'Quitting would mean Breivik won': Utøya MP
AFP interviews Fredric Holen Bjørdal, the survivor of 2011's Utøya terror attack, who this week became Norway's youngest member of parliament at just 23 years old.
Two years ago, he ran for his life to escape Anders Behring Breivik's bullets. Never one to be intimidated, Fredric Holen Bjørdal is now one of Norway's youngest ever members of parliament.
"A lot of people quit politics after the Utøya massacre. Me, I chose to continue to fight for all those who died and who can't do it themselves anymore," 23-year-old Bjørdal said after winning a seat in Monday's general election. "If everyone had quit, that would have signalled Breivik's victory and our defeat."
On July 22, 2011, Breivik, a right-wing extremist armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a handgun, spent more than an hour shooting at hundreds of youths gathered on Utøya island for the summer camp of the Labour Party's youth wing.
Breivik later explained that he wanted to wipe out the nascent leaders of the party, Norway's dominant political force, which he blames for the rise of
Trapped on a small island measuring just 0.12 square kilometres (0.04 square miles), 69 people lost their lives, most of them teenagers.
"I escaped by running back and forth, up and down the island to hide from him and his bullets," Bjørdal recalled. "It was close. I was very lucky. When you see the bullets tearing into the water right close to you, you know it's a question of centimetres."
The party's future was not wiped out. In Monday's election, Bjørdal, who until now worked with social services helping youths in trouble, won a seat for the Labour Party in a constituency in western Norway.
The Labour-led coalition lost the election to the centre-right. "I don't think Utøya had anything to do with my nomination on the (electoral) list," Bjoerdal said. "I was careful not to portray myself as an Utøya survivor. That's not the political profile I want."
A total of 33 Utøya survivors were candidates for the Labour Party, three of whom were elected, though Breivik's massacre was not an issue in the
"It hurts to talk about it. We would quickly be accused of trying to exploit July 22 for political gains," he said. "It's all too fresh, too painful."
Among the winners in the election was the Progress Party, a populist anti-immigration formation of which Breivik was a member until 2006, though it has harshly criticised and distanced itself from him.
While it saw its voter support drop, the party looks set to enter government for the first time in its 40-year history, as part of a Conservative-led coalition.
"Since July 22, we've talked about everything that didn't work on that day: the police, the emergency response... But we haven't talked about Breivik's
extremist values and points of view," said Bjørdal.
"One would have thought that... support for a multicultural society would have been even stronger (after the attacks). But everything returned to normal."
Bjørdal said he didn't relish the prospect of the Progress Party taking a seat in government.
"I don't want to draw any parallels between the Progress Party and Breivik. Breivik was much more of an extremist," he said. "But it's clear that if a party like that comes to power and is given a say on immigration issues and other areas, we will find that difficult."
At just 23, Bjørdal will make his debut in parliament when it reconvenes next month after the summer break.
"I'm going to have to work hard, prove that I'm there for a good reason, that I'm knowledgeable, that I have something to bring to the table."