10 July, 2014

I woke up to a death number that morning

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Category: European Action Day
Gubaz Koberidze
7 pm

Eirik1

Written by: Eirik Rise

I woke up to a death number that morning. I believe the whole of Norway had been waiting for a number. Why was a number so important? Perhaps to know that it finally had stopped. That it was over. A number confirmed that it had happened, but also made it stop.

As I write this I’m sitting in the car with my close family. We just passed the place I stopped about three years ago on the 23rd of July 2011. And I’m taken back to how it all felt that day.

I was driving alone on an eight hour journey from Oslo to Stockholm. I still feel like a traitor for not being there the days after what happened the 22nd of July, I wasn’t there when thousands of people gathered in solidarity, laying down roses around the main church of Oslo. When the prime minister spoke in front of an ocean of people and roses at the city hall square. I didn’t hear the songs of mourning being sung from the stages and the broadcasts. I wasn’t there when a whole country seem gathered as one.

“If one man can show so much hate imagine how much love we all can show together“ as a young girl tweeted. The tweet kind of summarize the reaction of the Norwegian society after the 22nd of July attacks. Hate had to be answered with love. Closed mindness with open mindness. Disrespect with more respect. More democracy. That was what we pledged after the 22nd of July.

Back in my car, three years ago. Alone. Tuning through Swedish radio channels in search of any news. Any information. Anything that could bring me closer to what I was driving further and further away from. What had really happened the last 24 hours?

The day before at about 4 PM I left my brothers and headed towards Oslo. I remember turning on the radio. “We abrupt the regular broadcast to report there have been an explosion in the center of Oslo…”. An explosion? What kind of explosion? They didn’t say. They didn’t know. Perhaps it was just an accident. But if not, who can have done this? And why?

I could see a small cloud of smoke hanging over Oslo as the panorama view from the highway opened up in front of me. I had just moved to the center one month ago, only a few minute walk from where the bomb had gone off. It felt strange to park my car so close. Should I go there? I decided not. There was little I could do about explosions. Neither am I a paramedic. I didn’t know it had just started.

I had a date that day. Recently having moved in, my apartment had no television. No internet. Only the radio, with reports on the tragedy as it developed. It was surrealistic, like hearing people hear about how they listened to the radio during war-times, waiting for a word that it would soon be over. My date didn’t go so well. He was scared. There were too many situations I didn’t know how to handle. What an absurd date.

The eight to die from the 950 kg heavy bomb at the government quarters were only the beginning. Many more might have died, if it wasn’t for it being after work hours and many had left work. At the same time, a few hours’ drive away the tragedy was escalating.

Dressed as a policeman the perpetrator, Anders Behring Breivik, had boarded the little ferry to Utøya where the summer camp of AUF, the labour youth party, was taking place. Using the bomb in Oslo as an excuse for him being there he was taken on to the Island.

He started shooting with his machine gun, one of the first to perish was the host mother of the camp site. The massacre lasted for hours, what must have felt like an eternity. Terrified kids calling their parents from the Island. Parents trying to calm their children on the phone. Not being able to do anything. Some managed to hide or to escape. For many it was the last time they were ever to hear their voice again. Many of the victims ran towards him because of the police uniform, thinking they were being saved.IMG_7372

A friend saved his life by escaping with others in a rowing boat, dodging the bullets flying over their heads. Thankfully none of those I knew perished. I remember then wanting to have been there, thinking that I would have done something to stop him. Today I am grateful I was not, more than I can ever imagine.

The horror that met the rescuing team when they arrived at the island. The thousands of people not knowing if their loved one was a alive, hurt or dead. It was a tragedy of tragedies to which extent still isn’t clear. What had happened was hard to even grasp. But it became a fact when the numbers of dead was final. When the list of names became posted online and in the newspapers. The massacre had stopped. Breivik had surrended. It had stopped, but it was not over. It was only the beginning of a long process that I don’t know if ever will end.

The attacks were motivated by extreme right ideology and racist hatred. Breivik confessed to viewing all the victims as traitors for supporting immigration and multiculturalism. He was an active member of white supremacist and extreme right wing websites and forums.

