Notebook: Finding light in the darkness

 

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Expunging the traces of mass murder is more difficult than might be imagined. More than a fortnight after Anders Breivik carried out his infamous 22 July massacre on the Norwegian holiday island of Utoya, police and firemen are still struggling to clear up the mess the Muslim- and Labour Party-hating gunman left in his wake.

Hundreds of spent metal cartridges ejected by the killer's frightening assortment of automatic weapons are proving one of the biggest headaches. Police say that in order to find and remove them, they have been forced to use metal detectors to comb the paths and beaches where Breivik gunned down his 69 adolescent victims in cold blood. Getting rid of absolutely all the cartridge cases has become an issue of paramount importance. "They are not the sort of thing people will want to stumble across on future visits to Utoya," a police spokesman was quoted as saying at the weekend.

Utoya island may be Norway's equivalent of Ground Zero, but Norway's ruling Labour Party is adamant that the island, which has served as a beacon of socialist hope and endeavour for decades, must go on functioning as a holiday camp for young Labour members. Restoring Utoya has become Norway's categorical imperative. The idyllic wooded island, which lies some 600 yards offshore in the Tyrifjord about 35 miles north-west of Olso, was given to the Labour Party as a present by Norway's powerful trade unions shortly after the Second World War. Since then the island has hosted regular annual summer camps for hundreds of budding young socialists. Many have gone on to join the country's ruling political elite.

During the past few days the Norwegian press has been reprinting old black and white photographs of Utoya's formerly innocent, carefree past. It goes without saying that Jens Stoltenberg, Norway's current prime minister, was a frequent visitor. But the paper also carried shots of the young, guitar-playing and since legendary Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norway's first Labour Party woman prime minister, as she attended one of the island's summer camps. Thorbjorn Jagland, another ex-prime minister, tenderly recalled how, like many other Labour politicians, he met his wife on the island.

Given the island's political and emotional significance, it is not surprising that Norway's business community has stepped in with generous offers of cash to help restore Utoya. The owner of a hotel chain has handed the Labour Party a cheque for €650,000. Several towns and villages have pledged to donate one Norwegian krone per inhabitant to a party fund dedicated to restoring the island. Some have even tried to exploit the wave of public Utoya enthusiasm for their own ends. Plastic Utoya "remembrance armbands" have been offered by some unscrupulous online traders who have falsely claimed that part of the proceeds will go to the island.

The money may be pouring in for Utoya, yet so far no one appears to have any idea how the island can adequately fulfil its role as the site of the country's worst act of violence since the Second World War yet continue to function as a happy holiday island. Labour Party members say it is too early to say how the trauma of 22 July should be best dealt with. However, Eskil Pedersen the party's youth-wing leader remains defiant: "We will be holding summer camps on Utoya again," he declares to young members on his web site. "I hope to see lots of you there," he adds.



An attack on the essence of modern Norway

The 22 July attacks have led Siv Jensen, the leader of Norway's populist anti-immigrant Progress Party, to agree to tone down her usually critical public remarks about foreigners. She has done so at the behest of Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg who called on politicians, journalists and internet users to "think what they say" in the aftermath of the massacre. Breivik was once a member of Mrs Jensen's party, so her decision to modify her comments on immigration may be partially motivated by shame. But her change of heart says a lot about the power of the Norwegian Labour Party.

It is the country's largest political organisation and since 1935 there have been only 16 years in which it has not held the office of Prime Minister. In the 20 years that followed the trauma of Nazi invasion during the Second World War, the party held an absolute majority in parliament. With its slogan "Include Everyone" Labour effectively laid the foundations of Norway as we know it today – a country of consensus politics, high employment, high taxes, and a famously generous welfare state. Many would argue that the Labour Party is the essence of post-war Norway – which is one reason why Breivik's attack on its youth wing was as disturbing as it was outrageous.

Where things in life are reassuringly expensive

The reminders of the massacre of 22 July are fast disappearing from Olso. The mounds of flowers laid to commemorate the victims have mostly gone, and on warm, sunny evenings, Karl Johans Gate, the capital's main drag, has an almost Mediterranean feel as tourists and locals turn out in their thousands. Hans, a government office worker who was sitting with his colleague enjoying a few beers, had nothing but praise for Mr Stoltenberg. "He has handled this crisis fantastically," he insisted. Even the price of Norwegian socialism – a drinks bill amounting to the equivalent of £70 for the four pints of beer they had each consumed – was accepted without the bat of an eyelid. "Without prices like these I would be an alcoholic," admitted Hans, with a broad smile on his face. In Norway, it seems, the benefits of socialism are indisputable.

TPate94811@aol.com

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