site near the island, promised shortly after the tragedy, remains on the drawing board. Critics blame the government for underestimating the scale of the work.“I think it’s shameful that Norway, 10 years after the terrorist attack, doesn’t have an official memorial site near Utoya,” said Tonje Brenna, the former deputy leader of the Youth wing, and today Labor leader of Viken, the county where Utoya and Oslo stand.“It stands in grave contrast to the fact that the Norwegian Labor Youth have created their own beautiful, respectful and award winning memorial site on the island,” Brenna said. “The youth have been able to do the task the Norwegian government has been unable to do.”An early plan supported by the families called “Memory Wound” was scrapped in 2017. Designed by Swedish artist Jonas Dahlberg to be visible from Utoya, the plan was to gouge into the mountainside opposite the island. But local residents — many of whom witnessed the slaughter from their homes less than a mile away — threatened a court case to have it stopped.Families hoped the new plan for the 77 bronze statues, designed by Norwegian architects, Manthey Kula, would settle the dispute.Work began at the end of 2020 on land donated by the Labor Party Youth wing next to the harbor.But 16 local residents of this small village community say they remain traumatized by the attacks and fear the memorial and the new road taking visitors to the site will upend their quiet rural lives, forcing them to relive their memories every day. They sued the Labor Party Youth wing and the government in May temporarily halting construction.“The families here were looking out on what was happening 10 years ago,” said Anne Gry Ruud, a local resident involved in the case. “We have hard memories of the time.“We could see people being shot,” she said. “My neighbors sailed out. They took their boats and rescued some of the children. They also object.”The case was rejected, but the government decided the window was too small to prepare the site in time for the anniversary.Hege Njaa Aschim, communications director for Norwegian government property development arm Statsbygg, said she was sorry the memorial wouldn’t be ready, following the legal challenge, coronavirus quarantine measures and planning issues.“Without these factors we could have made it ready,” she said.As they prepare to commemorate the worst day of their lives, survivors and victims have set aside anger over the delay. Roeyneland is philosophical.“What can we do?” she asks. “We can’t open a memorial on a building site.”

Breivik survivors keep fighting for their vision of Norway

Breivik survivors keep fighting for their vision of Norway

STAVANGER, Norway — On the 10th anniversary of Norway’s worst peacetime slaughter, survivors of Anders Behring Breivik’s assault worry that the racism which nurtured the anti-Islamic mass murderer is re-emerging in a nation known for its progressive politics.Most of Breivik’s 77 victims on July 22, 2011, were teen members of the Labor Party — idealists enjoying their annual camping trip on the tranquil, wooded island of Utoya, in a lake northwest of Oslo, the capital. Today many survivors are battling to keep their vision for their country alive.“I thought that Norway would positively change forever after the attacks. Ten years later, that hasn’t happened. And in many ways, the hate we see online and the threats against people in the Labor movement have increased,” said Aasmund Aukrust, then-deputy leader of the Labor Youth Wing who helped organize the camp.Today he’s a national lawmaker campaigning for a nationwide inquiry into the right-wing ideology that inspired the killer.Aukrust ran from the bullets flying through the forest then lay hidden for three terrifying hours while he saw friends murdered nearby. A vocal proponent of properly reckoning with the racism and xenophobia in Norway, Aukrust has been the target of online abuse, including receiving the message that “we wish Breivik had done his job.”The victims of the Utoya massacre came from towns and villages throughout Norway, turning a personal tragedy into a collective trauma for many of the country’s 5.3 million inhabitants. Survivors were joined by a shaken population who were determined to show that Norway would become more — not less — tolerant and reject the worldview that motivated the killer.A decade later, some survivors believe that collective determination is waning.“What was very positive after the terror attacks was that people saw this as an attack on the whole of Norway. It was a way of showing solidarity,” said Aukrust. “But that has disappeared. It was an attack on a multicultural society. And though it was the act of one person, we know that his views are shared by more people today than they were 10 years ago.”Breivik struck at Labor Party institutions he believed were aiding what he called the “Islamization” of Norway. Dressed as a policeman, he landed on Utoya, shooting dead 69 members of the youth wing and injuring scores more. He had earlier murdered eight people in a bomb attack at government buildings in Oslo.“It wasn’t random that it was our summer camp that was attacked. The hatred was against us because of our values of openness and inclusiveness,” said Sindre Lysoe, a survivor from Utoya who is now the general secretary of the Labor Party’s Youth Wing.“After Utoya, it was too hard for many people to go back to politics. For me and for society, it was very important to raise up again and fight back through more of the good work we knew we could do,” he said. “Before 22 July, politics was important, afterwards it became about life and death.”After hearing about the Oslo bombing on the “darkest day of all of our lives,” he remembers his friends telling each other they were in the safest place on earth. Within minutes, the gunfire and screaming began on the island. Today Lysoe spends a lot of his time warning young people about the dangers of right-wing extremism.In the years following the attack, Norway’s security police, the PST, continued to rank Islamists as more likely to carry out domestic terrorism than right-wing extremists.But after the New Zealand mosque attacks in 2019 killed 51 people, and a copycat attempt by Norwegian shooter Philip Manshaus just outside Oslo later that year in which the killer’s sister died, Norway’s security police changed its annual assessments. It now ranks the two forms of extremism at the same danger level.“As we progressed into 2013 and 2014, European migration and IS became the prisms that we saw terror through. Norway went back to a narrative of extremism being largely foreign,” said Bjoern Ihler, who escaped the bullets by swimming in frigid waters around the island to safety.“There is a failure in self-reflection. We are missing the fact that Anders Breivik and Manshaus were Norwegian, but also so were a lot of the extremists throughout the last decade that should have been caught by our social system,” he said.Since the July 22 attacks, Ihler has become an expert in countering radicalization, founding the Khalifa-Ihler Institute for Peace Building and Counter Extremism, advising European Union and chairing a panel at the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism.Planning the attack from his mother’s home in Oslo, Breivik tapped into an online ecosystem that demonized Islam and cast in doubt Europe’s Christian future. Ihler, who has spoken with scores of reformed extremists, says these internet echo chambers need to be exposed to different voices.“Regardless of ideology, the reasons they went into radical environments are all somewhat similar. It’s about finding identity and a space where you find belonging. Whether it is Islamists or far-right extremists, the fundamental problem they have is living in environments with diversity,” he said. “The tricky part is helping them build comfort with that diversity.”Ihler still believes in the power of traditional Norwegian values such as democracy and rehabilitation in solving societal problems.Breivik struck at all of these, testing not only the country’s commitment to tolerance and inclusiveness but also to nonviolence and merciful justice. Yet he still benefits from a justice system that favors rehabilitation over vengeance.While his sentence can be extended if he is still considered dangerous, Breivik is serving his 21 years in a three-room cell with access to a gym and computer games, luxuries that would be unthinkable even for minor criminals in other countries.“It is right that he is treated humanely,” said Ihler. “We don’t want to go down the same route of violence. We need to keep on showing people that there are better ways of dealing with the issues we have.”