What survivors know 10 years on from the Utoya massacre


Photojournalist Andrea Gjestvang has been following the lives of July 22 sufferers, making portraits and interviewing lots of them during the last 10 years. Her images and their tales seem all the way through this essay, along side what they’d inform themselves in hindsight. Some haven’t any solutions.

Norway’s capital was once quieter than same old on July 22 2011, a rainy Friday throughout the summer time vacations. At 3.25pm a bomb hidden within a van exploded outdoor the top minister’s workplace, shattering the country’s peace and surroundings in movement a day of scarcely plausible terror. Via the tip of the day, 77 other folks were murdered. Maximum of them have been youngsters.

The assaults, the deadliest violence in Norway since the second one global struggle, have been performed by means of 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik. He started in Oslo’s govt quarter the place, dressed as a police officer, he left the home made bomb of about 950kg. 9 mins after he walked away, the instrument detonated, destroying the facade of no longer simply the tower block housing the top minister’s workplace however a number of different ministries and the rustic’s best-selling newspaper VG.

Maximum employees have been on vacation, however 8 other folks died within the bombing. “The entire construction was once shaking. I used to be in the midst of this excessive chaos,” says Andrea Gjestvang, a photographer and VG image editor. “I used to be simply in point of fact, in point of fact scared.”

As surprise and confusion gripped Oslo, Breivik drove 40km north-west out of the capital to the small island of Utoya in Tyrifjorden lake. Each and every 12 months, the island performed host to a summer time camp for AUF, the formative years organisation of the ruling centre-left Labour birthday party.

Masses of youngsters as younger as 14 flocked there from far and wide Norway for a mix of socialising, tenting and earnest political debate. Some have been politically engaged; many have been tagging along side pals. On July 21, tradition minister Anniken Huitfeldt had despatched a textual content message to the top of the AUF on Utoya announcing, “I want I have been you”.

Armed with a pistol and rifle, Breivik introduced himself as a policeman who had come to the island to test all was once OK after the bombing. He started shifting round Utoya methodically killing sufferers. Some he instructed he’d been despatched to lend a hand sooner than capturing them. Others he shot as they pretended to be lifeless. “You’ll die lately, Marxists,” he reportedly yelled.

Aleksander Sandberg

2012, age 16

Sandberg concealed underneath a settee within the island’s faculty area. In conjunction with 46 others, he stayed within the construction till police arrived. “What I need essentially the most is an absolutely customary existence,” he says. “I wish to get married, get started a circle of relatives, have a area, a automotive and a canine. To be in a role I revel in. It doesn’t want to be one thing bold. I wish to enjoy existence for what it’s value.”

2021, age 25

“You’re going to achieve additional than it will really feel like at the moment. Possibly it sort of feels hopeless, however it’s not over. The entirety you do any further will probably be a non-public success; to go the examination, get your drivers’ licence, purchase an condo and be in a long-term dating. Despite the fact that you imagine that none of that is going to occur.”

Eirin Kristin Kjaer

2012, age 20

Whilst attempting to offer protection to more youthful campers, Kjaer was once shot within the abdomen, arm, correct knee and armpit. “As an individual who has been shot 4 instances,” she says, “I’m doing really well. There’s not anything my frame can’t do. I’ve had reviews that almost all folks don’t have. It supplies an perception that I take with me in my political involvement. I discovered so much about myself. Now not least to revel in existence whilst having it.”

2021, Age 29

“Don’t lose religion in your self. You’re excellent sufficient. Professional sufficient. Robust sufficient. Dare to be prone and unhappy when you wish to have it, as a result of what you have got skilled is so incomprehensible and painful. Reside within the second and don’t take into accounts the whole lot that didn’t turn out to be as you deliberate.”

Two times Breivik known as police to give up. However their reaction was once chaotic and plagued by means of errors. The most important knowledge wasn’t shared between departments. At one level, closely armed police attempted to make use of a ship that was once too small to succeed in the island and needed to flip again as it began to sink. By the point police reached Breivik, he had killed 69 other folks on Utoya. Greater than 500 survived, many by means of swimming into the frigid water of Tyrifjorden the place they have been picked up by means of boating locals and vacationers.

