Rasma Says

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Flowers for Utøya

The first thing that strikes you when watching the evening news is that Utøya is shaped like a heart. 
It becomes its own symbol, a memorial ground, even though all the dead have been retrieved and the heart shaped dot of land is empty, strewn with brightly colored camping tents abandoned in media res. 
If it were any other context, the other picture on the evening news would make you howl with laughter. It is the miscalculation that made the police from Oslo drive out of their way to get to the island. 
The police were directed to take this route via Storøya…     instead of this shortcut from Utvika.     
There was only one rubber boat awaiting the troopers at Storøya. Overloaded with a dozen or more police in riot gear, the rubber raft came to a halt midway to Utøya. Luckily many boaters were already actively picking up people, dead and alive, from the water. A motorboat came to the rescue of the police. On the video we see three people in the rubber raft and a small army of police in the motorboat after the exchange. 
The Oslo police were publically shamed, but the local Buskerud police only had one rubber raft. Someone was nervous and confused, as police ought not to be, when telling the Oslo police who pulled up to Utvika that there was no way to get to Utøya from there. Helicopter TV cameras show several vacationing motorboats docked there. But we are not a state that expects disaster. Our policemen do not routinely carry guns. 
The detour cost the police between 15 and 20 minutes. 
Behring Breivik claims now that he called the police himself to tell them he was ready to hand himself over, the damage was extensive enough, now his manifesto would get the attention it deserved. He called ten times. The police answered two of the times. He asked for a confirmation call that the message had been delivered to someone in charge. 
The police never called him back. 
As soon as the police showed up on the island the sharpshooter put down his gun. Before that, he was shooting about one person a minute. Single shots. Thus he has also achieved a world record for the number of deaths done by single shots of a rifle in one massacre.The detour to Storøya and debacle in the rubber raft had deadly consequences, but it is unlikely that heads will roll because of it. Norway is not of the mindset that finding someone to blame and punish alleviates the aftermath of a crime. 
Anders Behring Breivik attacked the Labor Party Youth Camp because these were the future leaders of the Labor Party. Labor has been governing Norway off and on (but more on than off) since WWII ended  and Norway’s happy fairytale called OIL began. Behring Breivik wanted to disable the party, because liberal immigration policies since the 1980s have made Norway a more multicultural nation. Foreign immigrants account for about 12% of the population today. 
The trick worked in that more people know about his manifesto today. After all, he did not go the route of mainstream politics to try to enact the change he wanted. Rather, he was content to be an internet chatroom pundit whose unchecked isolation and ideology led him to take extreme measures in order to attract an audience for his cause. His plan backfired. The labor party has, if anything, been strengthened by this atrocity. 
The symbol of the labor party is the rose. After 22 July Norway ran out of roses. People were buying them by the hundreds to lay down at memorial demonstrations in towns and bergs and cities all over the country. At first I heard that the price of roses skyrocketed in response to the demand. Typical market exploitation. But then the opposite happened. Norway lifted its import tax so roses could be shipped into the country from all over Europe more cheaply than ever. There would be no shortage of roses to commemorate the dead.  
Fifteen to twenty thousand people demonstrated in Bodø. That’s about half the population. Two hundred thousand in Oslo. Each person clutching a handful of roses. The labor party’s approval rate has skyrocketed under PM Stoltenberg’s display of leadership, humility, compassion and good-neighborliness. He has attended and spoken at many of the funerals of the victims, most of them between 15 and 25 years old. His cabinet or other leading figures, such as Gro Harlem Bruntland or the crown prince, have shown up at others. Every night on the news there is a recap of the day’s funerals. On the roofs of medieval churches big screens broadcast the service because there is not enough room for everyone who wants to attend. 
At one funeral of a bubbly fifteen-year-old who called herself bubbles, the attendees brought bottles of soap and blew bubbles by the hundreds after the service. Everyone wore white instead of black to celebrate her exhuberance. At another, Chris Medina showed up at the family’s request and sang “What are Words,”because the last thing the girl had done with her mother was to show her a video of that song. Each funeral becomes a sort of resolution, if not a celebration. The country is in mourning, but not in shell shock. It is conducting itself with dignity, as I wish George Bush had had the wherewithall to do after 9-11. Instead of calling for revenge, people are calling for dialog. We are in a state of proactive outrage. 
Some morons are indeed saying that the labor party’s politics have ruined the country through liberal immigration and even going so far as to claim that the government is to blame for driving Behring Breivik to do what he did. After all, an “ethnic Norwegian” would never do such a thing if it weren’t necessary. 
Many more voices are saying no. They want more politics like Stoltenberg’s. They want more compassion and togetherness. More roses filling the streets. There are local elections coming up in September, but the parties have all agreed to not campaign at this time. After the national memorial service next weekend, in which the survivors of Utøya will be brought back to the island one day, and the families of the victims the next, political campaigning will resume during the few short weeks before elections.
I think  more eyes than ever will be on that election. I read somewhere that an 80% turnout is expected. I will be surprised if Framskritspartiet (the Tea Party-ish political wing that Behring Breivik belonged to when he was a teenager) gets as much support as they would have if Utøya had never happened. Politics were heading toward the right, but now even the opposition party leader has apologized for the way she has spoken about immigrants ruining the country. It seems to me that by the deaths of so many young people politics has matured, grown up, become more relevant and viable than ever. I was glad to see my voting card arrive in the mail. 
So thank you Anders Behring Breivik. I think that in managing the opposite of your intent, you have propelled the country forward as a beacon of democracy and peace in the world. All your hate is pulverized underfoot as a steadfast nation surges into its streets carrying roses.  
Still, one of the first poems I loved comes to mind. I was 15 or 16 when these words resonated in my head as the most beautiful ever written. I quoted this in the government’s online condolence book, and I’ll put it here as well. From Edna St Vincent Millay’s “Dirge without Music”: 
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the
    laughter, the love, —
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. 
    Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know.
     But I do not approve. 
More precious was the light in your eyes than all
     the roses of the world. 

2 comments on “Flowers for Utøya

  1. randi
    18/02/2012

    This was so beautifully written. Bit of a personal question, so you are most welcome not to answer but, did you lose someone you knew that day?

  2. No I didn't. I can't imagine what I may have written, or what voice I could have found, if I had. I had a niece who was supposed to be there that weekend, but didn't go… I think everyone in Norway has a story like that of a distant connection. Thanks for asking, and thanks for your words. And for reading!

    Rasma

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