'I Only Started Crying Later' Norway's Prime Minister Discusses the Utøya Massacre


Part 2: 'I'm Proud of Our Open Society'

SPIEGEL: Still, it must be painful when relatives of the victims ask you these kinds of questions.

Stoltenberg: Let me repeat: I am the first person who wants to see these questions answered -- and for the sole reason that the victims were members of my party and my friends. I want to know whether we could have done something better, and it would be a surprise if there wasn't anything to learn from such an underhanded attack. But I'm also proud of our open society. Just imagine: When I was prime minister in 2000/2001, I didn't have any bodyguards. I lived in a normal apartment where you could have rung the doorbell at any time -- and I would have opened my door to you.

SPIEGEL: Were Norwegians really so naïve as to believe that they would never become the victims of a terror attack?

Stoltenberg: After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the murder of Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh and our deployment in Afghanistan, we bolstered our safety precautions. Now, we'll have to discuss whether more visible security measures are needed. Just keep in mind, though, that even countries that have done so have also been the victims of terror attacks. Think of Spain and its experiences with (the Basque separatist group) ETA. But, even with them, Islamist attackers were able to detonate bombs in Madrid. It's just hard to protect yourself from lone wolves, from lone perpetrators who act without a large organization in the background.

SPIEGEL: But didn't you underestimate the danger emanating from the anti-Islamic scene in your country?

Stoltenberg: We were aware of the fact that we have a potential for violence from the anti-Islamic just as much as from the Islamist camp. Right, left, Christian and Muslim terror groups have much more in common than they do with the democratic part of society. In these cases, the political motive is only secondary. We knew that these circles existed. Incidentally, we in Norway have already experienced politically motivated crimes, such as those committed by neo-Nazis. We've had racially motivated murders and an attack on a May 1 demonstration. So, if anything, we're familiar with right-wing terrorism.

SPIEGEL: Still, immigration is a rather new phenomenon in Norway. Do you believe your country's large anti-Islamic scene arose under this impression?

Stoltenberg: The image of a society that wasn't aware of the conflicts caused by immigration is a false one. We've had debates here and extreme positions on both sides. Just last summer, we arrested three people who had prepared terrorist attacks in Denmark. But we certainly weren't expecting that a white, Christian Norwegian would prepare an attack.

SPIEGEL: Wasn't it also consistent with Norwegian political correctness to remain silent about the problems of a multicultural society?

Stoltenberg: No. That is a myth that some here want to create: that it's supposedly illegal or unacceptable in Norway to have different opinions on immigration. I completely accept that there are parties with less liberal views on immigration than others.

SPIEGEL: So, in a debate of this kind, just how far can people go in terms of freely expressing their views?

Stoltenberg: I wouldn't impose any limits. But everyone has to be aware of their responsibility should they use words that trigger more conflicts, more prejudice against foreigners.

SPIEGEL: One of the justifications Breivik gave for committing his act of violence was that the government has supposedly surrendered the country to Islamists. How can you stand the fact that the Progress Party, which has the second-largest number of seats in parliament, also shares this opinion?

Stoltenberg: There's a big difference between extreme views and extremist acts. And it's legal to have extreme views. Second, I have a chance to argue against this opinion but not the right to ignore this opinion or even forbid it. Incidentally, I also believe that this would only further empower the extremists because it makes them martyrs.

SPIEGEL: Polls show that Norwegians have been calling for more security and tougher laws since the attacks. How do you intend to defend your society's openness?

Stoltenberg: Most Norwegians advocate this kind of society, and the openness between politicians and average people will remain. But we will provide more security in front of public buildings.

SPIEGEL: People abroad were very impressed by the Norwegians' level-headed reaction. Would we have seen the same reaction had Islamists carried out the attacks?

Stoltenberg: Now, I'm afraid that we wouldn't have experienced such a tolerant reaction if the perpetrator hadn't been a white assailant. On the other hand, we learned on July 22 that individuals -- and not just organizations -- can be responsible for such acts. Before that day, we couldn't imagine that a man from the rich west end of Oslo would carry out such attacks.

SPIEGEL: How long will the feeling of solidarity associated with the July 22 attacks last?

Stoltenberg: It has become part of our history, part of our identity. We won't think about it every day, but this dramatic moment will accompany us for many, many years. Still, we are already living normal lives again, and we will also experience other examples of intolerance and prejudice.

SPIEGEL: In the first election after the attacks, your Labor Party didn't do as well as some had expected. Is that a sign of a return to normalcy?

Stoltenberg: Yes, by all means. But, even so, July 22 will always be anchored in our consciousness. My party had its best results in 24 years. (Ed's note: In September's local elections, the Labor Party got 33 percent of the vote.) But it's hard to judge how much of that can be attributed to the attacks, because we don't know how the elections would have turned out otherwise.

SPIEGEL: And how long do you think you will continue to be more popular than the king?

Stoltenberg: We just had to present a budget that is very tight by Norwegian standards. As prime minister, it's also my job to confront the population with unpopular decisions. So, the king will already be overtaking me again soon.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for speaking with us.

Interview conducted by Martin Doerry and Gerald Traufetter.


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