Norway's wounds healing after attacks

2012-04-13 20:02
Oslo - Nine months after Anders Behring Breivik's traumatic attacks, observers say Norway's wounds have healed and its response has been in keeping with its long-held values of openness and tolerance.

The trial of the rightwing extremist who confessed to killing 77 people on 22 July last year will start on Monday. During his killing spree he gunned down young people attending a Labour party camp after setting off a bomb outside government offices in Oslo.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said afterwards that "nobody will stop Norway from being itself", and commentators say the nation has responded to the crisis without the sort of reactive legislation adopted following attacks in other nations, such as the enhanced domestic wiretapping capabilities approved by the United States in the wake of 11 September 2001.

"We've returned to normality remarkably fast. And that's good: It's a very healthy sign," said Harald Stanghelle, chief political editor for daily newspaper Aftenposten.

"The only difference, perhaps, is that we've lost our innocence, that now we know that this can happen here too. It raised our consciousness, but without changing our behaviour," he said.

Teenagers gunned down

In what was either a sign of the public's proximity to power in this oil-rich nation with a generous welfare system, or else just plain naïveté, Breivik was able to park a truck loaded with explosives at the foot of a building housing the prime minister's offices.

Stoltenberg was absent at the time, but the explosion killed eight passers-by and employees. Breivik then made his way to the island of Utoya near Oslo, where he spent more than an hour methodically gunning down 69 people, most of them teenagers, attending a Labour Party summer youth camp.

Since then, there have been few signs of tighter security, apart from the addition of bodyguards for a handful of government ministers and the placement of car barricades around government buildings.

Under Norwegian law, Breivik could face up to 21 years in prison if he is convicted and found sane, though a provision makes it possible for him to be held longer if he is considered a threat to society.

'Act of a crazy person'

He could be committed to care in a psychiatric unit if he is found insane.

While some of Norway's five million or so residents were astonished by the penal code's apparent leniency and called for tougher sentences, many in the Scandinavian nation remain committed to laws remaining as they are.

Some survivors of the attacks have even told AFP they don't want to see laws changed.
"It's more important to preserve the system that [Breivik] wanted to destroy than to change that system to keep him in prison," survivor Bjoern Ihler said.

Regardless of whether Breivik will be found criminally sane, "everybody agrees that this was the act of a crazy person driven by his political radicalism", Janne Haaland Matlary, a political scientist at Oslo University said.


"It was an isolated crime and nobody feels the need for a major change in security. It would certainly have been different if it had been the act of an Islamist," she said.

Beef up police force

After the attacks, the government provided additional funds to beef up the police force, which was heavily criticised for its slowness in arresting Breivik, and to provide police with a permanent helicopter, which they did not have the day of the tragedy and which could have hastened the response.

Norway's intelligence agency PST left the country's threat level unchanged after 22 July. In its annual report published in January, the PST said the main threat to the country remained radical Islamism and that the extreme right had few followers in 2012.

Immediately after the attacks, there was a rise in public reports of suspicious goings-on, Oslo police spokesperson Martine Laeng said, "but everything has returned to normal since then and we see no difference in our contacts with the public".

Despite the loss of 69 lives in the island shooting, the Labour Party's youth wing has said it plans to "reclaim" Utoya and to organise new camps, even though the island will stay closed this summer for renovation.

Changed for better

"I hope that we have changed for the better, for instance when it comes to the debate on a multicultural society," the head of the youth wing, Eskil Pedersen, said.

"People have been woken up from a society where you've had your everyday racism, your generalisation of groups, to come to realise: 'OK, we see the challenges but we're all in the same boat and we have to make the best of it'," he said.

Breivik had said he wanted to strangle the Labour party's recruitment of new generations of Norwegians, but in that he certainly failed: The youth wing now has 45% more members than a year ago.

Read more on:    anders behring breivik  |  jens stoltenberg  |  norway  |  norway attacks

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