Many had to start with assumed the assaults have been perpetrated by means of Islamic fundamentalists. Finding Breivik was once Norwegian, that he was once “considered one of us” — because the name of journalist Asne Seierstad’s e book at the assaults known as it — was once a surprise. High Minister Jens Stoltenberg captured the nationwide temper in a speech in Oslo cathedral two days after the assault, announcing that Norway would by no means surrender on its values. “Our reaction is extra democracy, extra openness and extra humanity,” he mentioned. He counseled the feedback of an AUF member who had mentioned, “If one guy can create that a lot hate, you’ll be able to handiest believe how a lot love we as a togetherness can create.”

Breivik’s felony trial started in April 2012. He was once to begin with recognized as paranoid schizophrenic, sooner than a 2d analysis judged he suffered from narcissistic character dysfunction. He lightly described to the court docket how he killed 77 other folks, and mentioned his authentic plan were to behead Gro Harlem Brundtland, the previous Labour top minister who left Utoya in a while sooner than he arrived. In August 2012, Breivik was once given the utmost sentence allowed — 21 years — with the potential for indefinite extension. Since then, he has been stored in isolation, receiving handiest visits from a chaplain and, sooner than her demise, his mom. 


“22 juli”, because the assaults are identified in Norway, has turn out to be as notorious a date as 9/11 is in the USA. Because of the tight-knit nature of this nation and the vast geographical unfold the sufferers got here from, one newspaper estimated as many as one in 4 Norwegians knew anyone affected. “We weren’t ready in any respect,” says Huitfeldt, a former chief of the AUF and Labour minister. “Shall we no longer believe one thing so terrible may just occur in our non violent little nation.”

Seierstad, preferrred identified for her books chronicling on a regular basis existence in struggle zones together with Kabul and Baghdad, says that the affect of July 22 was once other from 9/11. “9/11 modified the sector. It modified my existence. It modified American society. It modified our manner of flying, geopolitics. July 22, it didn’t even trade Norway,” she says. “Sure, now we have this wound and we need to get well and it’s going to by no means be because it was once. However what has modified?”

Safety has been tightened round govt structures and parliament, however she argues little else is other. Many Norwegians attempt to block out the reminiscence of the assaults and a few, wishing to disclaim him infamy, refuse to discuss with Breivik by means of title, calling him simply “the terrorist”. The tenth anniversary has refocused consideration at the position of the tragedy within the nationwide awareness. Some really feel that whilst Norway treated the instant aftermath neatly, it has struggled lately.

Hanne Hesto Ness

2012, Age 20

Ness was once within the café when she was once shot. She was once hit within the left arm. A bullet shattered her finger and some other significantly broken her neck vertebrae. Her preferrred pal died on her lap. “The primary years after Utoya I used to be scared for my existence,” she says. “I used to be intimidated by means of uniforms and loud noises. Now I’m terrified of dropping the ones I like essentially the most, since I misplaced my preferrred pal at the island.”

2021, Age 29

Ina Libak

2012, age 22

After surviving the assault, Libak turned into the top of the AUF between 2018 and 2020. “Because the chief, it was once my activity to offer folks hope. Due to this fact I needed to really feel excellent myself, to handle the whole lot we had skilled,” she says. “This can be a nice accountability for a teenager. I’ve numerous excellent issues in my existence. However I every now and then really feel that July 22 has given me earnestness and intensity. I’ve turn out to be each lighter and a bit of darker.”

2021, Age 31

“Be type to your self, what you have got been via is large and painful. It’s allowed to really feel that it’s tough. Thankfully, the image will regularly make bigger, it feels very provide now, however ultimately it’s going to turn out to be a smaller a part of the massive existence. Just right issues are looking forward to you at some point.”

Portions of the federal government quarter within the middle of Oslo stand unrepaired amid an ongoing dispute about easy methods to rebuild. A putting memorial at Utoya, that includes a bit of rock got rid of from the island to create a symbolic “gash” at the panorama, was once deserted in 2017 after public outcry. Opposition from neighbouring communities at the lake ended in a court docket combat that additional traumatised lots of the sufferers’ households. A brand new memorial at the island will nonetheless be underneath building after the anniversary passes.

“Everybody has underestimated the symbolic energy of this wound. It’s an indication that we aren’t healed,” says Gjestvang. She provides that the unique proposal was once potent for the way it captured struggling. “It’s painful. We need to face it.”

