Utoya Island has dropped from headlines, but it remains fresh in the memory of many
Martin Schultz, president of European Parliament, visited after receiving Nobel peace prize
Anders Behring Breivik admitted carrying out the attacks, sentenced to 21 years in prison
While the Nobel Peace Prize was being awarded this week in an ornate hall in Oslo, a small island nearby was shrouded in a cold mist that made it seem almost haunted.
Utoya Island has dropped from the headlines, but it remains fresh in the memory of many, including one of the European Union leaders who received the Nobel prize, as the site of Norway’s worst mass murder since World War II. Martin Schultz, the president of the European Parliament made a point of going to the island the very next day.
“The attack was an attack on our values,” said Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament. “But our values are stronger than the attack.”
Schulz – along with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy – accepted the award on the EU’s behalf Monday, with the massacre of July 2011 already on his mind.
It started with a deadly blast in downtown Oslo that killed eight people. In confusion that followed, the anti-immigrant extremist who detonated the bomb drove roughly 45 minutes to a ferry that took him to Utoya, the scene of an annual summer camp for young members of Norway’s Labor Party. He methodically gunned down everyone he could find and killed 69 people, most of them teenagers.
Anders Behring Breivik admitted carrying out the attacks, boasting that he was a patriot fighting multiculturalism in Norway. He was subjected to intense psychiatric examination, found sane and sentenced to 21 years in prison, although under Norwegian law he could be behind bars for life.
The European Union was honored with the 2012 Nobel Prize because of its contribution to peace in Europe, erasing old borders and animosities. It has also contributed to multiculturalism, eliminating some of the barriers to immigration in many corners of the continent.
In some countries, the debt crisis is fueling anti-immigrant sentiment. In Greece, for example, the ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn party is gaining popularity in part because of the country’s changing economic and ethnic landscape.
Norway is hardly an enthusiastic EU supporter, even less a hotbed of xenophobia. It has twice rejected EU membership and Breivik has been regarded as an extremist or a madman. But with the Nobel Prize for the EU and the the massacre at Utoya, Norway finds itself close to both Europe’s best intentions and some of the worst instincts in European history.
Schulz likened the two faces of his own brief trip to Norway to the two faces visible in the history of his own native Germany.
“We had a culture of literature and philosophy and mathematics,” he said, “And we had a culture of extermination at Auschwitz.”
Schulz said that Norway, a nation proud of its liberal, peaceful and tolerant traditions, offered an avenue of hope
“The reaction of the Norwegian society, to say our answer to the gunman is more democracy, more respect and to fight more for our values - that was the right answer, a good example for the whole world.”
A famous peace prize and an infamous murder scene: two different worlds less than one hour apart.