A Political Youth Camp and the Legacy of Terror In Norway

The Labor Party will return Friday to Utoya for the first time since 2011 when a gunman killed 69 people on the island.

Attendees of the Labor Party youth camp arrive in Utoya, Norway, on Thursday, four years after a gunman killed 69 people at the camp.  (Norsk Telegrambyra AS / Reuters)

Norway’s Labor Party will return Friday to the island of Utoya for its first youth camp at the site since 2011, when a gunman professing far-right-wing ideology attacked the youth camp and killed 69 people.

On July 22, 2011, Anders Breivik set off a bomb in Oslo’s center, killing eight people, then traveled to the nearby island and began his rampage. He said he chose the target—and his victims—because he blamed the then-ruling Labor Party for promoting multiculturalism in Norway.

The Labor Party’s youth camp was canceled in 2012 and was held in other location in the subsequent years.

“Those who are preparing to return to Utoya are helping to write a new page in the history of the island,” Mani Hussaini, a 27-year-old from Syrian Kurdistan who was elected the head of the party’s youth wing last year, told Agence France-Presse ahead of the three-day camp that begins Friday.

Among the more than 1,000 students who have enrolled for the camp is Astrid Willa Eide Hoem, 20, who survived the 2011 massacre.

“Utoya has to continue to be a workshop where young people learn about democracy, politics and activism,” she told AFP.

But not everyone who survived is ready to return.

“I'm not sure I want to return to the camp, so I prefer to wait until I really want to go,” Marie Hogden, who also survived the violence, told the news agency.

Here’s more from AFP:

The leafy, green island has in the meantime received a facelift. Thanks to donations and the work of hundreds of volunteers, new buildings have been built, while the old ones have been renovated with respect to the dead.

The cafeteria, where 13 youngsters lost their lives, was initially to be torn down but has been maintained, with its bullet holes intact. But another wooden building is being built and will partially encompass the cafeteria as a memorial centre. …

A little further away, a memorial entitled "The Clearing" has been mounted in the woods: a giant steel ring suspended from the evergreens, bearing the names of 60 of the 69 victims.

In a sign that the wounds are far from healed, nine families did not want their loved ones' names to appear on the ring.

It is estimated that Breivik’s rampage, the worst in the history of the Scandinavian country of 4 million people, affected 1 in 4 Norwegians.

Breivik is now serving a 21-year prison term for his actions, the maximum allowed under Norwegian law. That sentence can be extended indefinitely. He recently gained admission into Oslo University to study political science. He will not be admitted to campus or have direct contact with professors, and his work will go via prison staff.

Reporter Max Fisher wrote in The Atlantic in 2012 about the differences between the U.S. and Norwegian prison systems. He said:

The much-studied Norwegian system is built on something called restorative justice. Proponents of this system might argue that it emphasizes healing: for the victims, for the society, and, yes, for the criminal him or herself. …

The pleasant-sounding experience of being in Norwegian prison isn't some sign of Scandinavian weakness or naïveté; it's precisely the point. A comfortable cell, clean and relaxing environment, and nice daily activities such as cooking classes are all meant to prepare the criminal for potentially difficult or painful internal reformation. Incarceration, in this thinking, is the treatment for whatever social or psychological disease led them to transgress. The criminals are not primarily wrongdoers to be punished, but broken people to be fixed.

Fisher added: “Despite the lighter sentences, restorative justice systems seem to reduce crime, reduce the cost of imprisoning criminals, and reduce recidivism. … But, even if we accept all of the data suggesting that society as a whole is better off under a Norwegian-style restorative model, those numbers don't account for the more abstract, difficult-to-define sense of justice as its own inherent good.”