I WAS PACKING when I heard.
A gunman had walked onto Utoya and was murdering our comrades in the Norwegian Labour Youth summer camp. Details were sketchy as they emerged – there was one gunman, there were two. He was Islamic, he was a policeman, he was white and Norwegian.
His name was Breivik. Slowly the death toll crept up – 20 were dead, 30, 40. 50 were dead, more missing.
I had been packing to attend IUSY, the international equivalent of the Utoya camp. I called our International Officer who was organising the trip and cried, a lot, down the phone. He hadn’t heard from IUSY and he didn’t know if the camp was going ahead. I finished packing and the next morning set off for Austria.
By the time I arrived there, two days after the attacks, Breveik’s face was splashed beside Amy Winehouse’s across the front page of all the newspapers. They were saying she had died of an overdose, and he had links to Austrian neo-Nazis. The speculation about possible copy-cat killings was not exactly consoling, but it was far too late to turn back. It could have been bravery or stupidity, but almost 2,500 of us turned up for IUSY despite the attack. By rights, the AUF (Norwegian Labour Youth) should have been there with us, understandably they were not.
Though I have met members of the AUF since, today was the first time that I have seen all the faces of Breivik’s victims and heard a roll-call of their names. We have heard so much about Breivik in the coverage of his trial – his motives, his actions, his sanity and even how many hours he spent playing video games as “target practice” – that I think his victims have been largely forgotten.
So, I have asked that a link to the video of them be provided below:
I didn’t know at the time, but it could have been us. We could literally have been there at Utoya. I heard several months later that invitations had been extended to Labour Youth, and it was only through mishap that we did not receive them.
It could have happened here either – could still happen. An Irish malcontent like Breivik could have walked into the Tom Johnston summer school a few weeks earlier and taken out a bunch of Labour Youth members. The idea of losing friends this way – any of them, but especially close ones – is painfully hard to think about.
People involved in politics in Ireland are often subject to derision and vitriol. Sometimes more deservedly than others, and sometimes more hurtfully than others. But I need to believe that most people who say we should all be shot don’t mean it. They may mean it in the instant that they type it, they may mean it over a few pints with friends, but they don’t mean it enough to stock up on guns, ammunition and explosives, and then murder us in cold-blood.
Breivik has stolen 69 young activists, from the AUF, from us and from the world. He’s been locked up, thankfully, with the prospect of never being released.
There are still people who share his views out there though, and sometimes I reckon there may perhaps be a bit of Breivik in everyone. All we can do however, to avoid becoming Breiviks ourselves, is follow the example of the Norwegians and meet terrorism and extremism with more democracy, rather than less.
It can be difficult to remember when nothing would give greater satisfaction than physically wiping the smirk off Breivik’s face, but if we can manage it – and I think we must – then perhaps we are a little bit closer to building the vision of a fair and equitable world that Breivik’s victims died for sharing.