OSLO, Norway Norway on Sunday paused to commemorate the 77 victims of a bomb and gun massacre that shocked the peaceful nation one year ago, a tragedy that the prime minister said had brought Norwegians together in defense of democracy and tolerance.
Anders Behring Breivik, a 33-year-old far-right fanatic, has admitted to the July 22, 2011, attacks: a bombing of the government district in Oslo, killing eight, and a shooting rampage that left 69 dead at the left-wing Labor Party’s youth camp on Utoya island.
In a wreath-laying ceremony at the bomb site, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said Breivik had failed in his declared goal of destroying Norway’s commitment to being an inclusive, multicultural society.
“The bomb and the gun shots were meant to change Norway,” Stoltenberg told a somber crowd of a few hundred people at the ceremony. “The Norwegian people answered by embracing our values. The perpetrator lost. The people won.”
Tarps are still covering the windows of bomb-damaged buildings on the plaza, and large cement road blocks stop all but pedestrian traffic. Mounted police and officers with bomb-sniffing dogs were on the site Sunday, but the security was not overbearing, as if to show that Norway was still an open society.
The police investigation showed Breivik set off a fertilizer bomb that tore the facade of the high-rise that housed the government’s headquarters, and drove toward Utoya unhindered as chaos reigned in the capital. Arriving on Utoya disguised as a police officer and armed with a handgun and semi-automatic rifle, he unleashed a shooting massacre that sent panicked teenagers fleeing into a chilly lake or hiding behind rocks to save their lives. More than half of the victims were teenagers – the youngest had turned 14 five days earlier.
Survivors and families of victims gathered for a private ceremony on the island. Eskil Pedersen, a survivor of the massacre and the head of the Labor Party’s youth chapter, urged the crowd to renew their commitment to a diverse and egalitarian society.
“Today we remember those who were killed. Tomorrow we continue the fight for what they believed in,” Pedersen was quoted as saying by Norwegian news agency NTB.
In a church service attended by government leaders and the royal family in Oslo’s cathedral, vicar Elisabeth Thorsen urged congregants to also remember the victims of violence in other parts of the world, including Syria and the U.S., an apparent reference to the shooting spree Friday that killed 12 moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado.
The mood lifted later Sunday as more than 50,000 people gathered for a rain-soaked memorial concert outside Oslo’s waterfront City Hall. After performances by Norwegian artists, American rock star Bruce Springsteen made a surprise appearance with an acoustic rendition of “We shall overcome.”
Springsteen had performed in Oslo on Saturday as part of his European tour.
Painful memories still haunt many of those who witnessed the horror of Utoya, including Jorn Overby, a local resident who rescued survivors fleeing the island by pulling them from the water into his boat.
“Sometimes I think about the parents who lost their young ones,” Overby said. “Sometimes I think about the young ones I see floating in the water and lying in the shore.”
During the 10-week trial that ended in June, Breivik admitted to the attacks, but declined criminal guilt out of principle, saying the victims were traitors for embracing immigration and making Norway a multicultural society.
Prosecutors said Breivik was psychotic and should be sent to compulsory psychiatric care while his defense lawyers argued that he was sane. Breivik accused authorities of trying to discredit his ideology by casting him as mentally ill. The Oslo district court is set to deliver its ruling on Aug. 24.