Europe

Norway attacks: Grief touches every community

  • 25 July 2011
  • From the section Europe
Relatives mourn a lost loved one opposite Utoeya island
Relatives mourn a lost loved one opposite Utoeya island

For the people of Norway, the grieving has only just begun after Friday's deadly terror attack in Oslo and the massacre at the Labour youth camp at the Utoeya island.

No-one will be unaffected, not least because the nation's population numbers just 4.9 million people.

In the words of the Norwegian poet Nordahl Grieg, who was writing during World War II: "We are so few in our country. Each fallen a brother and friend."

Few names of individuals killed during the attacks have been released, though the death of a policeman who was working as a security guard at the camp illustrates the way the pain is shared by people from all sections of this egalitarian society.

The policeman's name was Trond Berntsen, and he was 51. He was the step-brother of Crown Princess Mette-Marit.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg also says he knew several of the victims personally.

Local losses

The Labour Party's annual youth camp attracts teenagers from all over the country, so the pain will be shared by every town and local community.

And since Norway has an extensive and highly professional network of local newspapers, that are partly financed through state support, the grief will be reflected at an almost microscopic level.

Most, if not all, of the papers will be able to identify local families whose lives have been shattered by relatives lost, or traumatised by the events.

When measured numerically, some communities may have taken a greater hit than others. Cities such as Tromsoe in northern Norway, perhaps, because of the strong political engagement amongst the people there, and the widespread support for the Labour movement.

But, proportionally, other small communities may be hit just as badly. The local newspaper in the small community of Bardu reports that out of the seven youngsters who went to the camp only five are expected to return home alive.

A united nation

While every community, every town and city, will mourn their own, their people are also standing together as a nation.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Stoltenberg spoke of "an open Norway, a democratic Norway and a Norway where we take care of each other".

There have been many nationwide displays of unity, of solidarity and of defiance against the terror that has struck at the heart of the land that hosts the Nobel Peace Prize.

On Sunday, memorial services were held across the country. On Monday, the nation stopped for a minute's silence at noon - with trading at the stock exchange halted, traffic on the roads stopped, trains halted on the tracks, and people in the streets or in their homes turning off their phones and radios to stand together in grief.

And the Norwegian people were joined by their Nordic neighbours, with all the governments in the region asking their peoples to take part.

On Monday night, parades will take place across the country, with people carrying torches and lighting candles to remember the dead.

"It will show that we stand together against everything the terror action on Friday stands for," observes Amnesty International Norway's general secretary John Peder Egenaes in an interview with the newspaper Aftenposten.

Peace, love- and anger

Much of the focus in Norway has been on the importance of not letting acts of terror change the way the people in this open society view the world around them.

Groups have been set up on social networking sites, urging people to stand together for peace, to meet the hatred with love.

Norwegians mourn in Oslo
Norwegians seem determined not to let the attacks change their society

But pages calling for the death penalty to be brought back are also attracting supporters, in a sign that there is also a great deal of anger and a strong desire for revenge.

Three days after the event, there is still very little debate about whether security around government buildings in Oslo was sufficient, about whether the police response was quick enough to the Utoeya massacre or about measures that should be taken to prevent similar things from happening again.

Such debates will no doubt emerge as part of the country's democratic process, but for now the Norwegian people are more focused on showing their defiance and strength in the face of adversity.

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