Nine years after July 22 attacks, local victims and families say new turmoil is why ‘utmost consequence of totalitarian and hateful thought can’t be remembered too often these days’

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Nine years after nearly being killed – but losing an eye and suffering other long-term injuries – in Norway’s deadliest terrorist attack at Oslo and Utøya, Viljar Hanssen didn’t have much to say – at least about that fateful July 22 date.

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Viljar Hanssen, seen here at 17 after he was one of two Longyearbyen youths shot during the July 22, 2011, massacre at the Utøya youth camp. The photo and a poem he authored was shared widely by his social media friends on the nine-year anniversary of the attack.

Hanssen, 26, posted nothing on his Facebook and Twitter pages beyond thanking a few of the many dozens of well wishers who shared their own virtual “memories” of his photos/writings from past years. Instead, a scan of news headlines for the former Longyearbyen resident who grew up here shows him focusing on more everyday issues such as studded tire fees in his role as a member of Tromsø’s municipal council, continuing his political activism that started in his younger teenage years and bloomed full-bloom after he was shot in the head in the attack that killed 77 people.

But Viljar is still expressing the same “never forget” messages he emphasized for years after (while also emphasizing wanting to move on with his new life and letting everyone forget his assailant’s name), but now it’s focused on the “other” epidemic of political extremism resulting in violent unrest and suppression around the world.

“We must never forget those who hustling and sacrificed their lives for the freedom we enjoy today,” he wrote in a Facebook post in May. “The utmost consequence of totalitarian and hateful thought can’t be remembered too often these days.”

It’s a marked change from a year ago, when the anniversary of tragedy served as a reminder he and his younger brother Terje were the main “characters” in the worldwide feature film “22 July” depicting their terrifying experience trying to flee the gunman who killed 69 of his victims at the summer youth camp on the island of Utøya.

 

The “never forget” message was, of course, echoed by may others this July 22 in connection with that now-forver-tragic date, including Longyearbyen Mayor Arild Olsen who presided over a small ceremony at the memorial placed outside Svalbard Church for Johannes Buø, another Longyearbyen resident who at 14 was the youngest victim of the Utøya massacre.

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Johannes Buø, then 14, was the youngest person killed during attacks on July 22, 2011.

“The days that followed have and will still demand a lot from the individuals, from friends and families, from the community,” Olsen wrote in a post on his Facebook page. From all of us. Fortunately, democracy and our values live further. But we must not forget anyway. We need to maintain a common climate policy. It’s not all about respect for the history, for the victims and their loved ones. It’s also about our future and how we want to build it.”

“We see a more chaotic worldview. We see that extreme groups take more space and get more exposure. We see that the limits of what is acceptable to write in the social media comment section in all walks of life and from all positions. Both in important and less important issues. The confrontation has gotten harder. We’re not going to take this easy. We all have a social responsibility.”

Buø’s father, Einar, who moved with his family back the mainland after the tragedy, offered similar thoughts on the anniversary.

“We have not achieved the showdown that was needed,” he wrote. “We need to search our own attitudes, actions and self-control. And dark political turmoil has to be forced into the light. For the time being we remember Johannes and his comrades: the fight against exclusion continues.”