Norway four years on: finding new ways of expressing solidarity

As is the case every year, our hearts and thoughts go out to all those in Norway commemorating the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the country tomorrow.

As the truly terrible events of July 22nd 2011 recede further into the distance in terms of a pure timeline, they continue to resonate globally: especially as the issues of global security, migration, terrorism and European unity become more fraught and critical. Yet no amount of deliberating over geopolitical considerations can ever dilute the human element of those events four years ago. It was human beings who suffered; it was human beings who were unduly robbed of life in an attack both unprecedented and shocking in its scale as far as Norway (and indeed Scandinavia, if not post-war Europe) was concerned.

Tomorrow sees the opening of a new July 22nd exhibition centre in a government building in Oslo, which includes parts of the car bomb used in the initial attack on Oslo and artefacts retrieved from Utøya following the subsequent attacks on the that island. It seems only fair and objective to point out that the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten has claimed that the exhibition has divided opinion. According to the newspaper, some feel it is simply giving undue attention and publicity to those who perpetrate such attacks, whereas others feel that actual information about the events is the best way of countering extremism and hatred.

We incline towards the latter view ourselves (having found that a day at Auschwitz in 1995 was not nearly enough to try and register the scale of the horrific events that befell Europe more than 70 years ago), but we would reiterate, as we have done in previous years, that Norway has set an extraordinary example to the rest of the world in the way it has gone about dealing with these events. To our eyes at least, it seems nothing short of the profoundest dignity and stoicism. We feel it more imperative than ever to offer our annual gesture of support and best wishes to those in Norway (and indeed across the world) carrying out their own memorial services and acts tomorrow. The country’s response to those events remains an ongoing one: by registering this, we hope we express new forms of solidarity in the process.

The website of the Norwegian Workers’ Youth League (Arbeidernes Ungdomsfylkning) gives information (in Norwegian) on how you can donate money to the ongoing project to rebuild facilities on Utøya or actively participate in related work taking place on the island (although note that, as of July 2015, there is no international PayPal donation facility available: this doesn’t stop you making an international bank payment). Otherwise, as always, we would recommend the Norwegian Refugee Council as an organisation that provides invaluable humanitarian aid to refugees and displaced persons worldwide. Technically, it is not directly connected to the events of Oslo and Utøya: morally, for us, it has always seemed an ideal gesture of solidarity with Norway and a way of honouring the country’s ongoing commitment to freedom, democracy and tolerance (which resonated long before July 22nd 2011 and which continues to resonate in defiant and timeless fashion). We would urge you to give; a donation via PayPal is available in this instance.

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Norway two years on: solidarity for all the years to come

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Much of what we have to say on the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Oslo and Utøya is fundamentally unaltered from what we wrote on the first anniversary of the attacks a year ago; if this bears any significance, it is in the fact that we do not see how we could possibly dilute a message of solidarity to all those bereaved and traumatised after such a wrenching assault and attack upon humanity (and idealism) itself.

The twenty-four months since the attacks have given photographers and print journalists the opportunity to present images and accounts from the survivors of the attacks to the wider world on a comprehensive scale. For those of across the world affected by what happened on that summer day, it seems to us imperative that any ongoing factual revelations go hand in hand with heightened empathy.

As the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Egypt underline, individual brutality, group brutality, armed conflict and sectarian strife are bleak and often numbing spectacles certainly not confined to one country. We have been aware of that for years and years and we are painfully aware of it at a time when, in some countries – not least Greece, for many the cornerstone of the modern concept of civilisation – democracy seems to be on the ropes and day-to-day existence and survival even more so.

In this respect, paying ongoing homage to the dead and the survivors of Oslo and Utøya is all the more important because the attack was nothing less than an assault upon all those from different social and ethnic backgrounds who saw internationalism, tolerance and inter-racial and inter-communal harmony as intrinsic to building a just and fair society. This account is just one of several which should underline decisively how the 2011 attacks were incalculable as an act of murder and misanthropy alike; an attack on those who support the idea of refuge, an attack on actual refugees, an attack on those who seek to build bridges between their families and a wider society, an attack on the family itself, an attack on those who speak more than one language, an attack on those who use multi-lingual skills to foster integration and compassion.

