Norway paused yesterday to commemorate the 77 victims of a bomb and gun massacre a year ago – a tragedy the prime minister said had brought the nation together in defence of democracy and tolerance.
Far-right fanatic Anders Breivik, 33, has admitted bombing the government district in Oslo, killing eight, and a shooting rampage that left 69 dead at the left-wing Labour Party’s youth camp on Utöya 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,” Mr Stoltenberg told a sombre crowd at the ceremony.
“The Norwegian people answered by embracing our values. The perpetrator lost. The people won.”
Tarpaulins still cover 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 yesterday, 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 fertiliser bomb that tore the facade off the high-rise that housed the government’s headquarters, and drove towards Utöya as chaos reigned in the capital.
Arriving on the island disguised as a police officer and armed with a handgun and semi-automatic rifle, he began a shooting massacre that sent panicked teenagers fleeing into a cold 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 head of the Labour Party’s youth chapter, urged the crowd to renew their commitment to a diverse and egalitarian society.
“Today we remember those who were killed,” he said. “Tomorrow we continue the fight for what they believed in.”
In a church service attended by government leaders and the Royal Family in Oslo’s cathedral, vicar Elisabeth Thorsen urged the congregation to also remember the victims of violence in other parts of the world, including Syria and the United States, an apparent reference to Friday’s shooting spree in a suburb of Denver, Colorado.
Thousands of people were expected to attend a memorial concert last night in Oslo.
Painful memories still haunt many of those who witnessed the horror of Utöya, including Jorn Overby, a local who rescued survivors by pulling them from the water into his boat.
“Sometimes I think about the parents who lost their young ones,” Mr Overby said. “Sometimes I think about the young ones I saw floating in the water and lying in the shore.”
During the ten-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 defence 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 24 August.