20 July, 2017

22 July and democratic citizenship

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Category: Education, hate crime, Utoya massacre, Victims of hate crime
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Learning-Democracy-at-Utoeya-Polish-Norwegian-Youth-Meetings_litenWritten by Ingrid Aspelund

6 years ago, a bomb went off by the government building in the center of Oslo, killing 7 people. A few hours later 69 people, who participated in the Labour Party Youth summer camp, were killed at Utoya, most of them not even 20 years old. The perpetrator was a right-wing extremist, Anders Behring Breivik. His motivation for the attack was, according to himself, the threat of muliticulturalism (especially Islam) and the failed immigration politics by the Labour party in Norway. He wanted to stop future political leaders from growing up.

In the aftermath of recent violent attacks in Europe and elsewhere, social media is a space for expressing emotions and solidarity. One of the well-known quotes after the 22 July 2011 was the Twitter message from a young girl saying: “If one man can cause so much evil – imagine how much love we can create together”. This message went viral on social media, promoting togetherness against division, love against hate. But how do we create love together? What does that mean in everyday life and in society?

After the attacks in 2011 there was a huge debate of what to do with the sites of the massacres. What should we do with the remaining parts of the government building? Would it be possible to come back to Utoya after what happened there? Could anything positive be created from these sites?

After years of discussions and input from various experts it was decided that there would be a temporal memorial and museum in the remaining parts of the government building. This is now the 22 July Center. In 2016 the center had their mandate extended not only to be a temporary memorial/museum, but rather a learning center, focusing on education for young people.

Learning-Democracy-at-Utoeya_litenSimilarly, at Utoya, there was a wish for Utoya to be more than a memorial. Utoya has since the 1950s been a place for young people to discuss and engage themselves in important issues in society. The attack in 2011 can be understood not only as targeting a specific political movement, but also as an attack on fundamental democratic values and human rights – the right to life, to engage and participate in political activities and decision making, to freedom of thought and speech, and values such as justice, diversity and equality. Thereby, something that concerns all of us as citizens.

The new memorial- and learning centre at Utoya, Hegnhuset, was completed during the summer of 2016. By honoring the memory and democratic engagement of those who died, and telling the stories of some of those who survived, both Utoya and the 22 July Center serves as a very real starting point for democratic dialogue. Meetings and conversations with eye witnesses – young people who survived the attack – are included in the educational programs. This component helps making this relevant for young people today, some who might not even remember the attacks in 2011.

Both Utoya and the 22 July Center are places for young people to come together and learn about what happened in 22 July 2011 and also to reflect on why this happened, how democratic values are under pressure today, to discuss, agree, disagree… on issues such as what does democracy really mean in our society, how can we prevent hate speech while at the same time honoring freedom of speech, and how can we engage in dialogue with people whose values and opinions are different than our own.

Put simply, we need more, not less, places to come together. Meeting, talking and listening to others is a crucial part of learning and developing democratic competences such as cooperation, openness to cultural otherness and strengthening empathy. A democratic, inclusive society is something we create together.

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