Historical archive

Defending our common values

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Dagsavisen, 11 August 2011

Norway is still in mourning. Until now, it has been most important to show compassion and solidarity with those who were hardest hit by the tragedy of 22 July. As we move on, we also have to try to understand the political implications of the atrocities. This will demand just as much of us, writes Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre.

Translated from the Norwegian

Norway is still in mourning. Until now, it has been most important to show compassion and solidarity with those who were hardest hit by the tragedy of 22 July. As we move on, we also have to try to understand the political implications of the atrocities. This will demand just as much of us. 

“There is a time for everything,” we hear priests and imams say as we bury our dead and say our farewells, again and again, from churches, mosques and community centres all over Norway. Thousands of people have been directly affected, and hardly a person in Norway has been left untouched. We all grieve in different ways. But we must all find a way to move on. 

Our Prime Minister has shown true political leadership and set the tone for us all, in a way that has evoked a powerful response from the Norwegian people. I have met the same response again and again as I have talked to bereaved families, survivors, the injured and others at memorials, meetings and funerals. 

It is the keynote of the Norwegian response that has made a deep impression far beyond Norway’s borders – we will strengthen democracy and maintain our open society. We will not repay evil with evil. 

The young people who have been lost have become real to all of us after the attacks. This was my personal experience as I stood by the coffins – Bano Rashid’s in Nesodden, Syvert Knudsen’s in Lyngdal and Emil Okkenhaug’s in Levanger – and met the families of many of those killed or injured. 

On these occasions, I have tried to hold on to my memories of the day I spent on Utøya. The day before, the sun-filled Thursday 21 July, when Utøya was what it should be – full of commitment, activity, fun and enjoyment, but also the seriousness young people show as they seek their way in life and gradually decide to take part, take on responsibilities and try to make a difference. With a belief in the power of politics, and a belief in the Labour Party and the Labour Youth League as a powerhouse for change, whether the issue is a better local bus service, the right to an apprenticeship or the path to follow in major international issues. 

At memorial services we have learnt more about the people we have lost, the issues that mattered to them and the way they showed their commitment. Bano, Syvert, Emil, Håvard, Silje, Margrethe, Anders and all the others are continuing to move and inspire us after their deaths. 

We know that they have been torn from us, but at the same time we understand that they will continue to influence Norwegian politics for a long time. We understand that those who died on Utøya will join the ranks of their political movement as pioneers for a better future. 

I’ve been told that many members of the Labour Youth League look up to us, the established politicians, as their models. This makes me stop and think. Perhaps we should view the younger generation as our models instead? And did I say this clearly enough to those who can no longer hear me? Can there be anything more inspiring for a politician in mid-career than to meet teenagers who are ready to jump into politics in the belief that they can make a difference to the world?  Can there be any stronger reminder that we too must be enthusiastic, altruistic, honest, true, eager – and bold? And can there be anything more meaningless than the deaths of so many of these young people? 

“There is a time for everything.” The day after the attacks, we pledged that Norway would continue to be recognisable. This means that the democratic debate will continue and that the solidarity we have shown during the period of mourning will withstand the differences and conflicts inherent in politics. 

But we must also face that fact that the attack on Utøya was no accident, no natural disaster. It was a carefully planned attack on one political party’s youth movement, the strongest yet most defenceless wing of the Labour Party. In addition to the unfathomable grief we meet at funerals and memorials, there is growing realisation of the almost incomprehensible truth that we are burying teenagers who have been murdered because of their political beliefs. In Norway, in 2011. 

This is setting the course for the rest of my political life – to defend the values the killer has attacked in word and deed. To defend a richly diverse society founded on core Norwegian values, including democracy, the rule of law, human rights, human dignity and equality. To fight the political forces that would like to close Norway in on itself, and that refuse to see that Norway’s strengths are precisely openness, respect for minorities and a belief that together, we can do better.