Photo of Longyearbyen’s 10-year anniversary memorial of July 22 attacks by Eira Egner / Svalbardposten.
Einar Buø says “we have seen surprisingly little anger and cursing” during the 10 years since his son, Johannes, 14, was among the youngest of the 69 people killed during the July 22 attack by a lone gunman at Utøya. But he wonders if that’s an entirely good thing.
Buø, while like other survivors affected by that day emphasizes focusing on the present and future, also shares with them a “never forgot” mentality and like many is seeking to counter the hateful mentality triggering Norway’s deadliest terrorist attack that killed at total of 77 people when the shooting followed a bombing by the same man in Oslo.
“Is it healthy for society and the individual?” Einar Buø wrote in an essay just before the 10-year anniversary of the attack, regarding the lack of voiced anger. “I am constantly concerned with the collective memory, and that humanity is the guarantee that we do not experience anything like this in war or peace. In this context, stigmatizing groups and individuals has no purpose. But we must dare to be clear that attitudes that violate human dignity are unacceptable. And then we can, will and dry we quiet up. The silent majority must be motivated and made aware.”
The elder Buø is trying to count such attitudes, including working with the Red Cross and fundraising for the famine disaster in East Africa, and starting a new job as a bullying ombudsman in Vest-Agder county municipality.
Five youths from Longyearbyen were at the youth camp that day, all of whom except Johannes survived. But in addition to the life-threatening scars inflicted on Viljar Hanssen, 27, who was shot five times, there’s the marks each of them and their families carry with them in good ways and bad as they pursue separate lives that are united once a year by the shared experiences.
“We owe them never to forget,” wrote Astrid Sylte, 27, in one of her social media profiles which note she’s a student at the University of Tromsø “engaged in politics, environment and society.” “We owe them never to be silent. We should never leave racism and the right-wing mindset unanswered. Never forget why.”
Hanssen, now a municipal political in Tromsø, and his younger brother Torje are among the most prominent survivors of the tragedy. They are the “stars” of the 2018 movie “22 July” (80% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes) and every year during the anniversary featured in extensive media coverage. But Viljar, in an online interview, emphasized the same message he has over the years about needing to move forward in ways including, but expanding beyond, the “never forget” message.
“It’s a part of my life and will always be, physically and emotionally,” he stated. “Personally I’ve been focusing on the future since the day I woke up from my coma and I’ll be doing a lot of living afterwords. In my personal and professional life trying to understand and learn from what happened will always be important, and I don’t think is a contradiction, focusing on the future and trying to learn from what happened.”
Torje, 24, now living in Oslo, was the youngest person at the camp the day of the shooting. In an interview with the Financial Times published a week before the 10-year anniversary, he said he’s living a forward-looking life of a different kind than his brother.
“I always knew that darkness is life-giving,” he said. “I have been obsessed with pain and death, the fact that one can die at any time. I do not think about the future and I do not need ambitions to succeed. I’m already enjoying myself.”
The fifth Longyearbyen at the camp, Aslak Klungseth Brattset, 25, now living in Stavanger, truly left Utøya behind on its 10-year anniversary. His father, Lars, in an online interview, noted “Aslak works in the North Sea (sandblasting and painting) and can be difficult to get in touch with.”
“It has been some tough years, but things are generally going well,” the elder Brattset wrote. As for the father’s activities on the anniversary day “I was at work 22/7, but my thoughts were 10 years back.”
In Longyearbyen on the 10-year anniversary there was a memorial gathering at the sculpture placed outside Svalbard Church in tribute to Johannes Buø – the same sculpture in the then-hometowns of all those who died at Utøya. Mayor Arild Olsen, among those speaking, said in a separate message on his Facebook page “I’m still struggling to understand the brutal hurt. I may never get to fully understand it.”
“But fortunately in the last day we have been able to read about the personal depictions from the brutal day,” he added. “Stories of missing and grief that are there everyday for those who lost theirs. The fear, the anger, injustice and the memories of those who survived – and all the relatives. The hate many feel. Fortunately, because in these depictions we are getting closer to the consequences. Through there we can also understand and distance ourselves from, and dementia the mindset that is still out among people.”