Remembering Utøya’s First Anniversary
Terror in Norway by Paolo Lombardi

“I will tell your story if you die. I will tell your story, and keep you alive… I’ve always had the feeling we would die young” sings a soulful thin woman before me. At the first lyrics many people in the crowd, including myself, can feel tears in their eyes, remembering that on 22nd of July 2011, too many people died young.

This song is the first of many at the mini-concert given on the 22nd of July 2012 for the first anniversary of what some call the Utøya massacre, coupled with the bomb set in Oslo city-centre. Ironically enough, the singer opening the concert is Laleh Pourkarim, an Iranian-born Swedish woman who fled Iran with her family and became a Swedish pop singer. Just like many immigrants continue to flee to seek shelter from the bombs, the intolerance, the wars or the poverty they face in their home country. Some land in Norway, a land of peace and tolerance where they will no longer fear for their lives or their childrens’.

This must be unbearable to him, and I am secretly wishing that he is forced to watch this concert from his cell, forced to see the thousands of people who came here today, despite the rain and the wind.

Because let’s face it, this day is the worst Scandinavian summer day ever. On no wait, it could be worst, there could be snow! But still, the wind is blowing, the rain is pouring down, the sky is getting darker and we are all standing like sardines in a can. For security reasons we were not allowed to bring umbrellas inside the concert area, so most of us are really wet and feeling cold. And count all the girls who dreamt it was summer and who came along with mini-shorts and trendy shredded t-shirts. They had to buy Burger King ponchos on their way here. Most people came long in advance, one or sometimes two hours, to watch Mari Boine live, or Marit Larsen, or simply to remember and to be together and not feel alone on this very sad day.

But close to 8pm, the time the concert starts, I am wondering what I am doing here. I’ve been waiting here for more than an hour, and it is too cold. I should be on my sofa with a cup of hot chocolate watching this on television. Why did I need to come out here in the cold and the rain? Well the answer was given to me several minutes later when a trumpetist plays “Mitt lille land” from the top of Rådhusplassen and Laleh sings the first verses of “some die young”.

Suddenly I remember the broken glass in Akersgata, the teenagers telling on television how they ran away from the killer, and how he hunt them down to their tents, shooting in the water while some of them were swimming away from the Utøya island. The obvious wounds, the blood and amputations of the victims; but also the psychological wounds which, we could guess, would take much longer to heal. But I also recall in my head pictures of the city covered in roses, the flowers stuck everywhere, in the smallest cracks of the road, on the fences. The spontaneous march where all came with their friends, their kids and their grand parents to show that Norway is still a nation of peace and freedom, not of fear and anger.

I am not Norwegian but I was marching with them and feeling part of this country, because I too live in Oslo, and I too feel the unbearable pain of seeing the trust and solidarity Norwegian people based their nation on be suddenly stripped down and raped. As a French living here I am part of this multicultural society that he hates and I feel so proud that Norway did not respond with violence and American-like security measures, but with love and tolerance.

I watch Bruce Springsteen telling his love of Norway and finally a little man with a hat sings a song I have heard many times on the radio: “God natt Oslo”. Yes, god natt, I am tired and will go home now, feeling sad and happy at the same time. I know that Norwegians don’t usually express their feelings and emotions too much, but tonight we were all crying together, for those who died too young.

A Frog in the Fjord: One Year in Norway Book

13 thoughts on “Remembering Utøya’s First Anniversary

  1. Thank you <3
    I got goosebumps and tears in my eyes, this is still painful. I was lucky enough that I didn't know anyone on Utøya, but I still feel sorry for the people and the families that lost theirs loved ones..
    Thank you for an amazing blog about Norway, makes me proud haha 😉

  2. I was very pleased to see Norway not reacting like Americans and bombarding another country or starting a war.

    Credit to Norway for being liberal and it’s people to think above hatred. I think this originality is what saved Norway.

    Credit goes to Norway for not propagandizing or politicizing this to spread hatred as Americans so culturally do.

    Internally I am happy at the high moral reaction of Norway. I think we can all believe now that there is a country called Norway in the world that is not an American cultural puppet.

  3. I am just amazed there is no death penalty here. I had just moved to Norway soon after the tragedy, and was interviewed on the BBC’s World Have Your Say. Unfortunately my Skype connection was very poor, so I couldn’t participate very well, but it was so surprising (and unsettling) to hear one the other of the other respondents comments. He kept calling for justice for the families of the victims, in this case justice being the death penalty. I had been hearing interviews with the families of the victims and they wanted nothing of the sort, but the other guest seemed contented to speak for them.

    I am so pleased that Norway doesn’t have the death penalty like the US. I am glad I am here in Norway, and very pleased Norway is both moral and rational even in the face of terrible situations. Truly inspirational.

    1. Dear Steven
      most European countries don’t have death penalty. The special thing here in Norway is that before the Breivik attack the maximum time in prison was 21 years…so there isn’t even life sentence whatever the crime one commits. I don’t know whether it has changed after 2011.

      1. You have something called “Forvaring”. Ruffly translated in to “preservation/to be kept safe”. what it means, is that if some one committed a serious crime and they were deemed a danger to Society. they could be kept in prison for more than the actual sentence. Lets say you get 10 years in prison and 5 years of “forvaring”. If they deem you still a danger to society after 10 years, they can keep you and reevaluate you again each year for those 5 years. until you are deemed fit to return to society. If i understood it correct. this has been used before 2011.
        What I like about the Norwegian prison system is that the punishment is ONLY, “we take your freedom away”. it is not removing every comfort known to man, and kick you out after x years in prison to fend for your self (then you are asking for some one to fail). It is to take your freedom away and then reintegrate you in to society gradually.

        I like this Norwegian expression
        “Bot og bedring” “penalty and improvement”
        If you break something or do something wrong, pay your dues and do what you can not to do it again. It’s mostly said as a joke.

        And I genuinly do like your blog, It realy makes me laugh some times!

      2. He was convicted to the maximum sentence, but to ‘forvaring’ which means ‘preservation’ if you translate it directly. Forvaring means that dangerous people have to be reviewed and accepted by a committee as no longer being a threat to society before they are allowed out. This means that after the 21 years, his case will be reviewed, and if he is still deemed a threat to society, he will serve 5 more years, and then another review, probably 5 more years and so on. In practice this means life in prison. I doubt anyone would ever let him out. Also explained here in Norwegian:

  4. thanks for the nice post. I haven’t been on the island and don’t know anyone who has, but that day I was where the first bomb exploded in Oslo. It was so bloody scary, people running with blood, cars driving against the traffic and on the side walks. We were in the car when it happened, on the way to the cinema. There was no time to turn around so we drove backwards. As nobody else we did not know what is going to be next, so we just drove to get as far from Oslo as possible (I am actually crying while typing this) and then the tunnel shake, we could feel it inside the car. And on the radio they said that it was a second explosion.

  5. Ah.. and then in the evening we could see many ambulance helicopters flying forwards and backwards . We thought “this is not the end”, there is something going on. And next day heard the terrible news about what happened in the island

  6. Thank you for this! I can never hear that Laleh song without what feels like a fist punching into my heart. Every time, regardless of whether it’s in a fashion shop or whatever. That song is painful. A lot of stores, radio people etc. don’t seem to realize that and play it all the time… That day left a scar that will always be there in our society, but I hope we keep the dignity and the unity we showed the days after.

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