Breivik was to dominate the newspapers for the months and years to come. Years after the gunshots went silent – the marks of the bullets and the shockwave of the explosion still reverberate in the Norwegian society.  Photos and headlines dominated all newspapers and television channels until you were so tired of being reminded of it that you didn’t want to care anymore. It was just too much. An online newspaper even had a filter – you just needed to push a button and the 22nd of July was out of sight.

The trial brought it all back and got international attention. Justice is a painful process, but fundamental in order to be able to move on and to regain our faith in our society and the world we live in. We need justice and we needed to prove that it could be gained in a way a as far from the actions that lead to this injustice. Hate crime can’t only be answered with love, we also need justice. Justice that can reconsolidate Human Dignity to where it had been taken away.

77 people were killed at Utøya and the government quarters. 69 of them on the Island of Utøya. 77  lives and futures were abruptly ended. A wound was cut into so many lives. And even though wounds heal, the scars never disappear. We need to learn how to live with the scars. To live with the stories that together shapes the narrative of the 22nd of July. There could have been future politicians, parents, teachers – people shaping the world we live in. Whatever future they could have pursued was taken away from them. The victims at Utøya were mostly youth representing the grassroot of the movement.  They were there because they believed they could do something good for society and change it.

We still struggle to grasp what happened and what it means. Maybe it’s because it’s too early. Maybe it is because it is too painful. Maybe it is because we don’t understand enough. Maybe it is because these things take much more time. Or a combination of those and many more. It happened so fast, but still we don’t fully understand the consequences.

The public reaction to the atrocities stood strong to the demonstration of hate by the perpetrator. One of many things I will never forget and I hope we can always remember is the collective reaction of solidarity and love. If hate can even be counted as a value, it is one incompatible with that of Human Rights and dignity. The collective response said that this is wrong. This is not us. This is not our society. We are not what happened. We are how we respond to what happened.

We respond hate with love. Closedness with openness. Injustice with democracy and rule of law. Human Rights violations with Human Rights and dignity. The response to hate many times is more hate, but we can’t let this happen. If we bring the values that was awoken as a response to the horror that day with us in how we meet the challenges we face today in our societies, we have taken a long step towards a better world. These were the values shared by those who fell victims on the 22nd of July.

The 22nd of July was not the first, but the second severe act of hate I found myself dragged into. The first story started two years earlier, in 2009. I then found myself on a train from Haifa to Tel Aviv in Israel. It was in the middle of the night and next to me sat the friend I was visiting holding a rainbow flag and a camrecorder for documentation.

IMG_7377He was born Israeli but self-define as Palestinian, I never completely understood how. But I assume an act of solidarity, identity and opposition. A man with a conscience. Love is not easily found in this world, but one thing however was certain. The experiences we had to share the next week would forever shape our relation. And me.

It was so different from the situation I would find myself in two years later. This was not a man who showed his fear by drawing away, but by getting closer, trying harder. He called himself weak, but where others would withdraw, he pushed on. But sometimes what you do not let show on the outside, you lay even deeper inside. He was scared too. People don’t know how to deal with fear.

As we closed in on Tel Aviv we tried calling several times. No response. We didn’t know much. Just that something had happened, something grave, something related to the LGBTQ* community in Tel Aviv.

A man had arrived at a youth club for LGBTQ* people. On his head a mask. In his hand a machine gun which he fired in o the group – killing two and wounding eleven. Then he left traceless on a motorbike. At the community center people were crying in public. Lighting candles all over the park. Some were speaking relentlessly the same words over and over again.

What we found was chaos. A community in shock. The whole thing became even more chaotic from the fact that I did not speak the language. As an outsider I found myself more observing than being a part of what was happening. But for some reason people confined in me. The needed someone to talk to, someone who was on the outside. I was an outsider suddenly finding himself on the inside trying to take in what had happened. How do you deal with such a clash of thoughts and feelings, confusion, disbelief, fear and sorrow.

One of the two who was killed, Nir, was a close friend of my friend. It was him we tried to call all night. He who didn’t respond. I remember the emptiness on his face as my friend found out. It was like he went into nothing. It was past 4 AM. He had been walking around with his camera, like it could take in what he couldn’t. I invited him for breakfast. Started talking about who Nir had been. Trying to give him something to hold on to, as a start of the way to painful process of letting go.

