Thousands of victims’ relatives and survivors of last month’s massacre by right-wing zealot Anders Behring Breivik gathered Sunday in Oslo for a memorial ceremony that sought to bring closure to Norway’s worst tragedy since World War II.
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said the ceremony was a way to show the country’s appreciation for those who helped in the wake of the bombing of government buildings in Oslo and the shooting spree at the island of Utøya that together killed 77 people on “that black Friday,” July 22.
The prime minister highlighted three tasks for Norwegians moving forward: taking care of those who were still mourning, meeting extremists with discourse, and creating a safe society, both through the police and through individuals safeguarding freedom.
“Together we link an unbreakable chain of care, democracy, and security,” said Mr. Stoltenberg in a speech that drew a standing ovation. “It is our protection against violence.”
Emotions pour forth
The emotional ceremony was marked by Norwegian Royal Majesty King Harald breaking into small sobs just minutes into his speech. One man over laden with grief had to be pulled out of the ceremony in the middle of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, shortly after all 77 names and images of the deceased, mostly teenagers, had been shown on screen.
“The most difficult is to see the pictures and the names,” Stoltenberg told reporters after the ceremony. “When you see them all together, you really comprehend the scope of the tragedy.”
Stoltenberg personally knew several of those were killed at Utøya, home to a political summer youth camp for the Labour party which he also attended in his early years, as well as those killed in the car bomb blast just outside the prime minister’s office.
The nearly two-hour service – which featured a musical concert – included prominent Nordic musicians and actors and was attended by Nordic heads of state and royalty, members of the Norwegian government, police, and medical and rescue personnel.
Victims and their families held each other at the concert, wailed in impromptu mourning, and repeatedly wiped back tears to songs, such as REM’s Everybody Hurts and Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water.
Moving beyond grief
“I think personally it was a beautiful ceremony and somehow sums up the last 30 days,” said Reidar Bruusgaard, head of investigation section at KRIPOS, the national special police division responsible for the criminal investigation at Utøya, and one of the 6,700 attendees. “As Stoltenberg said, it marks and end to the old period and now it is time for the new.”
The ceremony comes the day after families visited Utøya island for the first time since the shooting massacre on July 22 to see where their children had been hunted down by Mr. Breivik, the lone suspect in the case, and just days after the final victims were laid to rest.
Trond Blattman, one of the 50 survivors’ families that participated on this weekend’s visit to Utøya, told Norwegian newspaper Faedrelandsvennen that it was difficult to see where his 17-year-old son Torjus had been killed, but also necessary.
“One of the most important things was where had Torjus been found,” said Mr. Blattman. “If he was lying together with others, where did they lay? Being on the island is quite different than sitting and wondering how it was.”
Breivik is currently in prison. He has confessed to the events of the day, but so far not accepted criminal responsibility.
He is in the process of being examined by forensic psychiatrists, who will deliver a report by Nov. 1. He is also expected to undergo further police interrogations in the coming weeks.