Utøya attack: Federal President Steinmeier visits memorial – politics

It is freezing this morning and fog hangs over the fjord. On the small ferry to Utøya, people stand unprotected in the wind, everyone is shivering. That’s pretty uncomfortable, but somehow fitting too. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier came to the Norwegian island on Friday to commemorate the victims of the massacre ten years ago. On Utøya, a right-wing extremist shot and killed 69 people who had taken part in a summer camp run by the Norwegian Young Socialists. It was a grueling chase, the memory of it makes your blood run cold even today. At the memorial on Utøya, you can read text-messaging dialogues between desperate young people and their parents, which end abruptly. Because the child was shot.

Federal President Steinmeier in Norway

Steinmeier and Büdenbender arrive on the small island of Utøya in the Tyrifjord on Friday morning.

(Photo: Britta Pedersen / dpa)

Steinmeier is accompanied by the Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre on his visit. The Social Democrat has just appointed two survivors of the massacre to his cabinet. Steinmeier and Støre have been friends since they were foreign ministers together – and both of them are concerned with the question of how democracies should best respond to attacks like the one in Utøya.

On Thursday evening, the two met in Støre’s official residence in Oslo. Norwegian society “did not fall apart over the tragic events of the Utøya attack, but stood all the more firmly together,” Steinmeier said afterwards. That is exactly the reaction that one should wish for: “That in such situations, after such attacks and assassinations, we should move closer together and work together for democracy and an open society.”

Federal President Steinmeier in Norway

The Federal President and his wife speak to Astrid Hoem (center), who survived the massacre and is chairwoman of the youth organization of the Norwegian Workers’ Party.

(Photo: Britta Pedersen / dpa)

The Federal President later said that he admired the strength with which the Norwegians defied hatred and violence. They would not allow “terror to wounds our values ​​of democracy, freedom and solidarity”.

“One of the most powerful places here in our country,” says Norway’s Prime Minister

On Friday morning, when Steinmeier and Støre arrived on Utøya, they also visited the former cafeteria of the youth camp, which was integrated into the new memorial. There are bullet holes on the walls. Here alone, the right-wing terrorist killed 13 young people. One survivor recounts how he was lucky enough to get away while friends were dying. And he says that the memorial has also become an important place for educating people about democracy. A place where you can learn to grapple with things and stand up for tolerance, democracy and freedom.

Utøya is “one of the most powerful places here in our country, a workshop for democracy and youth,” says the Norwegian Prime Minister. Utøya is a place of mourning, but it is “meanwhile also a place of hope”, Steinmeier believes. He is impressed that thousands of young people come to this place every year to take part in the workshops. That is “really moving”.

Federal President Steinmeier in Norway

Frank-Walter Steinmeier puts roses in the memorial on the island of Utøya to the name Johannes Buø. Johannes Buø would have turned 25 today.

(Photo: Britta Pedersen / dpa)

There is also a large book in the memorial that introduces all the victims of the massacre. In Norway they don’t want to make the mistake of setting the stage for the perpetrator. They want to keep the dead in memory. The youngest in the book of victims is Johannes Buø. He was 14 when the terrorist took his life. He would have turned 25 that Friday.

After the visit to Utøya, the Federal President goes back to Oslo, among other things for a panel discussion on the subject of “Defensive Democracy”. Steinmeier brought guests along, for example Anastassia Pletoukhina. She was in the synagogue in Halle two years ago when a right-wing extremist tried to use gun violence to break into the building and kill those gathered there. The panel discussion will take place in the university auditorium. It’s a special place: 50 years ago Willy Brandt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize there.


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