Huitfeldt says the loss of a memorial is “implausible”, however issues to the controversies in New York over a 9/11 memorial, which opened at the tenth anniversary of the ones assaults. “Individuals are extra united to start with, after which they begin to disagree.”

Seierstad is much less certain, arguing that there’s little with which to match this sort of huge nationwide trauma. “I don’t say it’s been easy. However in the entire, Norway has executed the precise issues,” she says, pointing to the federal government’s reaction and the openness of the trial, which acted as “each catharsis and a fact-finding project”.

A countrywide fee printed severe shortfalls with Norway’s emergency preparedness. But it surely was once maximum scathing in regards to the police, arguing that they might have avoided the bombing and arrested Breivik previous within the day. Norway’s head of police, who were preferrred guy at Stoltenberg’s wedding ceremony, was once pressured to renounce. Seierstad is in a similar fashion extremely crucial of the police, noting that as Breivik shot lifeless on moderate about one particular person each minute throughout his bloodbath, a lengthen of 20 mins value many lives. “We have been like a failed state that day,” she says.

Torje Hanssen

2012, age 14

Hanssen was once the youngest particular person to wait the camp. He concealed along with his brother Viljar and others. When Viljar was once shot, Hanssen attempted to swim away and was once later rescued by means of boat. “I at all times knew that darkness is life-giving,” he says. “I’ve been obsessive about ache and demise, the truth that one can die at any time. I don’t take into accounts the longer term and I should not have ambitions to be triumphant. I’m already playing myself.”

2021, age 23

Cecilie Herlovsen

2012, age 17

Herlovsen concealed along with her preferrred pal Andrine. She was once shot within the shoulder, chin and arm, which was once later amputated. Andrine died. “I’m actively running to get out of what I name the Utoya jail,” says Herlovsen. “However as a result of the bodily accidents, I imagine that I can by no means be totally unfastened. Even supposing I’m sturdy, it’s nonetheless tough to live to tell the tale on a regular basis.”

2021, age 25

“Don’t simply have a look at the darkish facet, however proceed the method that you’ve begun. Forestall setting apart your self. Open up about your emotions to these closest to you. You aren’t a burden.”


Most likely the world the place Norway has maximum struggled to procedure the assaults is essentially the most sudden: politics. Breivik was once particular in concentrated on the Labour birthday party and its formative years organisation, claiming they have been in charge of encouraging multiculturalism and serving to Muslims “take over” Norway and western Europe. “The purpose of the assaults was once to offer a logo to the folks. The Labour birthday party has betrayed the rustic and the folks,” Breivik mentioned throughout his first court docket look consistent with the pass judgement on. “They paid the fee for that the day prior to this.”

Breivik were a member of the nationalist, anti-immigration Development birthday party, which has lengthy been outlined by means of its opposition to Labour. However Breivik left Development neatly sooner than the assaults, and Labour officers have resolutely refused to pin any blame at the birthday party itself. “It’s simply unfair to offer them accountability for what took place. In a political debate this is extra polarised than sooner than, they may be able to’t be held accountable for his habits,” says Huitfeldt. However she provides, “His concepts don’t come from nowhere. They arrive from someplace. All folks need to take accountability.”

Siv Jensen, then Development birthday party chief, used the word “sneak Islamisation” in 2009 to explain the placement in Norway. Seierstad says she believes “there’s a hyperlink between Development and [Breivik]”. She says her analysis displays that Development stopped chatting with the longer term assassin “no longer as a result of he was once too excessive however as a result of he was once silly”. She says the birthday party by no means in point of fact stated its ties to Breivik and that “we as a society have by no means made them”.

Jensen wrote in The Wall Boulevard Magazine in 2011 that Development was once “embarrassed, disgusted and in point of fact unhappy” Breivik was once as soon as a member. She added that he left the birthday party in 2006 and seemed “to have passed through an excessive radicalisation since then” along with his movements and ideology “utterly opposite to our insurance policies and values”.

Parliamentary elections are set for September, with opinion polls pointing to a go back to govt for the Labour birthday party for the primary time since 2013. The rustic has had a centre-right coalition for the previous 8 years, together with Development for greater than six years. The birthday party confronted controversy after Sylvi Listhaug, then the justice minister, mentioned that Labour concept “terrorists’ rights are extra vital than the country’s safety” sooner than it in any case left govt early final 12 months.

