Commemorating 22 July 2011: Speech at Utøya island
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is profoundly moving to join you here on Utøya today. On the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack. To be here with survivors and family members and others whose lives were changed forever.
Because this is where it happened. On a summer day like today. The island was full of young people at camp. Adults who were watching out for them. And then daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, parents, spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends and new friends became the victims of a meticulously planned terrorist attack.
On this day, 10 years ago, we lost 69 irreplaceable lives here on Utøya island.
Those of us who weren’t here will never be able to fully comprehend what those 72 minutes felt like. None of us can truly understand how frightened those who were here must have felt. All we can do is to listen and try to grasp the pain that still resides in everyone who lived through the attack.
After the terrorist had detonated the bomb in the Government Office Complex, he came here – to children and young people at a summer camp on the Tyrifjorden lake. He wanted to strike out at the Workers’ Youth League (AUF), at the Labour Party, at the Government.
He wanted to destroy some of our basic common values: Norwegian democracy. Our freedom of expression. Our free, trust-based society where everyone is entitled to be included and to feel safe.
In the days after the attacks, we met some of you survivors and family members. We saw the shock and despair. Many were having trouble absorbing that it really had happened. It was too painful. Too difficult. It was too much to bear. Too horrible to fathom.
Ten years have passed and we have all heard the stories. About Lovers’ Lane. The café building. The pump house. Accounts of indescribable fear – but also of kindness and heroism. Of love for fellow human beings.
There are 495 unique survivor stories from that day. And even more from you who are the families and loved ones of those who were there, and from other people whose lives were affected directly or indirectly. Each of these stories invokes a truth. Each is deserving of our respect.
No one goes through a traumatic experience like this without being marked for life. Fortunately, many of you who survived or are the families and loved ones of those who were lost say you have found a way to cope. But I know there are still many who are struggling to overcome a wide range of physical and psychological impacts. And in addition, many have been subjected to the extra burden of threats and harassment in the wake of the terrorism they endured.
In spite of this, AUF has managed to take a completely meaningless act and turn it into something extremely meaningful. Not only have the summer camps returned. You have also succeeded in establishing an internationally renowned centre for democracy-building and knowledge – to fight hatred, xenophobia and conspiracy theories. By seeking to repair and rebuild – with humanity and compassion – you have balanced the need to remember with the wish to create new life here on Utøya. The new Utøya.
It has been 10 years filled with hope and commitment – but also many difficult days. Once the rose processions, the court case and the investigations were finished, all that remained was silence. Many have felt isolated and disheartened. Many of you have felt alone in your grief. Have felt you were fighting against the far-right extremist forces all on your own.
It is not hard to understand why that feels unreasonable. It is not how things are supposed to be. We all have a personal and collective responsibility to work to combat these forces – every single day. This is a lesson our country has learned in the most painful of ways.
This year, the King and Queen, the Crown Princess and I have met people who were directly affected by the attacks 10 years ago. Family members, survivors, emergency responders, and people who came to help. It has been rewarding and has taught us a great deal.
We must have the courage to talk about what happened, even though it is upsetting. I am afraid that we as a society have not been good enough at listening and making room for all the feelings, all the trauma that 22 July led to. As we mark this 10th anniversary, I hope it can help us to find the right words, the right language, to help us move forward. And I hope that it will also open up more space for the stories, even though they are hard to hear. Space for all of you who have been wounded and scarred.
And as we honour the 77 lives that were lost here on Utøya and in the Government Office Complex, we know that they will never be forgotten – because they live on in our memories.