Norway's premier urges a new tone in public debate


Click to follow

Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg warned political leaders, journalists and internet users to be more careful about what they said in public and online yesterday as the Oslo parliament held its first session since the devastating 22 July attacks that claimed 77 lives.

Calling for public restraint in the face of the attacks, Mr Stoltenberg said that Norwegians needed to reflect on "what we have thought, said and written.... We all have something to learn from the tragedy," he told MPs at a ceremony honouring the victims. "We can all have a need to say 'I was wrong' and be respected for it."

But the Prime Minister's exceptional appeal appeared to signal a break with Norway's longstanding traditions of free speech. It also seemed destined to inflame a debate already taking place across Scandinavia about immigration and the rise of right-wing political parties.

Addressing Olso's Storting parliament Mr Stoltenberg insisted that Norway should not respond to the attacks with a "witch hunt against freedom of opinion".

But controversially, he also called on opinion makers to be more careful about what they said in public. "The attacks give cause for us to reflect whether we should have expressed ourselves in a different way," Mr Stoltenberg said. "That goes for politicians, for journalists, the office canteen and for the internet."

The popularity of Norway's Prime Minister, who is a member of the Labour Party, has hit highs since the Olso bombing, which claimed eight victims, and the subsequent Utoya island massacre, in which 69 Labour youth members were killed.

Anders Breivik, the 32-year-old self-confessed far-right perpetrator had accused the Labour Party of promoting "Muslim world domination". In a 1,500-page manifesto he put online just before the attacks, he claimed his actions were part of a crusade that would purge Europe of Muslims and "cultural Marxists" by 2083.

In contrast to Mr Stoltenberg and his Labour Party, the popularity of Norway's right-wing, anti-immigrant Progress Party has plummeted in the wake of the attacks. Mr Breivik was a Progress member for more than a decade before he left the organisation, claiming that it was not radical enough.

Norway's King Harald V and victims' relatives attended yesterday's parliamentary session, where the names of those killed were read out. Mr Stoltenberg declared that a national day of mourning would be held on 21 August to commemorate the victims of the worst act of violence Norway has experienced since the Second World War.

Investigators said they are almost certain that Mr Breivik acted alone. But they were searching his computer and mobile-phone data for any possible links with far-right groups in Norway and abroad.

The young Labour youth members killed in the Utoya island massacre had come from throughout Norway to attend a summer camp on the island, 35 miles north-west of Olso. Yesterday, Turkey's Foreign Minister travelled to the northern city of Trondheim to attend the funeral of the Norwegian immigrant Gizem Dogan, 17, who was shot and killed at Utoya. Gizem was described as being "colourful in every way".

Officials in Oslo said that because 22 July was a public holiday, only 190 office staff were at work in the centre of the city when Mr Breivik's bomb exploded. They said that normally around 1,600 people worked in the district, so the number of deaths could have been much higher.

Survivor's letter: 'You have created heroes and unified people around the world'

Dear Anders Behring Breivik,

A lot of the friends I met at Utoya are dead and you are the perpetrator. You are the man who, by coincidence, didn't kill me. I was lucky.

You might think that you have won. You might think that you have ruined something for the Labour Party and for people around the world who stand for a multicultural society by killing my friends and fellow party members.

Know that you have failed.

You haven't only made the world stand together, you have set our souls on fire and should know we've never stood together as we do now. You talk about yourself as a hero, a knight. You are no hero. But you have created heroes. On Utoya that warm day in July, you created some of the greatest heroes the world has seen, you unified people from all over the world. Black and white, man and woman, red and blue, Christians and Muslims.

You made your victims martyrs, immortals, and you have shown the world that when one person can show as much hatred as you have done, imagine how much love we can show when we stand together? People who I thought hated me have given me hugs on the street, people I haven't been in contact with for years have written 300 to 400 words about how much it means to them that I survived. What can you say about that? Have you broken anything? You have united us.

You have killed my friends, but you haven't killed our cause, our opinions, our right to express ourselves. Muslim women got hugs of sympathy from random Norwegian women on the street and your goal was to protect Europe from Islam? Your actions worked against its purpose.

You deserve no thanks; your plan failed. A lot of people are angry, you are the most hated person in Norway. I am not angry. I do not fear you. You can't touch us, we are greater than you. We do not answer evil with evil, as you wanted it. We fight evil with good. And we win.

Benjamin Ostebo, aged 16.