Breivik victims oppose national memorial | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 16.04.2014
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Breivik victims oppose national memorial

A planned national memorial to the victims of Norwegian extreme-right mass killer Anders Behring Breivik has met opposition from many locals and some of the victims' relatives.

In 2011, Behring Breivik's twin terror attacks caused both a very public, national trauma as well as innumerable stories of personal loss across Norway. The extremist killed eight people in a car bomb near government buildings in Oslo and 69 Labour youth party activists, most of whom were teenagers, at the Utoya summer camp.

Local memorials have already been unveiled in towns and villages that lost someone in what were the worst attacks on Norway since World War Two. The then Labour-led government decided two national monuments should also be built, each one near the sites of Breivik's attacks.

But now neighbors and relatives of the victims have said they do not want the memorials to be built, and some are planning court action if construction is not halted.

'It has to stop'

Catherine Lütken (Photo: Lars Bevanger / DW)

Many of the victims' relatives, such as Catherine Lütken, don't want to constantly be reminded

"I think we have enough with our graves to our children, and we have also memorial sites in our towns. And we have Utoya. We are reminded every day. It has to stop, we are getting sick," Cathrine Lütken told DW.

Lütken lost her 17-year-old daughter Eva Kathinka at the Labour youth summer camp nearly three years ago, and has now come to see the proposed site for a national memorial for herself.

"I think about it several times a day, I have difficulties sleeping at night. There are a lot of us still struggling. It's terrible, even three years later it's terrible."

The memorial would see a wide gap cut across the tip of a peninsula which points out towards Utoya. The names of the dead would be engraved on the cut rock of the chasm. People would be able to view, but not touch, the rock face from a subterranean viewing platform.

Other victims' families have said they don't want their children's names engraved on the monuments.

Putting memories to rest

Some 400 people live along the stretch of water overlooking Utoeya island. Many of them used their own boats to help save young Labour supporters who tried to swim away from the attack. Many others worked to save the lives of the severely injured victims who made it to land.

A petition delivered to the government earlier in April shows a large majority of people living near Utoya opposed to the memorial.

Ole Morten Jensen (Photo: Lars Bevanger / DW)

Ole Morten Jensen, who lives near Utoya island, organized the petition against the memorial

"We will see this every day, a constant reminder of what we saw that day. All the blood, the noises, the shooting, the screaming. No, I don't want to remember that," said Ole Morten Jensen, who organized the petition.

"I think it is cruel for a government to expect us to be reminded of that, it's not necessary. There are a lot of places where nobody lives where they could put this," he said. He is also worried about the impact of a possible increase in tourists and other outside interest if a high-profile memorial is built so close to local houses.

Jensen and other locals have now hired a lawyer to prepare for civil action against the government should the construction of the memorial go ahead as planned.

"We hope that we don't have to go to court with a case like this of course. But it can be a possibility if they don't move the memorial," said Harald Stabell, the lawyer representing the locals.

Public discussions

To avoid court action and further upset, the Norwegian authority responsible for public art, which commissioned the winning entry, invited all interested parties to an open meeting to discuss how to proceed.

The memorial design was chosen from many entries by a jury that also included representatives from amongst the victims' relatives. Trond Blattmann, the leader of the July 22 support group and father to one of the Utoya victims, defended the selection at the meeting.

"22 July was a national catastrophe," he said, "and you know as well as I do that those who lost their lives on 22 July stand for the entire country. That's why we need national memorials as well."

The jury's leader, Jorn Mortensen from the Oslo National Academy of the Arts, said the protests didn't surprise him, but he felt the proposed memorial was the right choice.

"There are always different opinions about memorial proposals. That was also the case in Washington DC when Maya Lin's proposal for the Vietnam veterans' memorial was introduced. So it's actually part of the commemoration process to balance different opinions about the memorial," he told DW.

The artist, Swedish Jonas Dahlberg, also addressed the meeting, explaining how he had wanted to allow nature itself to communicate the loss, to create a place for peaceful reflection.

His proposal has been praised by many in Norway and abroad, and it has been called bold, beautiful and unusual. This conflict has highlighted the difficulty of balancing a very national and public trauma, and one of private, individual grief.

Utoya island

A ferry takes passengers to Utoya island

Possible postponement

It is now up to Norway's new center-right government to decide on further action. It had planned for the Utoya memorial site to open before July 22, 2015 - in time for the fourth anniversary of the terror attacks.

The opening might be postponed now, while the authorities and those opposing the plans try to agree on a solution. Both sides say they hope a row over how to best remember the 22 July dead doesn't end up in court.

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