I remember vividly, like all Norwegians and foreigners living in Norway back then, where I was during the Utøya attacks. Especially because I had walked passed the car Anders Behring Breivik had hidden a bomb in 15 minutes before it exploded. He was targeting the Prime Minister’s office in Regjeringskvartalen in the centre of Oslo. My office happened to be just behind that building. The bomb killed 8 people and injured 209, but the worst was to come.
After setting the bomb, Breivik had gone to the island of Utøya dressed like a police officer. Why Utøya? The Youth organisation of the Labour Party had its summer gathering there, and he intended to attack the party in power and the multicultural society they, according to him, made happen. He shot at 179 children and teenagers one by one, killing 69 and injuring 110. Some of them are marked for life physically, and all of those who survived are marked psychologically. Some had to swim over to the mainland, in a quite cold water. Others had to hide under the bodies of their friends to survive. This is the deadliest attack on Norwegian soil since World War II and marked Norwegians and foreigners living in Norway because of its cruelty.
Reactions from the government in 2011
The government at that time was led by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, whose party had been the primary target and victim of the attacks both in the city centre and on Utøya. His government then made the choice to answer these attacks not with more security but with more democracy, and with love to hatred, followed by hundreds of thousands of Norwegians and immigrants, with roses, tears and peaceful marches. King Harald made a speech and had tears in his eyes, just like all of us who felt for the victims, the survivors, but also for the kind of society we want to have. One year after the attacks I was in Oslo for the commemoration and I have seldom felt so much solidarity, pain and sadness at the same time with people whom I did not know.
Back then the Norwegian response was seen as heroic. Instead of arming police officers and scaling up security craziness as the USA can do, the Norwegian government answered with peace messages. In a small country like Norway, a survey showed that one in four Norwegians knows someone who was affected by the attacks (if they weren’t themselves). The reaction was more roses instead of more guns, in 2011. Back then I remember thinking: what kind of society are the Utøya survivors going to fight for? And what kind of change will this make on Norwegian society in general?
7 years later, survivors are threatened and bullied
Fast forward to 2018. Breivik has been judged and is in a jail without any access to internet. He has sued the Norwegian state many times, including for torture, for example complaining about the quality of the prison food – including microwaved meals that he described as “worse than water-boarding” – and having to eat with plastic cutlery. He has also applied to become a student in Political science at the University of Oslo (his application was accepted), and changed his name to Fjotolf Hansen (which means idiot…go figure why he chose that name). Breivik is obsessed with the media enough to keep us updated on his life even when we aren’t interested. But how are the survivors doing, i.e. those who escaped and live with both physical wounds and psychological trauma.
Well they aren’t doing too good. On the 22nd of July 2018 for the 7th anniversary of the attacks, the newspaper Aftenposten released interviews and screenshots of comments and messages that survivors receive on a daily basis. And it is frightening.
Have the roses turned black? “You are a traitor. It would have been better for all of us if you had stayed in Utøya and not survived. It is a shame Breivik missed (his shot at you)” is one the messages the survivor Tarjei Jensen Bech received. He saw his friend get shot in front of him and the blood invade the water, got shot himself by Breivik and survived. 25 operations later, Tarjei continues to receive hate mail because he survived Utøya. Many like him, who were destined to be political leaders or at least active in the Labour party, have abandoned that part of their work because of all the hatred. Eskil Pedersen is the survivor that gets most hate mail. He not only survived Utøya but is also gay. “Hope to see you lying under Utøya next year 🙂 You cowardly bastard. A shame Breivik did not take your life. Otherwise he did a great job” or “You look tired Eskil, you asylum hore” or “Fucking ugly detestable homo pig” (Sorry for the approximate translations, it is hard to translate so much hatred in so few words).
Is hatred more and more present in Norwegian debates?
The discussions in Norway have been getting very worrying in the past years. The messages these kids who have been through hell are a symptom of this hatred that many feel like they can express publicly and personally to others they often do not know.
One of the targets of this hatred is the Labour Party, which is a mystery for me as they aren’t even in power and lost the two last elections. I am not saying hatred is justified against a party in power, but I can get the extra criticism and passionate debates against those voting the laws one might not agree with. But what is the point when a party is not even in power? What Norwegians call “Ap-hat” (hate for the Labour Party) is not new, but is taking new heights (or maybe it is because I understand the news better now). Breivik said in 2011 that he felt like “his life was in danger because of the policies of the Labour Party”. This was seen as psychosis. This is the same guy who cried of joy when seeing all the bodies of the teenagers he murdered during the trial, expressing pride for his “work”.
In a famous political crisis that happened a few months ago, Sylvi Listhaug from the Progress party, wrote a Facebook post where she wrote on a tasteless picture of a stereotypical terrorist that “the Labour party thinks that the rights of terrorists are more important than the nation’s security”. Except that the Labour party or it leaders never said or meant such a thing. A vote of no confidence was filed by the Red Party in the Parliament against her, but she blamed the Labour Party for the crisis. She lost her job in a coalition where the Labour Party does not even have a Ministerial seat.
One can think whatever one wants about Breivik, but he is not the one who sends letters and Facebook messages threatening and bullying those who survived Utøya. One can be disagreeing with this or that party, but what motivates people to send messages telling people they should be murdered? Is this something Norwegian or a trend one sees in the rest of the world? Are these people dangerous, and can they attack more Labour party people, or even foreigners or Norwegians looking a bit too dark for their taste? I am hoping to see the roses turn red again soon.