The place where Norway’s nightmare became real was barely visible. The idyllic, tree-clad Utoya island stood shrouded in rain and mist five kilometres away across the grey waters of the Tyri Fjord, west of Olso. Most of the young people at the camp on its shores had to strain their eyes to see it – but no one could escape its presence.
This week the youth movement of Norway’s Labour Party opened its first summer camp since July 2011, when Anders Behring Breivik turned Utoya into a graveyard. Before he embarked on his shooting spree Breivik detonated two bombs in central Olso, killing eight people, before slaughtering a further 69 on Utoya, most of them teenagers. He was sentenced to life imprisonment by an Oslo court last year. Judges rejected defence claims that the balance of his mind was disturbed and ruled that he was sane. His spree was Norway’s worst act of violence since the end of the Second World War.
Today more than 1,000 Labour Party youth-wing members congregated in the tiny village of Gulsrud. It probably looked similar two years ago, only this time a significant police presence kept watch. Utoya is off limits while the buildings where the teenagers died are restored; volunteers are working to repair the windows and exterior panelling to prevent the site from falling into disrepair. Plans are in place for a major renovation, but not now.
This year’s event was attended by dozens of new Labour members, as well as survivors of the massacre. Almost exactly two years after Breivik’s rampage some still walk on crutches, while for others the long-term effect cannot be seen from the outside.
Eskil Pedersen, the Labour Party youth leader, told his supporters at the camp’s opening ceremony: “We have deliberately chosen not to dwell on 22 July 2011. We will mark the anniversary later. We feel that it is better to do what we normally do.” Later, he added: “We will honour our friends by continuing to fight for what they believed in.”
Breivik, a far-right ideologist, deliberately targeted the Labour Party youth wing because its members supported the liberal, multicultural views that he so vehemently opposed.Equipped with an automatic rifle and dressed as a police officer, he spent more than an hour stalking the island, shooting at whoever he came across.
Scores of terrified youths cowered in camp buildings or watched in horror as their friends were gunned down. Others tried to flee by diving into the chill waters of the Tyri. The lucky ones were rescued by campers who launched boats to save them.
Vilde Lofthus Rooth was one of those who escaped. She evaded Breivik’s bullets as she swam away from Utoya and sustained no physical injuries. Speaking at camp, she said: “As long as we give each other room to feel both sorrow and happiness, I believe this will be a positive experience for everyone.”
The Labour Party has pledged to reclaim the idyllic summer camp on Utoya. It has said it will not allow the island to be permanently overshadowed by the 2011 atrocity. The youth wing is planning to hold its next summer camp there in 2015.