Survivor of Norway Gun Massacre Running for Parliament

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. September 11th, 2001, was an obvious watershed moment in American life. It's that way with July 22nd, 2011, in Norway. That was the day when Anders Breivik bombed government buildings in Oslo, and then carried out a mass shooting at a Labour Party youth camp on the Island of Utøya. In total he killed 77 people. Breivik targeted the camp because he wanted to kill young, politically-minded people who supported a multicultural Norway. Now, more than two years later, several of the young survivors of that attack are running for parliament in a national election next week. One of them is Vegard Grøslie Wennesland. I spoke with him earlier today, and he began by recalling the day of the shootings on Utøya.

Vegard Grøslie Wennesland: I was in the tent area when I started hearing gunshots. I thought they were fireworks but I soon realized that they were gunshots. I saw several people get killed on the tent camp area. I ran away with some others who were shot at, but he missed. We ran away and hid in the cabin. I guess we were just hoping that we would be rescued soon. Terrified, of course, but just hoping and praying that the police would come and rescue us.

Werman: Did you lose friends that day?

Wennesland: Yes, I think we all did.

Werman: The time after that horrendous day must have been filled with just all sorts of thoughts and considerations. When did you think of running for office?

Wennesland: It was an assassination attempt against a political movement. We were the target because of our political views. When someone tries to kill you for what you believe in, it kind of stirs up a feeling that you shouldn't give up. You should continue and fight for what you believe, and those are the values that we are running for office for now, multicultural society, respect between different cultures, and trying to create a more fair and equal society. So I guess I was convinced that being involved and engaged in politics was the right thing to do.

Werman: When did you first realize that what Breivik had done was a political act and not just somebody kind of flipping out, which some psychologists might say he also was. But what was your reaction when you realized it was political in nature?

Wennesland: That became clear quite early after the attacks, but of course those of us who were so involved were more concerned about finding out who we were missing, taking care of each other, and processing and dealing with the ordeal that we had been through. But when all that, when we'd kind of gotten a distance to that, when we'd been to all the funerals, we started to realize that this wasn't a random attack, this wasn't a crazy man. He was on a mission, and he saw our ideology, our views, and our values as such a threat that he had to kill us. That stirred up a feeling in me that it's even more important now to stand up for those values and to participate in the democracy, using debates and arguments as a weapon, and not bullets and bombs.

Werman: And when you speak with Norwegians, as you've been stumping on the campaign trail, how do they feel about immigration? Because the conservatives, if they end up in power, will probably have to align themselves with a party that is anti-immigration in order to form a coalition, so they're kind of getting dragged into this as well.

Wennesland: Yes, they are, and the far right in Norway have a view on immigration as something that threatens our society and our culture and our welfare state. And the Labour Party's view and this government's view is completely different. We view immigration as positive, we view it as necessary if we are to be able to meet the challenges we have in our society. It's a positive view on immigration, it's completely different from what conservative government will look like, and it's a major difference in this election. I don't want votes out of sympathy, I want votes because I believe that our ideas of organizing society are better than the conservatives' ideas.

Werman: Vegard Grøslie Wennesland, who is running in the Labour Party for parliament in Norway on September 9. Good to speak with you. Thank you very much.

Wennesland: Thank you.