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June 4, 2013 | by  | in Features |
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Oslo Attacks

Where were you when the attacks took place?

I was home in Sunndal, about 300 km away from Oslo. I remember sitting in a chair in the living room, watching television and surfing the internet. Suddenly, I saw tweets saying “gas explosion near the government buildings”, “big explosion in Oslo” and such. My first reaction was to text my friends in the AUF [Worker’s Youth League, the youth wing of Norway’s Labour Party] asking if they were okay, since their offices are close to the government. One texted back: “We’re at the safest place on Earth.” A couple of hours later I was crying and hoping to get in contact with the same people—then knowing that it probably was the least safe place to be.

It was my first day off in 14 days. I was supposed to be at AUF’s summer camp on Utøya, but since I had got a couple of extra days of work at the local newspaper I didn’t go. I already knew I was going to study in the capital, so I had started moving at the beginning of the month. The first couple of days after the terror attacks took place, I felt guilty for not being on the island, which is kind of absurd, but it felt natural because very many of my friends had been there.

What was your involvement with youth politics before the attacks?

I started in AUF in 2006, when I was 14. In 2010 I became a part of the National Delegates’ Board. I was also the deputy leader of Møre og Romsdal county. My last position was in July 2011 as a journalist in the member magazine Praksis.

Has student involvement in youth political groups changed (increased/decreased) following the terror attacks?

It’s hard to say without any specific numbers to look at, but for example, participation in both the student parliament election and headmaster election at the University of Oslo was at its lowest this year.

Have youth political groups become more or less active following the terror attacks?

Studies show that more youth are politically active now compared to before the terror attacks. Especially in the months after, the political youth organisations got an increased member population. The age for voting for both local and national elections is now 18 years. Many political parties, especially on the left-wing side, want it to be changed to age 16.

Has the security at the University and around the country increased since the attacks? How do you feel about the level of security at the University/in Norway?

I don’t think students in Norway feel that the security level has been raised after 22 July, but I know that the universities and colleges have been told by the state that they have to have a emergency plan. The responsibility rests on the police and Department of Justice and Public Security, and they have had many internal investigations to improve what went wrong when the terror hit.

What has Norway done to ensure student safety and welfare following the attacks?

The main consequence of the terror attacks is that the focus on students’ mental health is more important. Students that had been involved in the attacks or anybody who had troubles dealing with emotions after were allowed to go to the front of the queue for psychiatrist services in the student-welfare organisations.

In November 2011 I started to see a psychiatrist connected to the student-welfare organisation in Oslo because of my connections to the happenings at Utøya, and a fear of failing my exam in December. Students that were on Utøya also had the chance to take exams later or have more time to sit the exams because of concentration problems. I don’t know if these special arrangements still exist.

Do most students feel safe at the University, or is there an ongoing feeling of insecurity?

In November 2011 there was a report saying one out of six students felt insecure at their university. I don’t know what the numbers are now, but when thinking about how my friends and acquaintances behave, I don’t see any signs of panic. Personally, I remember thinking insecure during the first couple of weeks, looking for emergency exits just in case something happened.

Do you think the attacks brought the university community, and Norway as a nation, together?

There’s certainly no doubt that it brought Norway as a nation closer together, the first couple of months after the terror. I think the values and how we reacted will still be in our subconscious, and will be a part of the generations growing up. But I think everyone will admit that it was hard to have a good public discussion of the issues that followed, because there were so many feelings connected to the happenings.

Did you think about leaving Norway following the attacks?

Leave the country that has been ranked as the best place in the world to live several times? Nope. Compared to the rest of Europe this is a very safe place to be a student, both in terms of the welfare while studying and job opportunities after finishing your degree. The only thing I was thinking about after the attacks was how fast I could get to Oslo and comfort my friends. It’s very important to remember that the attacks were carried out by only one man, terrorist Anders Behring Breivik.

What effect have the attacks had on extreme-right-wing political discourse in Norway?

Wow, this is a tough one, because everything depends on how you define ‘extreme-right-wing’. For ten years, after its beginning in 1998, there was a Nazi group called Vigrid in Norway, but this doesn’t exist anymore. Historically, there hasn’t been an extreme-right-wing political party since the Second World War. Some people would say that the Progress Party in Norway have a tendency to talk about asylum seekers in a racist way, but this doesn’t necessarily make them extreme.

What is interesting to look at is how the terrorist Anders Behring Breivik found inspiration online. I don’t know how it is in New Zealand, but Norwegian online newspapers’ message boards are dominated by angry racists when it comes to rape, jobs, murders and criminality. It’s scary to see what opinions there are out there, and the worst part is that you don’t know if it’s your neighbour, a person beside you at the bus, or a mentally ill person writing it. So one could say there’s no clearly extreme-right-wing political discourse in Norway, but we know there’s a dark force in our society as well.

How are the responses/reaction to the attacks in Norway different to responses by the public in mass-shooting incidents in the US?

I feel like I need to choose my words carefully when trying to discuss this, because there are so many differences between the 22 July attacks and the mass-shooting incidents in the US. Firstly, this was the first national attack since World War Two. There have been over ten mass-shooting incidents since 2011 in the US—mostly on universities. I think I can say with quite a lot of certainty that the first reactions after the terror attacks in Norway and US are the same: the deepest, blackest grief you can imagine. It’s the second reaction that makes us different from each other: instead of getting angry and vengeful, Norwegians were filled with love and care for the victims, their family and each other.

One can of course ask “Why or how are Norway and the US different from each other?” There are many historical differences, which I don’t need to talk about now, but a big difference is that Norway is a peace nation—we have never been at war, except during the Second World War when we were occupied. The two countries deal with criminality differently also: the highest imprisonment in Norway is 21 years (and lifelong custody*), and in the US there’s death penalty in many states, yet there’s more crime in the US. It’s cultural differences.

Were there many arguments to increase gun control/gun access following the attacks?

The only discussion which I can really remember is whether the police should carry guns when patrolling. Currently the gun is locked in the car, and they have to ask for permission from their boss to take it out. The Norwegian police are the ones demanding the change, probably because of the experience of 22 July. When it comes to the average Norwegian it’s already hard to get a gun, and if you get a gun it’s because you’re going to go out hunting animals, not—as in America—as a protection for your family.

What do you think can and has been learned from the attacks?

Even though we have come a long way with our society and democracy, it’s still fragile. We have a safe environment in Norway, but we cannot close our eyes for the evil in the world, even though most days are struggle-less for us. I’m so happy that we reacted with love, and wanting to fight with words for democracy and openness. I hope, and know, that Norway’s reaction to the terror has been and will be a role model for other countries in similar situations.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I think I would have answered these questions differently if it was a terrorist attack at a university. The 22 July terrorist attacks were an attack at the Norwegian Labour Party and its youth organisation—and what most people in Norway would say are Norwegian values: democracy and openness.


*A sentence where the criminal is tried every five years and can in theory be in jail for life.

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