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A record number of people are attending this weekend's camp. Youtube/AFP
reclaiming utoya

Young Norwegian activists are back on Utoya in defiance of Anders Behring Breivik

It’s the first time Labour’s Youth Camp has been held on the island since the 2011 attack.

FOUR YEARS AFTER Anders Behring Breivik’s bloody rampage, young Norweigan activists have returned to Utoya.

Breivik had target the summer youth camp of Norway’s Labour Party, and this weekend the party is hosting its first youth camp on Utoya island since the carnage.

More than 1,000 participants — a record number — are expected to descend on the tiny heart-shaped island, including a handful of survivors.

Many of the teenagers arrived on Utoya on Thursday, with many pitching their tents near the cafeteria, a poignant symbol of the massacre as Breivik killed 13 youths there. Bullet holes can still be seen in the building.

The atmosphere was relaxed as AUF head Mani Hussaini told the delegates in his opening speech: “It’s good to be back home.”

Breivik killed 69 people, most of them teenagers, on 22 July 22, when he opened fire on a gathering of the Labour Party’s youth wing (AUF), spreading terror as he hunted them down for an hour and 15 minutes, trapped on an island of barely 30 acres,  surrounded by chilly waters.

Breivik later said he wanted to wipe out future leaders of the party, Norway’s dominant political force, which he blames for the rise of multiculturalism.

Shortly before the Utoya massacre, the right-wing extremist had placed a bomb near the government headquarters in Oslo, some 40km away, killing eight people.

“We are going to reclaim Utoya,” 2011 AUF leader Eskil Pedersen vowed the day after the attacks, as normally-tranquil Norway reeled in shock from its worst peacetime atrocity.

utoya 1 A memorial representing the wound left behind on Utoya was designed earlier this year. © Jonas Dahlberg Studio © Jonas Dahlberg Studio

Pedersen, who survived by fleeing aboard the only boat linking the island to the mainland, was insistent that Utoya remain the political forum it had been for decades.

Four years later, the site will finally reopen for the AUF summer camp in what is certain to be an emotionally-charged event.

Some families of victims were opposed to the idea that teenagers would return to the island to play football, flirt and hold fiery political debates at the site where their children were killed.

And for some survivors, it is still too soon to go back.

“I’m not sure I want to return to the camp, so I prefer to wait until I really want to go,” 21-year-old Labour party member Marie Hogden told AFP.

With water up to her knees, she escaped Breivik’s bullets by hiding behind a cliff.

‘New page in history’

Mani Hussaini, a 27-year-old from Syrian Kurdistan who was elected the head of AUF last year — and who embodies the multiculturalism so reviled by Breivik — acknowledged that this year’s summer camp would be “special”.

PastedImage-39373 Norway's Labour party youth division (AUF) is returning to the island. Youtube / AFP Youtube / AFP / AFP

The 2012 camp was cancelled, and the two following years it was held at another location.

Families and survivors have visited Utoya on a few brief occasions.

“Those who are preparing to return to Utoya are helping to write a new page in the history of the island,” Hussaini told AFP.

Another survivor, 20-year-old Astrid Willa Eide Hoem, is one of those who has decided to be there this weekend.

“It’s important for AUF as an organisation and for me as a person,” she said.”Utoya has to continue to be a workshop where young people learn about democracy, politics and activism.”

Norway Massacre Breivik was sentenced to 21 years in prison but he will almost certainly never leave prison. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Wounds far from healed

The leafy, green island has in the meantime received a facelift. Thanks to donations and the work of hundreds of volunteers, new buildings have been built, while the old ones have been renovated with respect to the dead.

Before the seminars and speeches began on Friday, the teenagers held high-spirited games of football or volleyball, although armed police guards kept a careful watch.

Two police boats are guarding the waters around Utoya.

Many of the delegates wore T-shirts bearing the party slogan “Working Class Hero”.

“The new Utoya should be a place to remember, to learn, and to cultivate political activism,” Hussaini said.

Norway Massacre The ferryboat which Anders Behring Breivik used to get to Utoya island. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

A little further away, a memorial entitled “The Clearing” has been mounted in the woods: a giant steel ring suspended from the evergreens, bearing the names of 60 of the 69 victims.

In a sign that the wounds are far from healed, nine families did not want their loved ones’ names to appear on the ring.

“It stings to see all these names, to see their ages,” says survivor Emilie Bersaas, visiting the site with the media ahead of the reopening.

“But Utoya has to carry on. So many major political developments were born around a campfire here.”

Breivik is serving a 21-year prison sentence, which can be extended indefinitely as long as he is considered a danger to society.

© – AFP 2014

Read: Oslo university snubs killer Breivik’s application to study >

Read: Norway’s memorial to Utoya island massacre is stunning >

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