When I first decided to move to Norway to study for six months, I knew very little about the country. Indeed, most of my knowledge was based on stereotypes that had led me to believe that eating fish was compulsory, that everyone would have blonde hair and blue eyes and that the weather was so cold that I would soon be longing for the British summer.
More importantly, it appeared to be a safe country, which quashed some of my parents’ fears in regard to me moving abroad. However, when I was finally accepted to study at the University of Bergen, one individual was repeatedly mentioned and began to gain prominence when I would tell others my news: Anders Behring Breivik.
Most people know someone that was directly affected or know someone that knows someone.MagnusNorwegian citizen
I had heard of him, of course, and the attacks that had taken place on 22nd July 2011. He had set off a car bomb near government offices in Oslo and had then gone on a shooting rampage at a Labour Party youth summer camp in Utøya. The attacks had left 77 people dead and 244 people injured. He was sentenced for 21 years, which may later be extended, and when the initial press coverage had died down, I had soon, if not forgotten, allowed my memory of the event to become hazy.
It was only when friends and family kept bringing him up that I realised that this was perhaps one of the few things that they knew and could associate with the country. With Norwegian news rarely being covered by international press, it was this incident that had brought it to the focus of the media and its audience.
When I asked my Norwegian friends about it, the majority had an opinion, and as one of them pointed out, what with Norway’s small population, “most people know someone that was directly affected or know someone that knows someone”, which consequently begs the question, can Norway ever recover from what happened?
Firstly, it is important to truly grasp the impact that it had on the country and its people. One of my friends, Kine, was working in a shop in Oslo when the bomb went off and, when she was first asked if she had heard about what had happened by a customer, her initial reaction was that she must be “off her rocker”. When it was confirmed, the first thing Kine did was to “send texts to [her] friends and relatives to make sure they weren’t in the vicinity”. Another friend, Magnus, was on his way to a cabin trip in the mountains with his family and was restricted to receiving news updates via the radio on the three hour drive.
When they woke up the next day, with the death toll being confirmed as above 72, he commented that the “nation was in shock”. Magnus and his father decided to return home as a result. The recurring theme with all of those that I spoke to was that everybody was struggling to come to terms with the fact that something like this could happen in “peaceful little Norway”, as one person called it.
Everybody was struggling to come to terms with the fact that something like this could happen in “peaceful little Norway”.
Before it was known who was responsible, there was an assumption that it was the work of Islamic terrorists, but after Breivik’s relatively speedy capture, this was proven not to be the case. The quick handling of the incident, according to Kine, meant that “the people who immediately blamed Islam were quickly shut up and shamed for their assumptions and… [drawing conclusions] before there was any information to be had”.
Indeed, some believed that the fact that Breivik was a “blonde Norwegian” was a very faint silver lining. Magnus commented that the consequences of “an Islamic terrorist attack would be very severe due to the prejudged opinion many people have on this, and it would increase foreign hatred further”.
The fact that it was an individual, rather than a group, who was responsible has arguably made it slightly easier for Norway to move on and recover from the attacks, for the imprisonment of the Breivik has reduced the threat of him attacking again, in addition to his ability to testify about his crimes.
Moreover, the Norwegian authorities implemented tighter security measures to decrease further risk, and these have not been the only action taken to ensure that the attacks do not get the better of Norway. The day after the attacks the Oslo Police Chief urged the citizens to retake the city. Magnus was one of the people that decided to do as such, and he describes the scene that met his eyes as “carnage”.
He said: “You could still see broken windows and the people that were around there seemed to be in a state of shock and disbelief”. Yet the fact that people quickly saw the damage done meant that they could accept it more quickly, preventing too much speculation, which could have worsened the situation.
Some also felt that there was increased political awareness in the aftermath, especially in regards to Norway’s youth, and this summer, Norway’s Labour Party will host its summer camp for the first time since the attacks, although at a different location.
You could still see broken windows and the people that were around there seemed to be in a state of shock and disbelief.MagnusNorwegian citizen
Nevertheless, the Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies has found that one in three of the victims from Utøya are still suffering from different types of trauma. Consequently, it is too soon to hope that Norway can fully move on from the actions of Anders Breivik, especially with his name still frequently reappearing in the headlines.
Perhaps the question that should be asked is not if Norway can forget, but if it can learn from this incident and use it as an opportunity to prevent similar attacks from happening again in the future.