By Sunniva Bratt Slette, Norway:
On Friday 22 July, Norway experienced the worst peacetime massacre in the modern history of our country. A massive bomb in the capital Oslo devastated governmental buildings. Then a shooting attack on the island UtÃ¸ya with the governing Labour PartyÂ´s annual youth camp.
In the days since the attack, the strength, unity and clear message from the survivors leaves no trace for doubt: when disaster strikes, the importance of unity is vital.
Gunman on the island
Youth from the summer camp were gathered to discuss the bomb in Oslo when the gunman appeared, dressed as a police officer. Armed with a half- automatic rifle and a pistol he opened fire, and systematically tracked down and shot every person he met.
The horrific stories after the sensless act of terror were numerous and shocking. Realizing the depth of the tragedy, it was difficult to grasp the comprehension. 76 people massacred. In Norway. A country that has been blessed with peace and political stability for the past seventy years. We have never experienced a terrorist attack.
Swam to safety
The true horror began when the personal stories appeared in the news. How the gunman had thrown smoke bombs into the buildings to shoot everyone who were forced out of hiding. How he calmly tracked down and killed youth hidden in the forest and by the shore. How he whistled while killing, smiling through the massacre. The rescue for many was the long swim to mainland. Desperately diving into the ice cold water, many saved their lives by swimming for up to two hours.
Anyone surviving the massacre on the island will be influenced by life after the horror of watching close friends being shot before their eyes. Being trapped on an island with a killer, unable to hide. Fleeing for their life and struggling through kilometres of ice cold water trying to reach mainland. The nightmare is like taken from the worst imaginable horror movie, with a plot too evil to see daylight. And yet this was the reality some days ago.
Since the youth at the summer camp were gathered from all over Norway, almost everybody knows someone directly or indirectly involved in the disaster. Having friends, family or acquaintances fighting for their lives in a nightmare brings the horror so close. Youth from eleven years old were shot by a desperate gunman seeking attention to his twisted perception of reality.
One mother expressed the trauma of her son that barely survived: “I waved goodbye to a happy, expectant child. He went to the summer camp to make new friends and have fun. Some days later my child had turned into a serious young man”. Greatly influenced by the horror he had witnessed, he like so many others was marked for life.
The grieving process has been a national event, bringing people together to an extent I have never witnessed. The warmth, support and unity shown by each and every person is overwhelming. Flowers, candles and cards in memory of the victims overflow the city centres of every town in Norway. Rose parades were arranged all over the country to demonstrate how we meet such a hateful attack.
I admire how our governmental leaders, politicians and royal family have met the tragedy. Our Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has united the nation through his leadership, setting an example by saying “we are devasteted, but will not falter. With lanterns and roses we send the world a message. We will not let the fear destroy us or our values”. He held a speech right after the incident saying that terror and evil will be met with openness and democracy, emphasizing the importance of international solidarity.
The heartbreaking but dignified grief is combined with a crystal clear message: our fight for democracy and humanity will continue with reinforced strength both nationally and internationally. Also, that the solution of conflicts lies in dialogue between people, religions and ideologies, not violence and hate.
The past days have left 4.9 million Norwegians in united perception: we will not let the grief destroy the pillars of our society. On the contrary, we will fight even harder for the good values we believe in.
A German newspaper described the situation like this: “Even in their deepest sorrow the Norwegians don’t get hysterical. They resist the hate. It is amazing to see how politicians and the whole country reacts. They are sad to the deepest thread of their souls. They cry in dignity. But nobody swears to take revenge. Instead they want even more humanity and democracy. That is one of the most remarkable strengths of that little country”
I think one of the strongest impressions after the disaster is the way surviving youth tackled the situation. Young leaders and participants have supported each other, held moving speeches and interviews. Instead of lingering in hate, they have encouraged everyone to unite and focus on friendship, continue fighting for democracy and an open, humane society. The firm belief in humanitarian values combined with the strong leadership of our heads of state leaves no trace for doubt. The event is met with deep sorrow, but unwavering unity and increased efforts for human rights.
The message is that we cannot defeat hate with hate. As one 23 year-old survivor said: “I will not allow myself to sink to his level. Hate took the life of my best friends. With love and uncompromising solidarity we will defeat the ideologies of hate”.
To protest against the terrorism and violence, the message from the survivors is also clear: use your right to vote. By doing so, we can use our chance to strengthen democracy. Open dialogue, human relations and human rights will increase the stability and understanding between nations and people.
The most powerful response
Evil exists in the world. When struck by tragic events, it is important to approach the grief with constructive response. One of the most powerful ways to reply is expressing love and continue fighting for the values we cherish by showing empathy, tolerance, unity, and respect for our fellow human beings. ItÂ´s vital to stand together in the grief, unite and comfort each other instead of tearing people further apart. Hate has never solved conflicts. As a sixteen-year old surviving girl from UtÃ¸ya so beautifully expressed it: “if one man can show so much hate; think about all the love we can show together”.
The writer blogs atÂ http://only1planet.blogspot.com/