Albert Andersen Øydvin (Norway, UWC AC 2010-2012)
A Norwegian student responds to the terrorist attack in Oslo and Utøya on 22 July, 2011.
“Behind everyone that was killed
stand thousands behind.
Stand thousands of others united
in proud and naked despite
Oh, dead comrades,
they will never beat us down”
– Inger Hagerup
Last week has been one of strangest and most painful in my life. Today it’s a week since my home country, Norway, was struck by two dreadful terrorist attacks. Being in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, at the moment for a summer project, two of my Norwegian second years, the rest of the UWC-people here and I have been following the news closely on the Internet. On the 22nd of July a bomb exploded in the center of Oslo, in the middle of the most important governmental buildings, including the prime minister’s office, the ministry of energy and oil, the ministry of justice, etc. The bomb killed eight people and injured many more seriously. About an hour afterwards a man dressed as a police officer started shooting young people gathered at a holiday island for a political summer camp for the youth organization of the Norwegian Labour Party (AUF). 69 were killed and many many more heavily injured.
I’m still not able to comprehend what actually happened. It is just too unreal. This is clearly the single worst day in Norwegian history since World War II. Terrorism is just something so far away from the mentality of daily life of Norwegians that for me it was very hard to relate to the killings. The two words that I now see in the news just don’t go together: “Norway” and “Terrorism”. It feels dream-like, not something which is real and tangible, something which I’m able to react to, either rationally or emotionally.
This is very personal for me. This time last year I was on the same island where the massacre happened. I was attending a very similar summer camp that the guys that were killed were attending. The only real difference was the organization: AUF being a social-democratic youth organization, and mine being a socialist one. But we agree on most things, fight on the same side, shoulder by shoulder, and are very much part of the same movement: The labour movement. The attack on the governmental buildings is also an attack on the sitting government and the parties in it:the Labour party, the Socialist-Green party and the Farmers party. It was an attack directed directly towards my movement and the ideas and values we fight for: Solidarity, tolerance, multiculturalism, active democracy and freedom of speech. It hurts.
I had many good friends on the island from years of political activism. My closest ones luckily survived. For this I’m eternally glad, but it really doesn’t give you much happiness when so many other ones died. Friends of your friends, people you talked to once or just saw at a meeting. The worst thing is the way it was done. Utøya, which is the name of the holiday island, is a small island. It would take you 10-15minutes to walk from one side to the other. I still have the pictures of the tracks, houses, the campsite, the seaside, the volleyball pitch, the houses, the forest etc. clearly in my head. There was 700 hundred young people at the island, most of the approximately between 14 and 25. The island is cut of from the mainland, only a small ferry takes people to and from it, and during the shootings it was not at the island. They literally had nowhere to go, the only hope was to hide, try to swim to the other shore and maybe be lucky enough to be picked up by a local boat.
The political youth camp is a strong tradition in the Norwegian democracy. It’s a week of happiness, freedom, learning, friendship, swimming, sun, discussions, concerts, campfire, singing, etc. It´s a place to meet like-minded people, to have a fantastic sense of unity – to be fighting for a common cause, but still with a wonderful diversity of people, including international quests from other parts of the international labour movement. For me it’s the most meaningful thing in my life and one of the places where I’m absolutely happy. In the middle of this paradise what you think is a police officer comes along. In Norway you trust the police. They are nice and help people; often they are also people you know, at least in the countryside where I come from. Suddenly everything falls apart. The terrorist starts shooting people. Unarmed, defenseless kids. The fear and terror it must have caused is impossible to imagine.
Shortly after the attacks started the media started speculating: Islamic extremism, Al-Qaeda. I hope every journalist, every “analyst”, every self-declared “expert” and every blogger that contributed to this is deeply ashamed of themselves. There was no proof, whatsoever, and still they started blaming the Muslims. This is exactly the attitude that is underlying the attack, which motivated the terrorist. As soon as proper facts came everybody changed their minds, turned their tail and fled from their speculations. Murdoch-owned Sky News first presented to the whole world his name, identity and life, and soon everybody followed: printing his name everywhere. As a side note I wish somebody would prosecute Sky for revealing his identity. In the Norwegian justice system there is supposed to be a principle saying you are innocent until proven guilty. And that principle is supposed to function for everybody, no matter how bad a crime they might have committed. I will by principle not mention the terrorist’s name, but when the media does it they destroy the rest of his life, whether he is guilty or not. Also, doing this now and in other cases Sky effectively undermines one of the most important principles in a justice system. If we do not treat the terrorist in conduct with the democratic principles we have for our justice system, we let him win.
Back to the main point: For me he is more than just a mad lunatic. He is rich, educated and politically active. He’s white, blond and Christian. His views are right-wing extremist, but when you examine them a lot of them are not that far from what a lot of people in Europe, politicians and normal people have been saying to an increasing degree the last years: “There is a cultural crash between the West and Muslim culture”, “Muslim immigration and culture is undermining western democracy and liberal values”, “Multiculturalism is a failed project and the only way to preserve western culture is through more homogeneousness”. We’ve heard it before, from the English Defense League in England, National Front in France, Geert Wilders in Holland to Jobbik in Hungary and many others. Of course his methods are much more extreme than most islamophobic persons and organization in Europe, but he still belongs to the same movement. He has attended demonstrations by the EDL, he writes about Wilders with admiration in his so-called “manifesto” and he used to be a member of the Islam-skeptical Norwegian party called the Progress Party.
It would be very easy for all Norwegians to think “this guy had nothing to do with me, he was just a mad extremist”, and then get on with their lives. But luckily the people of Norway have showed a completely different attitude. This week there were huge marches in every city, and many of the smaller villages as well. People have been carrying torches and roses in solidarity with the killed ones, their families, friends and everyone who experienced the hell in Oslo and at Utøya. Everybody is affected. In such a small country as Norway almost everyone knows someone at the island or someone who had a friend or family member there. The youth at the island where from the whole of the country, so every region and community is in some way affected. It is not only an attack at a social-democratic youth party, it´s an attack on the whole country, on the values we like to associate us with: democracy, tolerance, freedom of speech. In Oslo approximately 200 000 people took to the streets, and that is in a city with a population of altogether 600 000 people. In my hometown, Sogndal, 1000 people marched, out of a population of 8000.
A quote that has been repeated a lot is this one by Nordahl Grieg, a Norwegian poet famous for his political engagement against fascism/Nazi occupation of Norway during World War II and emphasis on solidarity and belief in humanity: “We are so few in this country, every fallen man is a brother or friend.”
The will and courage people have shown last week, to not only comfort each other in solidarity and unity, but also to answer hate with love, have been truly amazing. It has really given me a lot of belief in my country and the people that make it up. The answer we have given the terrorist and other hateful extremists of the sort is clear: We will not let your attempt to escalate conflict and hatred succeed, we will not let you take our values away from us, and in the words of the Norwegian prime minister “We will not let you destroy us!”
In the end I want to quote the leader of my political youth organization Olav Magnus Linge: ”We owe our comrades in AUF and all those that were killed because they fought for a better world more than tears and words of memory. For all dead comrades, not a minute of silence, but a lifetime of struggle!”
30 July 2011
-United World Colleges Student Magazine-