The Norwegian Refugee Council has existed since the end of the Second World War, and therefore the best part of sixty years prior to July 2011, but we have not hesitated in again donating money to the organisation this July, as in July 2012 and July 2011, and urging others to do the same. If the 2011 attacks were attacks on Norway and humanity itself, the NRC has sought to show a way forward and provide humanitarian solutions across the globe – its importance as an organisation becoming all the greater as the scale of the crisis in the Middle East, to which the NRC is responding, becomes all the greater. It is relatively straightforward to make a PayPal donation to the organisation here. 

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But we hope it goes without saying that we make sure such donations go hand in hand with financial support for the redevelopment of facilities on Utøya itself. You can see here on the website of the Arbeidernes Ungdomsfylking (AUF) how a memorial service is set to take place this coming Monday; we would also draw your attention to the ongoing New Utøya project, which still accepts funds from organisations and private citizens alike. We are aware that the Paypal facility is experiencing some technical problems at the moment (the AUF are aware of this too), but it is still possible to make a bank transfer payment to the fund (details below).

We would stress, as is stressed on the website, that any such donations will not be used for party political purposes; what we find especially fitting is that the website stresses the importance of creating facilities that provide a sense of community. It is community in itself which transcends political partisanship and offers an enduring antidote and panacea to the darkest moments in modern human history; we are glad that the AUF has responded in this discerning and highly appropriate fashion. We wish them a poignant and fitting memorial service on Monday, just as we hope that all of Norway can experience the same; it would be no less than highly appropriate after the dignity, gentleness and stoicism that has been exhibited by the country and its inhabitants in the last twenty-four months.

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Utøya itself – important in conveying lasting messages about community and idealism alike

Bank details for making a donation to the Utøya Fondet:

Account number: 9001 0884941

IBAN: NO4390010884941

Swift: labanokk

Bank details: Sparebank1, Oslo AkershusAS, Postboks 778 Sentrum, 0106 Oslo, Norway.

Account owner: Arbeidernes Ungdomsfylking, Postboks 8863 Youngstorget, 0028 Oslo, Norway

PS We haven’t forgotten our call last year that the British Government should look to make good on the call of writer Michael Morpurgo, who suggested that Britain should look to make a gift of a tree to Norway that would stand as a symbol of permanent kinship and fraternity between the two nations. Time does not diminish our message to the UK authorities that it should still act. Norway gives us a very public tree every year, after all.

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The very prominent tree received yearly from Norway 

Norway July 2011: A poem

A poem for Norway a year after the terrorist attacks on Oslo and Utøya:

Norway July 2011

Before this, we, the world, were on the outside.
Amid blue sky artifice we, the world, afforded
And then deployed pettiness as a luxury,
Confident that the windfall of civilisation
And being able to calm down in time
Would kick in just in time,
Safe like a raincoat, treasured like coconuts
That we hoarded, equating unseen with carapace.
We were on the outside, but saw all these ills
As external to ourselves, seething in lands
Both far-off and typecast.
We saw the book’s cover,
And judged (from experience).

Now? All terror is completely within and
All those gone are blameless. Completely.
Those proved wrong are broken, broken,
Unable to salvage life from innocence.
The unknowing young still with us awaken
All feeling, all fear, every piece of awe;
The jigsaw gains clarity, we crave new protection.

And yet this is where everything democratic
Sprouts up for appraisal – or just out of defiance.
Tender like snowdrops, rooted like Norse pine,
All freedoms and fairnesses again evoke children
And vases not fragile as long as they over-run
With love for water, daisies for small hopes
That suddenly circle, and join up, softly.

All we have is that childish hope.
That childish hope is all that’s obligatory.

Copyright Aidan McGee 2012

Oslofjorden from the Bygdøy Peninsula, August 2009. Photo: EE Pridgeon

Oslofjorden from the Bygdøy Peninsula, Oslo, August 2009. Photo: EE Pridgeon

See here for a more immediate and highly impactual verse response by Danish poet Pia Tafdrup, made available in this instance via the blog of a poetry publishing outlet we can’t praise highly enough – Bloodaxe.