Norway has begun commemorations marking 10 years since far-right attacker Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in the worst act of violence in the country since World War II.
On July 22, 2011, Breivik detonated a car bomb outside the prime minister’s office in the capital, Oslo, killing eight people. Later the same day, he headed to Utoya island dressed as a police officer and carried out a shooting spree at a Labour Party youth camp, killing 69 people, most of them teenagers.
Thursday’s remembrance events started with a memorial service outside what was once the prime minister’s office – an empty shell since the attack due to disagreements over how to rebuild it.
The service, which was broadcast on television, was attended by Prime Minister Erna Solberg, survivors and relatives of the victims, political leaders and members of Norway’s royal family.
Outside the guarded area, passersby stopped to listen, and some hugged as the names of the victims were read out.
“It hurts to think back to that dark day in July, 10 years ago. Today, we mourn together. Today, we remember the 77 that never came home,” Solberg said in a speech delivered at the site.
“The terror of July 22 was an attack on our democracy,” she added, before calling for Norwegians to build a “fortified bulwark against intolerance and hate speech, for empathy and tolerance” and “not let hate stand unopposed”.
‘Extremism is still alive’
Breivik, 42, is serving a 21-year sentence which can be prolonged indefinitely if he is deemed a continued threat to society. He will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars.
The debate over his attacks has shifted over the years. Survivors, many of whom were teenagers at the time of the attack, are now determined to confront the far-right ideology which inspired him.
This marks a departure from Norway’s response at the time, when then-Labour Party Prime Minister and current NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg pledged to respond with “more democracy” and “more humanity”.
Astrid Hoem, a leader of the Labour Party youth organisation AUF and survivor of the Utoya massacre, said at Thursday’s memorial event that Norway had “not stopped the hate” a decade on from Breivik’s attacks.
“Ten years later, we need to speak the truth … Right-wing extremism is still alive,” she said.
“They live on the internet, they live around the dinner table, they live in many people that many [other] people listen to.”
Norwegian intelligence service issues warning
Hoem also urged Norway, home to 5.3 million people, to fully face up to racism in a bid to eradicate it from society and avoid a repeat tragedy.
“If we do this now, we might be able to keep our promise of ‘Never again July 22’,” she said.
“The terrorist was one of us. But he does not define who we are – we do.”
Hoem’s remarks came after the Norwegian intelligence service (PST) warned this week that “the far-right ideas” that inspired Breivik are “still a driving force for right-wing extremists at home and abroad”.
Breivik’s actions had inspired several violent attacks over the past 10 years, the PST said, including those targeting mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch and Oslo.
On Tuesday, a memorial to Benjamin Hermansen, who was killed by neo-Nazis in 2001, was defaced with the slogan “Breivik was right”.
The act was strongly condemned by politicians and the public and is now being investigated by police.
Thursday’s initial event was followed by a service at the Oslo Cathedral, after which church bells rang out across the country for five minutes from midday local time onwards.
A ceremony on Utoya is scheduled to take place later in the afternoon.
The day’s commemoration events are set to conclude with an evening ceremony in Oslo during which Norway’s King Harald is expected to speak.
A group of survivors has set up a Twitter account – @aldriglemme (Never forget) – to repost tweets about the attacks as they appeared 10 years ago.
For many of the survivors, the psychological trauma of the events in 2011 remains an open wound.
A third of them were still suffering last year from serious health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and headaches, a recent paper by the Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies found.
“If someone today tells me that they want me dead, I take it very seriously,” Elin L’Estrange, a survivor, told the AFP news agency.