Speech/statement | Date: 31/05/2023 | Office of the Prime Minister
The most important safeguards are to be found within each and every one of us – individually, and as communities. Our resistance – individually, collectively – to intolerance, hatred and extremism – and our support for equality, diversity and human rights – start in our minds, start in our hearts: our best tools for protecting and promoting an open, democratic society, said Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre.
Full transcript of the speech
Secretary General, Ministers, Ambassadors,
A warm welcome to all of you to Oslo and the Government Office Complex. As you can see around me, this is a work in progress.
In the afternoon of Friday 22 July 2011, a man parked a car full of explosives, on the other side of the fence here, walked away, got into another car and drove towards Utøya Island, north of Oslo, about 40 minutes drive.
As he was on his way, the bomb went off, killed eight people, injured dozens more, and destroyed buildings and the neighborhood.
Once he got to the island, he walked around, and in about one hour he shot and killed 69 participants, mainly children, at the AUF – Norwegian Labour Party Youth summer camp – of which Astrid (Hoem) today is the chairperson; she was on the island as a participant back then. Many hundreds tried to hide, run or swim for their lives.
As a Foreign Minister back then, I had – the day before – visited the camp, and we had discussed international politics, we had played football, we had a real youth camp atmosphere, a day of sun and joy.
The next day darkness descended – on the island, on my country, and – I would say – also on Europe.
The attack on 22 July was deliberate and well planned – a project by one person. The extreme right-wing terrorist was alone in executing it. But as we see it now, he did not develop his intentions in isolation. He was inspired by ideas that he found on the net, in communication over some time. We may say he was a lone wolf, but he was member of a pack.
His prime target was the Norwegian Labour Party – Prime Minister Stoltenberg and my party – and, above all, its youth, and – beyond that – our democracy, its institutions, the very heart of the Government, right here.
It was a politically motivated attack on a political movement and on democracy in Norway.
At Utøya his project was to decimate the next generation of politicians. And I can tell you, as Labour Party leader, that we are missing a huge number of people that would have been – maybe – in Government or at service for democracy today, and who are no longer with us.
Today I am proud to say that two of the ministers in my Government, both recently elected deputy Labour party leaders at our Convention, are survivors from Utøya. – They are living proof, that they won and he lost. And I am proud of our democracy that I can say the following; I know that all other parties – in position or opposition – are proud that there are many candidates at the local elections this fall who are Utøya survivors from back then.
Their experience has given them – and us – resilience and hope.
Twelve years on, we all feel the anguish, the emptiness, the anger – and the horror.
We think of those left behind, the families, the empty chairs in class rooms and around dinner tables – all those who live with the grief and loss.
We think of the hundreds of survivors – and all the circles around them – who bear visible and invisible wounds.
The three firefighters standing guards here alongside me were among the first on the scene that day, saving lives, overcoming their fear that the buildings could collapse. – Remarkable courage shown.
I myself had worked nine years as a civil servant in this building – and I had gone in and out of it as a Minister for many years – and the Secretary General had his office on top of the building. – We all feel the direct link to the area.
Outside Norway too, you felt shock and disbelief – and I want to thank you for all the messages we got during those days. – I remember especially from colleagues who said that ‘we can feel your pain’, meaning that you – many of you – had experienced something of the same. It is a sad fact that every year, NATO member states are the target of terrorist attacks, including mass shootings.
Norway was not prepared for an attack like this. We were not able to foresee it – nor to stop it. That in itself was terribly painful, I can tell you – and still is.
However, we were able to unite – as a large community, in my country – to confront our disbelief, sorrow and anger – together, across party lines.
We stood behind Prime Minister Stoltenberg when he called for “… more openness, more democracy. Resolve and strength” – which was a rallying call. We rallied our collective power as an open, inclusive democracy, built on trust. Never willing to sacrify that key currency in our country.
We would not allow a terrorist to weaken or stop us – and of that I am actually proud.
In a few years, we will be using our new desks at the Government Office Complex – in new buildings – and they will be a new face of modern Oslo. A national remembrance and learning centre is under development – and will be right here where the bomb exploded.
But what is also significant, is that at Utøya – the island which was attacked, and an island that was lying in darkness for a couple of years – the AUF is now back, they have taken the island back, rebuilding it, modernising, and the summer camps are attended by more people, more activities, more hope – more hope for the future than ever before.
There is a centre built for commemoration, learning and engagement, receiving school classes from all over Norway and beyond our country. The building was ranked by The Guardian in 2016 as one of the ten most important buildings in the world that year. – Very different from what the terrorist had planned. It is a place to come together – to reflect and be inspired.
So – young people have turned this island into living proof that we must never take values such as tolerance, equality and diversity for granted. And many of you know this lesson all too well.
The 22 July was a politically motivated attack – but democracy and the youth and the will and the determination prevailed.
So, briefly – as you are about to start your important meeting – what can we learn, what elements of lessons are there – 12 years on? – A few reflections:
First, we must – as a community of democracies – strengthen our efforts against hate speech, racism and violent extremism. We must – as individuals, in our daily life, as politicians, as ambassadors – stand up to intolerance and hatred. – Look people in the eyes and say that we don’t want to have any of it. – Each and every one of us, in our communities, along with the judiciary, the Storting – the Parliament, and the Government – we must unite around this. But I think an important message is to tell every man and woman, young and old, that you have an individual responsibility to bear.
Second, we have to strengthen our emergency preparedness and response. We have worked systematically on that. We are now better equipped to deal with terrorism and threats. – But we can never be one hundred percent.
Third, we also know that we will never be able to claim that we have finished the job. – That is dangerous. Last June, on the eve of the Pride parade and festival here in Oslo, a man shot and killed two people and injured many more.
Finally, we know that no amount of new equipment, police, or intelligence will ever be enough to protect us from all threats. – That would be naïve.
So – dear friends, I will finish with these words:
The most important safeguards are to be found within each and every one of us – individually, and as communities. Our resistance – individually, collectively – to intolerance, hatred and extremism – and our support for equality, diversity and human rights – start in our minds, start in our hearts: our best tools for protecting and promoting an open, democratic society.
So – dear friends,
As you unite here in this fine political and military alliance:
We must stand up to hatred.
We must defend our values. – Our most effective weapon, in fact – in our fight for dignity, security and freedom.
And this is also the essence, I believe, of our alliance. We come together to discuss strategy and means for building an effective political and military alliance. We can – together – protect and defend the shared values that lie at the core of everything we do.
So, in memory of the 77 people who were killed on 22 July 2011, I thank you for being here – and I thank you for your solidarity and your attention, thank you.