UTOEYA, Norway – Norwegians on Sunday, July 22, marked a year since right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik massacred 77 people, at a poignant memorial ceremony on the island of Utoeya where most of his mainly teenage victims fell.
“Let us honor the dead by celebrating life,” Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said on Utoeya island, where Breivik gunned down 69 people in a summer camp for members of the Labour Youth League.
Stoltenberg was speaking to around 1,000 members of the league, the youth section of the party, several of whom were survivors of last year’s assault.
The audience bowed their heads as he spoke.
“Even now, after a year has passed, it is impossible to fully comprehend the extent of the fear and suffering…” on the island last year, he said.
“This makes all that has happened since then even more impressive.”
Earlier Sunday, Stoltenberg said that despite the great suffering Breivik had caused, he “failed to achieve what he set out to do. The people triumphed.”
Speaking on Utoeya island, he said young people had refused to accept that anyone should die because of their beliefs and had responded to the attacks by becoming more politically active.
The island ceremony began with a minute of silence and two songs sung by survivor Renate Taarnes, who saw her boyfriend killed.
Some of those present at the ceremony were overcome with emotion and had to leave early, but there were hugs and laughter amid the tears.
“Even though we carry a heavy burden, we are still standing,” said Eskil Pedersen, leader of the party’s youth wing, who himself escaped the gunman’s bullet at the start of the massacre.
“He took some of our loveliest roses, but he could not stop the springtime.”
Earlier, dozens gathered on Utoeya to leave flowers and stones engraved with the names of Breivik’s victims in a tribute to family members killed in the attack.
“I was a pastor for many years and helped many people in mourning,” Roald Linaker told public television NRK.
“But I never fully understood that it hurt so much,” he added. Linaker lost a son in the attack.
Stoltenberg was due to meet relatives of those killed and lay a wreath on the island later Sunday.
“We victims live with what happened on July 22 every day,” said Viljar Hanssen, who lost an eye in the attack.
“Families of the victims live with July 22 every day. The absence of those taken from us will be just as intense tomorrow,” he told NRK.
“Whether the calendar says it’s April 20 or July 23 makes little difference to me,” he added.
Breivik’s rampage began in Oslo, where he set off a massive bomb outside the main government building, killing eight, before traveling to the island to carry out his shooting spree.
The streets around the government complex reopened only last week after the removal of more than 4,300 tons of rubble, at a cost of more than 300 million kroner (40 million euros, $48 million).
Stoltenberg began Sunday’s commemorations by laying a wreath near the spot where the bomb went off.
From there, he joined Norway’s king and queen at a memorial service at Oslo’s cathedral.
And just as they had done in the weeks following the attacks, hundreds of people gathered outside the cathedral, laying heaps of roses — the Labor Party symbol.
“Know that we miss you,” Pedersen said there. “Today, we honor you. Tomorrow a new day begins. We must go forward — not without sadness, not without pain, but together we will make it.”
Breivik says he carried out the attacks to protect his country against “the Muslim invasion” targeting the Labor Party because of its immigration policies and its support for a multicultural society.
His 10-week trial ended last month and the verdict is expected on August 24.
Five Oslo court judges must chose between conflicting psychiatric evidence as to his sanity: Breivik insists he is sane and ready to answer for his actions; prosecutors have argued that his sanity has not been established.
If the court finds him sane, he will receive a jail sentence; if he is considered insane, he will sentenced to a closed psychiatric ward.
On Sunday evening Stoltenberg attended a commemorative concert outside Oslo city hall along with Norway’s king and queen and tens of thousands of Norwegians.
Police estimated some 50,000 people braved the rain — with many carrying roses — to show up for the concert, which was set to feature mainly Norwegian musicians but possibly also Bruce Springsteen.
First to take the stage was Iranian-Swedish singer-songwriter Laleh, an embodiment of the multiculturalism so hated by Breivik.
She sang her hit “Some die young”.
Norwegian folk singer Lillebjoern Nilsen, who in April led some 40,000 rose-waving protesters to sing a song derided by Breivik, was also expected to perform.
Norway’s professional football teams observed a minute of silence before all games played Sunday. – Agence France Presse