Norway commemorated the 77 people killed and 242 injured a year ago today when a government building in Oslo was bombed and a shooter attacked a youth camp on the island of Ut°ya. The killings, the worst violence in Norway since World War II, shocked the peaceful nation, which has long emphasized openness, tolerance and democracy. More than half of the victims were teenagers, with the youngest having only turned 14 five days before being killed
At a wreath-laying ceremony at the bombing site, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said that the killer, 33-year-old far-right fanatic Anders Behring Breivik, had failed in his stated goal of destroying Norway’s commitment to being a society of tolerance and open to multiculturalism:
“The bomb and the gun shots were meant to change Norway. The Norwegian people answered by embracing our values. The perpetrator lost. The people won.”
Stoltenberg then traveled to Ut°ya, where he gave a speech to young members of the Labour Party and also laid a wreath. Hundreds of relatives of those killed and injured had attended a private service on the island in the morning. A national memorial concert with mostly Norwegian musicians was held on Sunday evening.
At a church service attended by the royal family and government families in Oslo’s cathedral, vicar Elisabeth Thorsen called on Norwegians also to remember victims of violence in other parts of the world including Syria and the US, an apparent reference to the killing of twelve people in a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, on Friday, says the New York Times.
Breivik has admitted to the killings and bombings and been on trial for three months. He has justified his acts on the grounds that those whom he killed were “traitors for embracing immigration and making Norway a multicultural society” and that he sought to prevent Muslims from taking over Norwegian society. Defense lawyers have argued that Breivik is sane, while prosecutors say that he is mentally ill. A ruling will be delivered on August 24 about whether Breivik is sane and will receive a lengthy prison sentence or whether he is not and must be sent to a secure psychiatric ward.
Norway’s commitment to tolerance in the face of xenophobia has recently been tested by the public response to an influx of Gypsies from Eastern Europe:
After neighbors complained of unsanitary conditions, noise and illegal construction, anti-immigration politicians called for the Gypsies, also known as Roma, to be rounded up and bussed out of Norway. Online, the debate has been raw, sometimes outright racist.
“Some of what we have seen is frightening,” Stoltenberg told Norwegian broadcaster TV2 this week. “Nobody shall be judged because they belong to a certain ethnic group.”
Anti-Gypsy sentiment is no worse in Norway than elsewhere, with many of the Roma saying that they are treated better in Norway than in Romania, Bulgaria and their other home countries, says the New York Times. While not a member of the European Union, Norway has close ties to countries in the 27-member bloc and allows citizens of EU nations to enter its borders freely and remain for three months without registering with authorities. Some have noted an increase in the numbers of Roma recently entering Norway, which, thanks to its offshore oil and gas resources, has not been much affected by the euro zone’s economic crisis.
In response to the Norwegian government’s determination to promote tolerance and openness to oppose Breivik’s views, Vegard Groeslie Wennesland, a Labour Party activist who survived the attack, told the BBC that “people thought it a bit naive to cling to these values of openness in a situation like that.” But he then emphasized that he thinks “it’s more naive to think that brutal police, or more restrictive policies will bring you a safer society.”
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Photo taken July 22, 2012 in Oslo by Fornyingsdepartementet