8 YEARS AFTER UTØYA: Anniversary of July 22 massacre sees two Longyearbyen families seeking inclusiveness, rejecting fear

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The physical and mental scars may get more distant every year, but for two Longyearbyen families victimized by Norway’s deadliest terrorist attack the pleas to “never forget” continue to grow as they see the fear and hatred that traumatized their lives expanding in a global community struggling due to suffering and change.

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Jonas Strand Gravli and Isak Bakli Aglen star as former Longyearbyen residents Viljar and Torje Hansen in the movie “22 July,” released last year. Photo courtesy of Scott Rudin Productions.

Johannes Buø, 14, was killed and Viljar Hanssen, now 25, suffered nearly fatal injuries and lost an eye when they were shot at the Utøya youth camp by Anders Behring Breivik on July 22, 2011. A total of 69 people were killed at the island camp and another eight killed in a bombing at a government building in Oslo by Breivik, now 40,  a Norwegian right-wing extremist who said he wanted publicity for a manifesto calling for the deportation of all Muslims from Europe and stating feminism was resulting in “cultural suicide.”

The anti-Muslim and anti-migrant sentiments in particular are gaining widespread acceptance among populations and national leaders in many the past few years in the wake of crisis-level numbers of refugees fleeing areas devastated by war, crime, famine, drought and other existental hardships.

“This shows that the hatred we knew exists within the body lives on,” Hanssen told Verdens Gangen in an interview about the eighth anniversary of the attacks. “It clearly shows that we must continue to fight for solidarity and for our values.”

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Viljar Hanssen, center, participates in a forum about terrorism and extremism hosted by United Nations forum discussion in May. Photo courtesy of UN TV.

Hanssen, who was shot five times and hospitalized for three months, gained notoriety for being the youngest person ever elected to Longyearbyen’s Community Council that fall and has remained active in politics ever since. Among his current activities was participating in a United Nations forum in May as part of Group of Friends of Preventing Violent Extremism, a collaboration initiated by Norway and Jordan.

His notoriety expanded immensely worldwide as he and his younger brother, Torje, were primary figures in the feature film “22 July” released last fall (now available on Netflix). The film (starring Jonas Strand Gravli as Viljar and Isak Bakli Aglen as Torje) has an 80 percent approval rating by 120 media critics at the website Rotten Tomatoes, with the collective summary stating “22 July offers a hard-hitting close-up look at the aftereffects of terrorism, telling a story with a thriller’s visceral impact and the lingering emotional resonance of a drama.”

The shooting left Hanssen with numerous physical impairments that made everyday movements a struggle for a long time, but his physical recovery is also going strong as he completed the Midnight Sun Marathon in Tromsø about a month before the anniversary of the attacks. He’s currently a master’s student in law at the University of Tromsø – The Arctic University of Norway.

His mother, Christin Kristoffersen, who was elected Longyearbyen’s mayor in the same election Hanssen prevailed in and is now a policy advocate for Arctic municipalities living in Oslo, wrote in a Facebook message commemorating this year’s anniversary observing how “fear has shifted from being a more individual phenomenon to its predominant social media outlet, becoming a valued political tool and ‘solution’ to complex societal issues.”

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A wreath is placed on a memorial outside Svalbard Church on Norwegian Constitution Day of 2018 for Johannes Buø, who at 14 was one of the youngest victims of the terrorist attacks that killed 77 people on July 22, 2011. Photo by Anne Lise Klungseth Sandvik.

“Fear is the populist’s tools,” she wrote. “Throughout the western world the populists are on the rise…The most central is the claim that mass immigration from Muslim countries creates crime and threatens our culture.”

The same concerns are being seen and battled by Buø’s parents, Einar and Laila, who a few years after the attack returned to their mainland hometown of Mandal.

“Today it is eight years since Johannes was executed,” he father wrote. “And we miss him very much.”

“Dark powers and inhumane attitudes exist – even at surprisingly high levels. In the national anthem we sing: ‘We, too, when it is demanded.’ So beware: Absolute human dignity is everyone’s innate privilege, and none of us has the right to tamper with. On the contrary! Harassment and exclusion – and worse – leads us as individuals and societies astray. And that meant Johannes as well.”