Utoya survivor running for office in Norway | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 08.09.2013
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Utoya survivor running for office in Norway

Norway heads to the polls on Monday. The vote has special significance as it comes two years after 69 people were massacred on the island of Utoya. DW met 29-year-old survivor and election candidate, Vegard Wennesland.

Vegard Wennesland stands before a crowd in a small community hall on the outskirts of Oslo. He's on the campaign trail in the run up to Norway's general election on Monday (09.09.13).

Twenty-nine-year-old Wennseland is a candidate for the country's Labor party, Arbeiderpartiet, one of the groups making up Norway's current coalition government. He speaks confidentially to those who have come to listen to what he plans to achieve if elected.

But the façade shouldn't fool you. Wennesland has endured a nightmare in the last two years.

Massacre survivor

In July 2011, Wennesland was one of 650 people enjoying a Labor Party youth event on Norway's island of Utoya when the group became the target of far-right extremist Anders Breivik.

Earlier in the morning, Breivik planted a car bomb outside the prime minister's office in downtown Oslo, killing eight, before he made his way to Utoya dressed as a policeman. Wennesland chillingly described to DW what happened on that fateful day.

Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik

Breivik shot and killed 69 people in cold blood. Earlier in the day he planted a car bomb in inner-city Oslo, killing eight

"This Policeman comes…I remember I was in the tent area and I saw him kill six people …I ran in the opposite direction from where he was. He fired at me and another person I was with, but he missed."

Finding refuge in one of the campsite's cabins, it was not long before Breivik found where Wennesland, along with 40 or 50 others, was hiding. The group locked the door, he recalls, and placed mattresses in front of the windows. When he could not get into the cabin, Breivik then "fired a couple of shots through the window, but didn't hit anyone. And then he left."

As the group lay huddled on the floor, Wennesland recalls "we were listening to him shooting, shooting, shooting, all the time shooting, until the police came and rescued us."

Sixty-nine people were killed that day on the island, in what became Norway's worst post-war killing.

Haunting memories

The attack left Wennesland severely traumatized. "I saw things you shouldn't see, experienced things you shouldn't experience …you shouldn't be going to funerals for 16-year-olds. That's not right."

In the two years since the massacre Wennesland has undergone extensive counselling. "I have good days and bad days and good weeks and bad weeks. But I feel that things are slowly becoming more normal," he says.

photo shows Norwegian flags, flowers and candles commemorating the victims of the attacks placed in front of the Domkirke church in central Oslo, Norway.

Two years after the tragedy, Norweigans still pay their respects to the dead

In August 2012, Breivik was sentenced to 21-years in prison for the island killing rampage and the Oslo bombing. Wennesland is proud of how his country dealt with the Breivik trial.

'Utoya Generation'

Norway's worst act of peace-time violence has renewed interest in the nation's politics among young people – a phenomenon Wennesland calls the "Utoya Generation."

Twenty-seven survivors of the massacre are running for office in Monday's general election.

Wennesland has used the election campaign to debate the issue of immigration with young voters'. Norway's multicultural policies were the main motivation for the Utoya attacks back in 2011, Breivik said during his court trial.

"Someone tried to kill me for what I believed in, for being politically active. I believe in a multicultural society," Wennesland tells the young people. Immigration, he says, enriches Norway and the country is able to prosper from it. And that, the 29-year-old adds, "is something I am willing to campaign for."

Wennesland stands by the party's platform that Norway takes greater preventative measures against terrorism, but insists Breivik has strengthened, not weakened, Norwegian society's core liberal values.

"We are debating whether migration and integration is the right thing to do or whether we should close the border."

These tough debates, he adds, are happening with "words, and the pen is our weapon, not bullets."

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