We were to have met Nir the next day. Stay at his place. Now we attended his funeral. His boyfriend completely devastated, breaking up, having to be almost carried along. There we were laying rocks on his grave. What should have been a hello to a new friend was now a goodbye to a person I never got to know.

For a long time nobody knew who or why. That took four years to discover. And the answer was a meaningless as the hate crime in itself. It was to be a revenge on the club manager. He was not even there so they aimed their rage to the youth present instead. It was their safe space, many not being open to their family or friends. The victims of that night didn’t only suffer the hate crime, but at the same time they had their identity revealed for the first time. And that on public television.

The 1st of August 2009, another date that would never be the same. Tens of thousands of people met a week after the in one of the main squares of Tel Aviv. Again I had to leave too early. The president attended and condemned the attack. I went back to a world where no-one was aware of what had happened. Again this sense of being alone in what had happened.

But this couldn’t just go away. I needed to do something. It took only a few day to arrange a public commemoration. About twenty people attended. Some candles. Some red roses.  A small article in media. Those who wanted could write their words of support on a role of paper which was then sent to the youth center.

The next years the commemoration happened in solitude. Me leaving a seminar in order to have half an hour for myself in a park. The others who knew being 4000 km away. The third year lighting a candle in my room.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Remembering things we wish never had happened. Going back into that painful place over and over again. But if there is one thing worse than remembering, it is forgetting. The happenings, however painful, shape who we are.

We do it for the people who fell victim. To keep them with us. To show them our respect. We don’t only remember the painful ending. We remember and cherish the lives they lived and shared with us. It reminds me that I am human, and sometimes I need to remind myself of what this mean. And for every bad thing that happen I need to make sure I answer with something good.

Hate crime shapes who we are. If it is hate crime that has taken a precious life, or if it is one which tried to derive us of our humanity and to scare us from being humans in the full meaning of the word. We have a choice in how we let this shape us. Through solidarity and commemoration we can influence how we are to be shaped. We can address the wrongdoings and work to change the things in society that lead to this.

That’s why it’s important for me to have an European Day for the Victims of Hate Crime. To have a place where I can cherish what was good, reflect on the bad and shape myself and the world around me into something better.

If I am driving alone it doesn’t matter. For the journey you really do take is one with yourself, your reflections and your memories. That doesn’t mean that you are alone. Solidarity becomes great when many take part, but starts with one. Commemoration is something in which we all can be a part. It is something we all should take part. It’s a part of who we are. What makes us who we are.

I do not see myself as a victim. I have been lucky, my friends have survived. I try to let what I experienced shape me to be a better person. The use of the word victim can in itself be victimizing. Words are actions and words can take away a persons’ strength and dignity. The European Day for the Victims of Hate Crime is not about taking anything away, it is about giving something back. To have some justice where there have been not.

The victim of hate crime is not only the ones who were targeted. Hate crime targets society, it jeopardize the Human Dignity of all people. We need to do what people did after the 22nd of July 2011. After the 1st of August 2009. To stand together for who we are and what kind of society we believe in. A society built on Human Rights, Democracy and Rule of Law.

I therefor ask for the European institutions and the member states of the Council of Europe to establish a European Day for Victims of Hate Crime on 22 of July.

Sign the Petition!

The subtitles for the song, translated by Udi raza

Mother do I have a place?

Am I allowed to dream of love?

Mother, I have thought it could worth a try

sniping pieces out of me

for the dayspring

so everyone shall see what loveliness

can flourish also out of me.

There is light in me  

(There is light in me)

that extinguishes the animosity

 

Mother, you tell them!

I have the right to be a human being

(Mother, you tell them!

I have the right to be a human being)

so everyone shall see what loveliness

can flourish also out of me.

There is light in me

(There is light in me)

that extinguishes the animosity

 

Mother!

They buried my pride deep in the ground

(Mother!… Mother!…)

 

what loveliness

could have been flourish also out of me,

if I have only had the chance

to be the light

and to extinguish the animosity

 


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