On Saturday, the 12th anniversary of a terrorist attack in his native Norway, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg attended the annual memorial services in Oslo for the victims. At the time, he was the prime minister of Norway, and his response remains pertinent as he now heads the Western allies’ response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
We are a small nation, but we are a proud nation,” Stoltenberg said in a memorable speech delivered on the evening of July 22, 2011, after a right-wing extremist bombed his office and destroyed the Norwegian government’s headquarters. “No one shall bomb us into silence.
The terrorist, who was revealed to be a young Norwegian man, then massacred young members of the Norwegian Labour Party, which Stoltenberg also led at the time.
On that day, 77 people were murdered in Norway, and Stoltenberg has made it an annual tradition to attend memorial services held in downtown Oslo, where the attacks began. (ALL PHOTOS: Arbeiderpartiet, unless otherwise specified.)
Stoltenberg waited until it was his turn on Saturday to place a single red rose, the symbol of the Labour Party, between wreaths set in front of a memorial bearing the names of the 77 people who lost their lives on July 22. Jan Christian Vestre, a survivor of the attack on Labor’s summer youth program on the island of Utya, spoke before him. Vestre is now a member of the current Labour-led government, serving as minister of business and trade, the same position Stoltenberg held in the 1990s.
In his address to a startled nation on that rainy summer evening 12 years ago, Stoltenberg also stated, “No one shall silence us.” Nobody will ever discourage us from being Norwegian. On Saturday, as Stoltenberg and others attended the outdoor memorial ceremony in Oslo, it began to rain again.
Since Russia began bombing neighboring Ukraine on February 24, 2014, his words from more than a decade ago are remarkably similar to what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been telling his country for the past 17 months. Stoltenberg told NRK following Saturday’s ceremony in Oslo that it is essential for him to participate in the annual memorial for Norway’s victims of aggression.
“I had an office here, and I knew many of those who perished. It is now an integral part of my existence.”
Stoltenberg has maintained his message of solidarity and support since he spoke at the first of many ceremonies held in the days immediately following the explosion and massacre, such as this one on July 23, 2011, outside the Oslo Cathedral.
The Norwegians responded in force by placing roses and other flowers throughout the city in an effort to flood the streets with love rather than hatred.
“We must never abandon our values,” Stoltenberg continued, insisting that it was imperative that Norwegians “demonstrate that our open society can withstand this challenge, that the answer to violence is more democracy and humanity, and that men must never be naive.
That is our obligation to the victims and their families.” (Photography by NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Mst.)
The current prime minister of Norway, Jonas Gahr Store, referenced this in his own remark at the memorial ceremony on Saturday morning, which was followed by services at the Oslo Cathedral and a later gathering on Utya. Stre argued that it is essential to come together and never forget. Together, we have demonstrated our strength.
In addition, he emphasized that “we support Ukraine’s fight,” that Norway will continue to build up its own defense forces, and, most importantly, that it will “defend democracy.” From 2005 to 2013, Stre served as Norway’s foreign minister for the majority of Stoltenberg’s two mandates as prime minister.
Several other speakers on Saturday, including the founder of the July 22nd victims’ families’ support group Lisbeth Ryneland (right), and the current leader of Labour’s youth organization AUF, Astrid Hoem (center), voiced concerns regarding Russia’s war in Europe and global threats to democracy.
We were bombed, shot, and killed because we worked for democracy,” Hoem explained. “We can’t let extremism become normal.
Ryneland, whose daughter was murdered by the gunman on Utya, pledged that “we will continue to be brave” and never forget the 22 July 2011 victims.
King Harald V honored her and fellow support group leader Trond Blattmann, father of another victim, the day before Saturday’s memorial service, and she was donning her new royal decoration for the first time.