Utoya survivor: Important to ‘regain normality’

Utoya survivor: Important to 'regain normality'
A 2001 file photo of Utoya Island. File photo: Thomas Bjørnflaten/Scanpix
Utoya guest lecturer and terror-attack survivor Ali Esbati tells The Local why it's important that the Labour Party's youth wing summer camp is up and running again, and explains the organization's plans to return to the island where 69 members lost their lives.

"It's important to show they can regain normality in one sense, because the summer camps have played a very important role for the organization," said Ali Esbati of the think tank Manifest. The Swede, who has lived in Norway for more than five years, was one of the people who "ran and survived" the Anders Behring Breivik attack two years ago. 

As The Local reached him on the phone, Esbati had just stepped off the bus at Tyri Fjord, near Oslo, the site of the first summer camp held since the terror attacks that shocked Norway and the world, and said the atmosphere is joyous. 

"Obviously, apart from the immense shock that the attack two years ago meant, there has been something missing from the organization, and now they can regain that in one way," he said.

"I'm sure a lot of them will (discuss the attacks). The way in which people handled the attacks two years ago is very different from individual to individual. Some people don't want to think about it all, others want to discuss it a lot, and many would be somewhere in between," said Esbati.

"But as far as I can see, having been here just for a few minutes, the young kids are having a lot of fun, and want to listen to speeches and go to lectures."

The camp is not being held on Utoya Island, but the AUF has not ruled out rebuilding part of the houses, and potentially using it again for summer camps. 

The summer camps are a staple of the ruling Labour Party's membership culture, with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg telling this year's attendees that he himself went to his first summer camp in 1974.

"This was before iPhones and iPads and we had to pen actual postcards to our parents," Stoltenberg said. "Often we'd arrive home before our postcards." 

Plans to rebuild Utoya has broad support in the youth wing, Esbati said, but there are those who do not agree. 
"Of course, there have been some dissenting voices – both among relatives of the survivors and others," he said.
"The AUF leadership has been very clear they don't want to rush things, and that they take any dissenting voices very seriously. Of course, things are emotional and things take time," he added.
"So it might not be next year or even the year after that, I don't know, but meanwhile it's important that things don't [grind to a] halt during the summer." 
Esbati said that current discussion about returning to Utoya focused on rebuilding some of the houses, but reiterated that the plans aren't final.
"It won't look just like it did before the attacks – both for practical and emotional reasons."

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