Ylva Schwenke

2012, age 15

Schwenke was once hiding when she was once shot within the shoulder, abdomen and each thighs. “My primary struggles in existence now are commonplace 20-year-olds’ issues. I rigidity about existential questions, equivalent to no longer figuring out the place I’m in existence and the place I’m going. It feels a bit of small,” she says. “If I am going via tough instances, I have a tendency to mention to myself: you’ll want to have died as a 14-year-old. The other might be not to exist in any respect.”

2021, age 24

“You’re going to meet an unbelievable selection of great other folks. You’re going to take the probabilities you might be presented and you are going to go back and forth, paintings and get a bachelors level. Keep in mind that there isn’t one strategy to handle trauma, and that you just must no longer have a nasty sense of right and wrong if you’re feeling satisfied. 

While you get the terrorist assault extra at a distance, you are going to get pissed off with little issues in the similar manner as you probably did sooner than. However that doesn’t imply you have got forgotten about it, you simply commit it to memory otherwise.”

Natia Chkhetiani

2012, age 23

Chkhetiani is from Kutaisi in Georgia and was once invited as a world visitor by means of the AUF along with her preferrred pal, who was once killed within the assault. “I’ve used numerous power to distance myself from the whole lot that is attached with July 22, together with political and social involvement. However,” she says, “you can’t break out your reviews with silence.”

2021, age 33

“You can’t trade what came about on Utoya by means of escaping from the whole lot and everybody who reminds you of that day. July 22 will probably be with you regardless of the place you might be — in Georgia or in Norway. You’re going to realise that what came about was once no longer a herbal crisis, however a hateful act. Your openness and your dedication, like everybody else’s, rely within the combat to forestall one thing identical from going down.”

Since then, Labour and AUF officers have argued increasingly more that Breivik’s concepts didn’t develop in a vacuum. Asmund Aukrust, a survivor of July 22, instructed the FT in 2018, “I feel we [as a country] have no longer processed what in point of fact came about on July 22. Now we want to talk about what was once in the back of the assault.”

Huitfeldt says a part of the problem was once that Stoltenberg and others framed the assaults as “an assault on our country”, fairly than one concentrated on the Labour birthday party, in a a hit try to unite the rustic. However an aspect impact, she feels, is that the AUF and Labour birthday party have been frequently no longer stated as sufferers. “As a result of we have been accused of profiting from the placement, we virtually really feel in charge once we speak about it. Once they accused us of enjoying the so-called Utoya card, it’s tough to have a political debate at the reasons of extremist concept,” she says. Nonetheless, some counsel Labour have attempted to milk the cases. “It’s unattainable to make the most of the placement. However then you might be accused of doing so. It’s one thing we will’t argue in opposition to. You’re accused of being too emotional, your concepts don’t rely,” Huitfeldt provides.

Probably the most survivors face on-line hate, receiving feedback equivalent to “you’ll have been shot”. Seierstad compares such web trolling with the denial by means of some that the Sandy Hook faculty shootings in the USA ever came about. She says, “We don’t are living in a vacuum. The entirety that exists in different nations exists right here too.”

Because the anniversary approaches, discussing the assaults’ legacy has turn out to be extra herbal. However whilst debate about Utoya is also opening up, many surprise how neatly Norway is addressing the problems underlying rightwing extremism. In 2019, Philip Manshaus, a 21-year-old Norwegian, shot his stepsister to demise after which opened hearth in an Islamic centre close to Oslo (thankfully no person on the mosque was once killed). In the meantime, for the entire furore over Listhaug’s feedback, she has since turn out to be chief of Development.

Ten years in the past, as information of the bombing started circulating, preliminary hypothesis centred on Islamist terrorism. Seierstad says that if that were the case it will were “more straightforward and far tougher” for Norway to handle. “The truth is that he was once considered one of us. The place do you set the blame? It’s after all him. However is it additionally just a little us? Is there one thing now we have executed to encourage him?” 

Richard Milne is the FT’s Nordic bureau leader

Andrea Gjestvang is a member of Panos Photos, and is based totally between Oslo and Berlin



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