Reaction from Norway: Anders Breivik massacre trial

TORONTO – The trial for Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik started Monday in an Oslo courtroom, but the case has evoked strong reactions from people across the Scandinavian country.

With a reputation as one of the most peaceful and happy places to live, many Norwegians are disturbed to have been home to such a violent event, and to be bombarded by the ensuing media coverage.

“This is the most extended court case in Norway since the Second World War,” says Synnøve Rekkedal Hill, who lives in Sæbø, Norway. “But this has far more media coverage due to TV, more radio stations and tabloid newspapers.”

Stina Jakobsen, who lives in Ørsta on the west coast of Norway, says she finds herself switching the radio station channel because she’s so tired of hearing about the case.

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“We never had a case like this before so I can’t compare it to anything,” says Jakobsen. “One newspaper magazine didn’t print pictures of [Breivik] or his name to avoid giving him attention. Other newspapers have been careful about putting too many pictures of him on the front cover. But I think some wrote a lot to sell newspapers.”

Breivik has admitted to killing eight people by setting off a bomb in Oslo, and shooting to death 69 others on the nearby island of Utoya on July 22, 2011. While his sanity is now at issue after conflicting psychological reports, Breivik has said he committed these acts to promote his anti-Islam ideology.

“A lot of people would prefer that the court was closed to TV,” says Hill, who works at a local hospital. “Visitors as well as some of the patients talk about it, and how disgusting it is that Breivik gets to preach his extreme opinions on TV – like that he does not trust the Norwegian court system since it reflects the view of the Norwegian political system on multicultural society.”

In a country of 4,985,900 people, immigrants and those born in Norway to immigrant parents constitute 600,900 or 12.2 per cent of the population, according to 2011-2012 data from Statistics Norway.

“Norway is a country with a low level of crime and violence and is a quiet and peaceful country where people have a high level of trust in each other,” says Jakobsen. “We never had a terrorist attack before (at least not that I know of) and people, I think, felt pretty safe.”

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Hill says the only good thing about the coverage of the court case is that the right wing witnesses who will be called by Breivik’s defence will be exposed for their anti-Islamic opinions.

“Even though we don’t like to admit it, what scares us the most is that we do have politicians and people that share Breivik’s view,” says Hill. “We hope that we have become more tolerant towards foreign cultures and people with other backgrounds.”

Heather Taws, a Canadian living in Norway, says she was struck by how shocked the Norwegians continue to be that a man is standing trial for a massacre in their country.

“This might sound weird, but it’s actually nice to see a whole community of people find a horrible event like this so incredibly shocking,” says Taws. “Canada has dealt with mass murder trials before … Not to say that we don’t find it shocking and horrible – but we’re not as surprised maybe? Which is sad.

“When they talk about what they did when it happened, how they all stayed home, no one was in the streets, everyone was watching the news … what they describe really reminded me of how my town [Midland, Ontario] felt to me when 9/11 happened.”

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