Yes, we love Norway

A Norwegian Constitution Day parade

The death toll in Norway is far worse than I thought last night. At least 84 young people are confirmed dead in the shootings on Utøya and seven after the bombing in central Oslo.

When I heard this morning of the number of people killed I was physically shaken. The young people gunned down by a man disguised as a policeman were at the summer camp held every year by the Workers’ Youth League, the youth wing of the governing party. They were people just like me and many of my friends: teenagers and students interested in politics and driven by idealism. They were at a meeting very much like the Swedish Liberal Youth congress I am going to next week.

I don’t feel I can add much to what Rick Falkvinge says on his blog (in English). As he says, this was a callous attack on the central values of a democracy: freedom of expression and political activism. Frida Simonsson and Bawar Ismail (blog posts in Swedish), Swedish young liberals like me, also feel deeply shaken.

The man arrested on Utøya has been remanded in custody under suspicion of the shooting massacre and for the bombing in Oslo. As Rick Falkvinge says, he has clearly planned these attacks very carefully. He is a Norwegian national associated with right-wing extremists and has criticised internationalism and Islam on various websites.

I think it is very important to realise that he is very unusual. Norway is not a violent society, and these attacks are the worst act of violence in Norway since the Nazi occupation during the Second World War. And unlike many other countries, Norway did not achieve its independence through warfare but through peaceful activism and electoral democracy. The giant street parties that erupt wherever there are Norwegians on 17 May (Constitution Day) each year are about as far from militarism or chauvinism as you can get.

Everyone who believes in right, not might; in peaceful activism rather than political violence should send their thoughts and prayers to Norway. In the words of the Norwegian national anthem: “Yes, we love this country.”

Update: I have just read a very moving post by Stephen Glenn, a Liberal Democrat from Northern Ireland. Please read it. As he says: “Those young people were hoping for and working for a brighter future. Everyone in the world should take up their torch and ensure that we acheive that in their memory.”

Update 2: Anders Hanson has written an excellent post which helps to explain why this is so deeply shocking to all Scandinavians:

I don’t know Utøya but it resembles that idyllic life that Scandinavians, whether Norwegians, Swedes or Danes, believe is an integral part of what being Scandinavian is about. You like the outdoors. You like nature. If you don’t have one already, you want to live in a cottage on a wooded island in a lake or in the sea. It’s just how life in Scandinavia should be lived. It’s the equivalent of John Major’s old maids cycling to holy communion through the morning mist.

For my British readers, I’m not quite sure what the British equivalent would be, but try to imagine someone opening fire on the crowd at Lord’s cricket ground and you’ll have some idea how stunned we are in Scandinavia.

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