Norwegians remember 77 victims of massacre at special ceremony
Monday, August 22, 2011
OSLO, Norway -- Norway's prime minister urged his countrymen to look after each other and be vigilant for intolerance, as the nation concluded a monthlong mourning period with a candlelit memorial service Sunday to the 77 people killed by a right-wing extremist.
Speaking at the ceremony in Oslo, Jens Stoltenberg said "we need you. No matter where you live, no matter which god you worship, each and every one of us can take responsibility and can guard freedom."
Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old Norwegian, has admitted to carrying out the July 22 killings -- first detonating a car bomb that killed eight people outside government offices in Oslo, and then shooting dead 69 others at a youth camp on the island of Utoya, about 25 miles away.
The prime minister, who received standing ovations from the 6,700 relatives, survivors and officials in the audience during his speech, said "together we are an unbreakable chain of care, democracy and safety -- that is our protection against violence.
"Today time stops in order to remember those who died," Stoltenberg added. "We do it as one nation. Every candle has warmed, every thought has comforted, every rose has given hope. We are a small country, but we are a large people."
Norwegian singer-songwriter Susanne Sundfoer opened the memorial service with a heartfelt performance of a popular Norwegian song "My Little Country," which has taken on special significance since the terror attacks and left many in the audience quietly wiping away tears.
Addressing the somber gathering, Norway's King Harald said he felt for each person in the country, but that he was certain Norway would surmount its pain.
"I firmly believe that we will uphold our ability to live freely and securely in our country," he said.
Later, Norwegian rap group Karpe Diem performed a song about tolerance.
"I am a Muslim, Chirag is a Hindu and our friends they are also different, but we have never felt as Norwegian and we have not felt as much togetherness before as we do now, after July 22," rapper Magdi Omar Ytreeide Abdelmaguid said before performing the song.
As the names of each one of the 77 victims were read out loud, some relatives broke out in loud sobs while others sat in silence.
Elsewhere in the city, flags flew at half-staff as people lay flowers and children blew soap bubbles outside the cathedral.
The ceremony included performances by some of Norway's top musical names, such as 1980s pop group A-ha, soprano Sissel Kyrkjeboe and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra.
The event in the arena, which also hosts the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, was broadcast live on national television and was attended by survivors of the attack, relatives of the deceased, rescue workers, government members, lawmakers and leading politicians and royals from neighboring countries.
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt was noticeably moved when he met with the media after the ceremony.
"This has been a powerful manifestation of solidarity," Reinfeldt said. "The feeling of loss becomes extremely evident in a hall where the relatives are sitting and the emotion of grief and expressions of tears move across the room as the names are read out."
Firefighter Erik Norman, who was among the first to the scene after the bomb went off in Oslo, said he really appreciated the ceremony.
"I think it was great, it was fantastic just sitting there listening to the music," the 55-year-old said.
"It was such a mighty ceremony, both the music, words and text. I cannot really express it with words," health official Eli Semmerud added.
Online, people from around the world joined the commemoration of the victims by participating in a campaign to write Utoya "and shine a light for democracy" on social networking site Twitter. Each time someone mentioned the name of the island on Twitter, the website www.light4utoya.net added a light to a world map.
Breivik denies criminal guilt because he believes the massacre was necessary to save Norway, claiming it was aimed at purging Europe of Muslims and punishing politicians who have embraced multiculturalism.
Breivik was arrested on Utoya 90 minutes after he began his deadly attack. Earlier this week, an Oslo court extended his isolation detention by another four weeks.
On Saturday, about 1,000 survivors and relatives traveled to Utoya, accompanied by police and medical staff, to face the painful memories of the scenes of the shootings. Their visit followed a similar one Friday by 500 relatives of the deceased.
One of the survivors, Stine Renate Haaheim, said her feelings ranged from emptiness and extreme grief to joy when she returned on Saturday to the island, used as a recreational center by Norway's ruling Labor Party. Most of those killed were teenagers and young adults at the party's annual youth camp.
"We have lost 77 individuals who wanted to use their lives in the best way possible for the society of which they were a part," King Harald said. "We will honor their memory by continuing to work for the values that they held so dear."
On Monday, many Norwegian children go back to school after their summer break, many to face the empty seats of the friends they lost in the tragedy.
The king urged Norwegians to continue caring for each other in the months ahead.
"Those of you who have suffered a loss may find that things grow harder as the outpouring of national grief gradually subsides," he said. "That is when we as fellow human beings must make an effort to seek out those who are grieving and struggling with their lives. We must stand beside them as the spotlight of world attention fades."